Life Beyond Therapy
The joys (and sorrows) of GLBT coupledom
Published Thursday, 22-Jul-2010 in issue 1178
I am 23 years old and in my first gay relationship. I used to date girls and only recently came out. I have been with my boyfriend Evan for 5 months now. He’s my first real true love. That part’s all good. On the other hand, can you tell me why it’s so hard to be part of a gay couple? I had no idea how much work it is. Not that I don’t get a lot out of it, but all the time and energy…I had no idea! Any advice for making it easier?
First timer in Clairemont
Dear First timer:
Congratulations! One’s first “true love” is always a powerful and amazing experience; whether it lasts a few months or decades (I hope the latter for you). And you’re right: it does take a lot of work for two people to be a successful couple…and I think it takes even more work when one or both members of that couple is gay, bisexual or transgendered.
In the big picture, heterosexuals have it easier. They draw enormous support, continuously and unconsciously, from existing political/social institutions, religion and their cultural history. It’s all set up for them. As GLBT women and men, we have to work harder to make our relationships work. In addition, much of GLBT life is not very “couple-friendly”. For many GLBTer’s your age, being gay is about getting laid, looking good, partying, going out and having fun! This emphasis on self-pleasuring doesn’t align well with coupledom.
In a committed GLBT relationship, by allowing your partner to get to know you intimately, you are inviting those less-than-lovely parts of yourself to come out loud and clear. You and (s)he are opening a Pandora’s Box of “previous unresolved life problems”… you know, the box you buried in the backyard, hoping never to open again. And it is even more challenging for GLBT couples, because most therapy and psychology books are designed for heterosexual couples.
When two men (or two women or a bisexual man or woman) commit to each other, the dynamics aren’t the same as the heterosexual model. I could write a whole book about this (and I may someday), but suffice it to say that we have unique needs, e.g., a male-male couple may have problems with too strong a desire for a variety of sexual outlets and too weak a desire for vulnerability and intimacy. In heterosexual couples, the male and female stereotypes more typically play out; hence the popularity of all those “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” kinds of books.
As GLBTer’s, we are literally inventing our own genres of love and making up the rules as we go. If you have two men from “Mars”, who cleans up? Who is the more nurturing one? If you have two women from “Venus”, who is the more career-oriented one? Couples with two men, such as our letter writer and his partner, often experience more competition with each other than heterosexual couples do. Two men together have a lot more testosterone than heterosexual couples. What does this mean for GLBT relationships?
From all those Viagra and Cialys commercials, we may think (as heterosexual men do) that being part of a couple is about sunsets on the beach and great sex by the fireplace, followed by hours of hugging, kissing…you know. While you may luck into this Hallmark card life now and then, being in a couple is more likely to be like being in an ongoing cycle of war and peace. Conflict is inevitable. Arguing and disagreements are part of loving someone. Expect it. If you think otherwise, you’re deluding yourself, and you’ll run from relationship-to-relationship looking for the man (or woman) with whom you can be “peaceful, calm and loving”. And good luck finding him…the Dalai Lama isn’t available (and even he has moody days).
So, where does that leave our letter writer and all of us couple-craving GLBTer’s? Let’s all face up to some facts: conflict is vital to your growth as a couple. Yes, vital. It may not be pleasant, but it is how people figure out who they are, what they want (and don’t want) and how they can get it. Expect conflict in any relationship and be prepared to work with it. Any two people together are going do things that drive the other person crazy. In GLBT couples, we have the added challenge of not (yet) having mainstream societal support of our relationships.