The Truth about Straight Relationships(And what we can learn from LGBTQ Couples)

Dating, relationships, and marriage are things that most humans do. These things, at times, are fun, exciting, and meaningful. Conversely, they can be challenging and downright dangerous for some people. I’m a licensed social worker who has worked with countless young men and women. It seems that sexism and patriarchy, in many ways, can hinder romantic relationships for straight couples. Men are worried about providing protection and financial security. Also, society tells men they must be tall, dark, and handsome to be considered attractive. Plus, having bedded many women in your past doesn’t hurt either and makes ‘the man”.

Women are often judged on appearance and can’t be seen as too sexy. Because if they happened to be seen as too sexy, that meant they must be slutty. (Nothing wrong with sexually liberated women). Apparently, straight men only want chaste women with little to no sexual experience. Also, they better know how to cook, clean, and raise babies because that’s ‘woman’s work’ because a manly man doesn’t do domestic labor.

Deep down, we all know these ideas about gender and gender norms are not so black and white. They’re many shades of gray. Unfortunately, society’s ideas around sex, gender, and what a man or woman is supposed to be can seriously hurt relationships in straight partnerships. Men might not want to hear this, but any well-read or observant woman knows that sexism and patriarchy harm men too. It definitely harms women. A woman might see her boyfriend or husband as weak if he cries due to the death of his beloved dog or after a family tragedy. A man might end an excellent relationship after learning his female partner has had multiple consensual sexual partners. No matter if that person practiced safe sex and tested for STIs regularly.

Let’s dive deep into how harmful gender norms impact men and women. And then end on what straight folks can learn from their LGBTQ counterparts to create more equal and fulfilling relationships.

Gay couple kissing in the street

Gender norms can hurt women in several ways. These norms are social expectations and assumptions about what is considered appropriate behavior, appearance, and roles for men and women. When women do not conform to these norms, they can face negative social consequences such as discrimination, harassment, and even violence. Here are some specific ways that gender norms can hurt women:

  1. Limited opportunities: Gender norms often restrict women’s access to education, employment, and other options. Women are often expected to prioritize caregiving and domestic work, limiting their ability to pursue careers or other interests.
  2. Stereotyping: Gender norms can lead to harmful stereotypes about women, such as the idea that women are emotional or weak. These stereotypes can lead to discrimination in hiring, promotion, and salary.
  3. Double standards: Gender norms can create double standards for men and women. For example, men may be praised for being assertive, while women are seen as bossy. Women may also face greater scrutiny of their appearance and behavior than men.
  4. Violence: Gender norms can contribute to a culture of violence against women. Women who do not conform to gender norms may face harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of violence.
  5. Mental health: Gender norms can also hurt women’s mental health. Women who feel pressure to conform to gender norms may experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Overall, gender norms can limit women’s opportunities, perpetuate harmful stereotypes, create double standards, contribute to violence against women, and negatively impact women’s mental health. Challenging and changing these norms is vital to creating a more equitable and just society.

Rigid gender norms can harm men in several ways. Here are some examples:

  1. Emotional suppression: One of the most damaging effects of rigid gender norms is that they discourage men from expressing their emotions. Boys are often told to “man up” and “be strong,” making them feel ashamed or weak for showing vulnerability or sensitivity. This can lead to emotional suppression and a lack of emotional intelligence, negatively impacting mental health.
  2. Pressure to conform: Men are often expected to work to strict gender roles, which can be limiting and lead to a lack of individuality. For example, men are expected to be strong, dominant, and aggressive and can be stigmatized if they don’t fit into these narrow definitions of masculinity. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.
  3. Toxic masculinity: Rigid gender norms can also contribute to the harmful aspects of masculinity, such as aggression, violence, and objectification of women. Men who conform to these norms may feel pressure to engage in behaviors that are harmful to themselves and others.
  4. Mental health: The pressure to conform to rigid gender norms can negatively impact mental health. Studies have found that men who adhere to traditional masculine standards are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
  5. Relationships: Rigid gender norms can also impact men’s relationships with others. Men taught to be emotionally distant and self-reliant may have difficulty forming close relationships with others, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The rigid gender norms can harm men by suppressing emotions, limiting individuality, contributing to toxic masculinity, impacting mental health, and affecting relationships.

What can straight couples learn from LGBTQ couples?

The first thing undoing rigid gender roles. We gotta get beyond the limited notions of ‘manhood’ or ‘womanhood.’ We can learn from same-sex couples that breaking down power dynamics makes for a more fluid relationship. Traditional gender roles are what many straight people’s firm adherence to screws them over. Those rigid ideologies about gender norms can harm a fling or relationship or even end a marriage. I take out the trash at my house, but sometimes I cook too. Well, I usually cook because my wife is fucking lazy…lol!

