As a bisexual man, I’ve experienced relationships with both men and women. While the gender of the person I’m dating has never influenced who and how I love, I’ve noticed notice there is a different dynamic in queer relationships and heterosexual relationships.
As society becomes more comfortable functioning outside of the heteronormative, I believe straight couples could learn a thing or two — or more specifically, four — from queer relationships, especially since new research finds women in opposite-sex marriages experience the most distress in their relationships and men in same-sex marriages experience the least. Men married to women and women married to women’s distress levels fall somewhere in the middle.
So maybe, just maybe, queer people are doing something right, and an alternative romantic framework — or at least features derived from this framework — could do straight relationships some good.
1. Your relationship can be whatever you want it to be.
“People in queer relationships had fewer models to look up to and [opportunities to] learn the basics that straight couples take for granted,” Sara Stanizai, LMFT, who specializes in queer couples therapy, says. “As a result, we had to figure it out on our own. But, the benefit of this is that we get to figure it out on our own.”
To queer people, the expected trajectory of hetero relationships — mortgage, marriage, and children — feels foreign. Because we weren’t part of that model, we are, in general, less tied to tradition and have created our own relationship models.
Growing up queer, Brad, 29, felt that he could never achieve what society expected of him. As a result, “there are so many things that I am comfortable with that years ago I wouldn’t have even entertained,” he says. He’s almost positive that he wouldn’t have questioned what a relationship could look like (outside of a monogamous, two-person relationship) if he hadn’t come out and surrounded himself with more open-minded people. ”I think the easiest way to describe it is that when you’re inside a bubble, you can only see the inside of it,” Brad adds. “Once you’re outside the bubble, you can still see the bubble, but [you can see] everything else that sits outside it, too.”
Nonmonogamy, for example, resides outside of that bubble and is something you can consider. Queer people have long recognized that monogamy isn’t universal and that open relationships and polyamory are not taboo. “Straight couples would benefit from re-evaluating some of their choices [like the above] and seeing if there are changes they would like to make,” Stanizai says.
2. Gender roles are damaging.
In same-sex relationships, heteronormative gender roles — which are dumb to begin with — don’t exist.
“I have never felt like I, a queer man, had had to play a particular gender role in my relationships,” Rocco, 29, says.
“We had to figure it out on our own. But, the benefit of this is that we get to figure it out on our own.”
According to research, just under one-third of different-sex couples achieve equality in shared housework. A seperate study found that nearly half of same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples.
Even before the first date, gender plays a part in heterosexual relationships. Traditionally, it is men who are tasked to send the first message, ask a woman on a date, and pay for that date. While, thankfully, these practices are becoming less and less common, some of the repercussions of the traditions are less obvious. For instance, emotional labor generally weighs more heavily on women.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
“Because queer folks are often required to create and co-create their own models and practices around being in a romantic partnership, communication and consent are highly valued,” says Joanne Louise Newton, MSW, LCSW, SEP.
“I’ve found that talking about consent, turn-ons, and values is way more common in queer relationships,” Tawny, 28 who is bisexual, says. “This can create a powerful intimacy and safe space for open conversations.”
Newton argues that queer people are better than their straight counterparts at communicating in relationships. “When any individual is challenged to step into their own authenticity, they are better prepared to be in loving and substantive partnerships,” she argues. “Authenticity leads to better communication skills and an advanced sense of ease to ride out hardships that naturally occur.”
Sometimes the communication is better because the people we date are among the few who will listen. “Many people in the queer community have distant or immediate relatives who were not accepting of their queerness,” says Carmel Jones, a relationship expert and writer. “For this reason, the person a queer individual is dating may be the only one they have to console or advise them, which can strengthen their bond between in a way that many heterosexual couples don’t get to experience.”
4. Pay no mind to any situationship but your own.
Queer people are judged their entire lives. Because so many of us were bullied and scrutinized, we know the damaging effects it can have on people. “Queer people face so much adversity because of their choices,” Jones says. “The [resulting] notion that the opinions of others don’t matter is embedded enough to bleed into their relationships.”
And because every queer relationship is different, there is no basis for judgement. For example, one monogamous couple may have decided to get serious and meet each other’s parents after a month, while another is actively dating a third and considering a throuple. Is one more legitimate than the other? Not by queer standards.
You may identify as heterosexual, but you can, at the same time, understand that heteronormative guidelines are not rules. You don’t have to abide by them, but you can choose to if they make you comfortable. Queer people, on the other hand? Just like we’ve had to our entire lives, we prefer to figure things out on our own.