This letter was originally published via an advice column featured in “Out in America.” I was so intrigued by the therapist’s response, I felt I just had to share it.
I can speak for no one but myself when I say that relationships are among the most challenging experiences I’ve ever faced in life. I agree wholeheartedly with the columnist’s perspective that although difficult, it is often through our relationships that we come to see and understand those parts of ourselves that still need work.
Hopefully, this advice goes as much to your heart as it did to mine. ENJOY!
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 Tennessee
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 LGBT women and men, we have to work harder to make our relationships work. In addition, much of LGBT life is not very “couple-friendly”. For many LGBTer 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 LGBT 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 LGBT 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 LGBTers, 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 LGBT 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 LGBTers? 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 [to] do things that drive the other person crazy. In LGBT couples, we have the added challenge of not (yet) having mainstream societal support of our relationships.
Given all this, how can you resolve disagreements and irritations with your partner(s)? How do you talk about what’s bothering you? Or don’t you? One of the most common problems I see in couples I work with is DENIAL (the caps are intentional). One or both parties is afraid to face their difficulties, and makes a choice to avoid communicating about the tough stuff. And each denial, each small resentment – each pissed-off moment that you decide to “suck it up and swallow it” rather than communicate it – over time builds up to become a huge mess of anger, resentment, denial, fear and self-punishment. Don’t go there! You can’t run away from the tough stuff. I wish it could work, but, in truth, it never does.
Instead, are you and your partner willing to stand tall (yet flexible) through the tough times, to tolerate discomfort and the messiness of growing together with someone who drives you crazy one minute and incites you to wild kisses the next? Are you willing to let your relationship bring up all your old demons so you can look them in the face and work on them? Are you even willing to see your lover as “doing me a favor” by showing you the parts of yourself that are still screwed up and need work? Or are you stubbornly committed to an infantile model of relationships, where you say, “He’s wrong, I’m right” and act like a narcissistic little child?
Being part of a couple is like shining a flashlight on the parts of yourself that are childish or immature. Your partner will know all and see all of you. This is not for the timid or weak. It is far better to work with – and expect – the continual growth, problems and changes inherent in LGBT couple-dom. Resist the temptation to mentally obsess on some blissful illusion of a relationship that only exists in the movies (and seldom there, anymore). A truly loving relationship helps us to know ourselves, know our partner, and be willing to spend time and energy to help each other grow to become the men (or women) we wish to be. Yeah, it’s hard. But the rewards are (literally) infinite.
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