Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Gay/Straight Relationships: Different?

Are there any differences between gay and straight relationships? YES and NO. In human terms a loving relationship is similar across the spectrum of sexualities. Most human beings regardless of orientation need/want to love and feel loved, to matter to someone special, to have regular and predictable companionship, to have a reliable sexual outlet and to build a life together based on mutual respect and understanding with shared goals and common interests. The culture, as well, puts pressure on individuals to couple and form units and families. As members of humanity and the socio/cultural fabric it is no different for GLBT persons.

GLBT persons have unique challenges and may bring unique resources to their loving relationships that are not shared by heterosexual couples. The social, cultural, legal and sometimes familial supports for our relationships are at best lacking or weak and at worst destructive. Efforts to change the culture and enact legal supports have made some progress but there is also great resistance to, for example, gay marriage. Many GLBT couples date and live invisibly or in the shadows and their concern over discovery or being obvious limits spontaneous affectionate/dating behavior and is stressful to a relationship.

The usual times when young adults are learning how to couple, date, and sort out their feelings about sex and sexual activity occurs in mid to late teens and early adulthood; in high school and perhaps college. Because GLBT youth are often hidden and/or just beginning to come to terms with their own identity their learning curve in the dating department is delayed and often put off to later, producing a disadvantage regarding acquired dating skills. The increasing presence of Gay/Straight Alliances and Cultural Diversity Groups on high school campuses has the potential to normalize the presence of GLBT youth in high schools and ultimately reduce the pressure to hide and be invisible. In that atmosphere GLBT youth dating is more possible.

Men in relationships, whether gay or straight tend to operate out of learned male role behavior. Competitiveness, power/dominance, discomfort/unfamiliarity with being emotionally intimate and/or vulnerable, the over exaggerated need to save face and pride, the need to control, limited negotiation/verbal skills, need to maintain a sense of independence all can interfere with becoming the necessary we/us in relationships. Even male language, top/bottom, dominant/submissive, etc., is indicative of classic male role-playing behavior. So imagine putting two men together with these dynamics and you often get the typical male complaint, “I just can’t seem to find someone who wants to commit.” The problem may not be so much a lack of the desire to commit but more lack of familiarity or practice with the skill set needed to make it work. Men have more difficulty moving from the me/I position to the we/us position.

Women generally possess better verbal/negotiation skills than men. They affiliate more naturally and are less needful of being dominant or independent. These attributes/skills often lead to relative ease with relationship formation. The lesbian joke is, “She came to the first date with a U-Haul!” Women in the general culture are also more stigmatized for being uncoupled and hence are more burdened by pressure to couple. In women’s relationships these factors can make managing differences and tolerating conflict more difficult. So for women allowing for and not being threatened by the I/me issues as the couple moves from the we/us stage to the me/you/us/we stage of relationship can be taxing.

Along with special challenges GLBT individuals can and do bring unique resources to their relationships. Growing up marginalized and figuring out how to cope and adapt to often non-supportive environments can result in creative flexibility and adaptability in the personality. Survival requires learning how to size up a situation to know how to behave. These skills are also useful in relationships when they translate to sensitivity to the other person and adaptability to new or unfamiliar situations. After all, at the end of the day, a relationship is the successful blending of two unique individuals into one unique relationship that affirms the individuality and the coupled-ness of both people.

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