Rear view image of young couple walking with the pride event, hugging and waving pride flags

Same-sex couples strive for equality in their relationships. Now, straight couples can’t change society’s often ignorant views around gender roles, but they can be part of a movement to destroy traditional ideas surrounding gender. People in straight relationships can share domestic chores and finances like shared accounts (but still have your own personal account, too, if you can afford it). Split up childcare duties depending on each other jobs and schedules. Changing a diaper or attending a parent-teacher night at school is okay for men. Ladies, if you’re good with a hammer, by all means, build that new back deck for the house. My wife is always building or painting something since we brought our home back in 2017. She’s like a black Martha Stewart.

I’ve witnessed straight couples who must show the world how much they love each other and spend every waking moment together. This type of relationship creates co-dependency and isn’t healthy. These types of relationships crash and burn quickly. Rather it is same-sex or opposite-sex couples who love bomb each other.

It’s good to have your hobbies and friends. I love improv, and I’m a fan of pro wrestling. My wife, not so much. She has her photography and book clubs. Straight couples could also learn from same-sex couples that jealousy and possessiveness over a partner can ruin a good relationship. Not to say that same-sex couples don’t deal with these things, but they’re more willing to talk about those feelings that arise. Straight couples often abandon all their opposite-sex friendships. Women in relationships end things with all the guy friends because their boo is jealous or possessive. And men will forgo all their friendships with women just because they have a girlfriend or wife who doesn’t trust their lady friends.

The idea of an affair or that an opposite-sex friend secretly wants a relationship. This mentality hinders folks from having lifelong non-romantic relationships, aka friendships. I have many male and female friends as a social worker and military veteran. Some of my friends are part of the LGBTQ community, including my wife. We trust each other and discuss our feelings if we get jealous or possessive. You don’t own your children, friends, or romantic partners. They’re living beings with their own life and identity. I think about the words from the book Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton regarding the notion of possessive love.

“Richard had a theory about intimate human relations. He saw nonpossessive love as pure love, the only love, and possessive love as a mockery of pure love. Nonpossessive love did not enslave or constrain the love object. Richard was critical of what he called ‘bourgeois love relationships,’ of the marriage system, and the requirements of marriage partners to other (i.e., sex with one partner, jealousy, limits upon mobility, well-defined roles based upon sex). He felt that people should not be like cars or houses. No man should own his wife, nor should a wife own a husband, because ownership is predicated upon control, fences, barriers, constraints, and psychological tyranny. Nonpossessive love is based upon shared experiences and friendship; it is the kind of love we have for our bodies, for our thumbs or foot. We love ourselves, our bodies, but we do not want to enslave any part of ourselves.”

Revolutionary Suicide p. 61

Possessiveness is toxic in relationships, and I’m happy to see some straight couples and those who identify as straight taking on ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, and open relationships. Every couple and relationship will be different, and some people will want to stick to monogamy. That’s perfectly fine. The most important thing to know in a relationship is to trust your partner and know they will not leave you for another lover. And if they do, you must accept it and move on. Alternative relationship models can be a boon to overcoming those pesky traditional ideas around love and marriage. They give people far more options regarding passion, love, and sex.

Speaking about sex. What can same-sex couples teach us straight folks about sex? In same-sex relationships, couples must negotiate sex with each other. That means lots of conversations about what they like and don’t like. Straight couples don’t often engage in talks about what they like sexually. Men don’t want to talk about it because we’re taught that we automatically must be good at sex, and watching porn should tell us everything we need to know. It doesn’t, fellas. Porn is selling a fantasy, sometimes a problematic fantasy. And women often don’t talk to their partners about what they like and don’t like sexually, often out of fear of being slut shamed or judged, no matter their sexual history.

Straight folks could benefit from removing the barriers of gender roles, and it will make our sex lives much more fulfilling and open. Now, this article isn’t saying that the LGBTQ community has it all figured out and doesn’t deal with the same struggles many straight couples face. But removing the shackles of rigid gender norms can open up unlimited possibilities and save countless straight relationships. As a straight man who has learned much over the years from my dating history and my marriage to a bi-sexual woman. I’ve learned that traditional ideas regarding masculinity are bullcrap. I’ve learned about it from my partner and my friends in the queer community. It’s made me a better man, partner, and husband. And I still have a lot to learn.

Portrait of a mature couple spending quality time together outdoors

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