LESBIAN DATING: LIFE BEFORE THE U-HAUL
by KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 1999, 2001
Originally published in Siren, April/May 1999
WE CAN RUSH OUR RELATIONSHIPS
Why is it that lesbians have such a hard time with dating? You know, going out with one or more women, maybe having sex, and not having to arrive at any permanent or long-term decisions about the nature of the relationship.
Why are we in such a hurry to make the relationship decision? You’ve seen it happen: two women start seeing each other and immediately they’re a couple. Once they have sex, it’s a sure thing: they are now in a relationship. Perhaps we should think about this. Maybe some of the problems lesbian relationships face arise from not having dated for longer periods of time.
PROVING OURSELVES TO THE WORLD
Perhaps we rush into relationships to prove to the homophobic world – and to ourselves – that lesbians exist. We do have relationships, and they do work. We’re always so thrilled when two women get together – and that makes sense, in the context of homophobia. But maybe we should be more concerned about the quality of the relationship, and not assume that being in a relationship is better than being single.
SKIPPING THE DATING PART
Dating isn’t easy. For one thing, some lesbians disapprove of other lesbians dating more than one woman. You’ve heard the putdowns – “She’s a player/user/can’t commit,” and so on, as if dating different women is inherently wrong. It’s easy to see how these stereotypes can develop; our only role models are straight men. But while there are definitely lesbians who don’t treat women respectfully, we need to avoid thinking in stereotypes.
There are plenty of other reasons why dating can be hard. Dating involves risk-taking – meeting new women, initiating conversations, asking women out, having an evening of conversation with someone we don’t know very well, and maybe nervously thinking about sex (and, if so, how to initiate). We’re not sure what to expect, and we risk being rejected. Many women also worry about whether they are attractive or desirable. No wonder so many lesbians skip this part, and rush into relationships.
And that’s not the least of it. As lesbians, there really aren’t many places to meet other lesbians, and the places that do exist aren’t always the easiest places in which to be introduced. And when we’re not in lesbian-identified environments, we aren’t always able to spot other lesbians, or find a way to set up a date.
Dating also means coping with undefined situations – not knowing where you’re headed, being unsure of what you mean to each other, and possibly feeling confused. For some lesbians, that unknown territory feels out of control and terrifying. To feel more secure, they immediately define the relationship and set clear parameters around it. But if the definition of their relationship is coming out of fear rather than what they actually want with a particular woman, it can be a set-up for failure. And since there are so many obstacles to dating, some lesbians stay in relationships longer than they want, precisely because they don’t want to date.
DOES LONG-TERM ALWAYS MEAN HEALTHY?
As a community, we tend to admire lesbians who are in long-term relationships. We’re starved for good role models. But we applaud those relationships without even knowing their quality. And we’ve all seen – maybe even grown up with – straight married couples who stay together after it is healthy or good for either of them, because of family and social expectations, pressure, children, and so on. But we don’t have to make the same mistakes. If we’re with the woman we love, and it feels right, that’s wonderful. But if not, we shouldn’t let the fear of dating or rejection prevent us from finding happiness.
TAKING OUR TIME
It takes bravery and often conscious and deliberate effort not to fall into a relationship after a few dates or sex. Setting boundaries, giving ourselves time to see how we feel, talking things out, and knowing the difference between raging hormones and love when ideally we want both, are not easy things to do. But they are possible. And maybe if we let ourselves date, we’ll find that we have more time to decide what we really want. Because the choice of who we partner with shouldn’t be made in haste.