Lesbians and Straight Men: Common or Uncommon?

There has been much talk in the media about the close friendship between straight women and gay men, but what about the friendship between straight men and lesbian women? Are friendships between straight men and lesbian women common?

Based upon the literature, there is extremely little work documenting a close relationship shared by straight men and lesbian women. Most of the research up until this point has examined the closeness of gay men and straight women. In fact, research has found that there tends to be less support in friendships between lesbian women and straight men compared to gay male-straight female friendships1.

There may be a few reasons why this pair isn’t as close-knit compared to straight female-gay male friends, but I will describe two:

lesbian and straight man

1) A Sex Difference

Unlike straight women who are usually comforted by the lack of sexual tension in their relationships with gay men, straight men really do not benefit in this way with lesbian women. Because straight men are typically the sexual pursuers in romantic relationships, men usually do not have to worry about straight women taking advantage of them, nor do they typically have to worry about women pushing for more than just a platonic relationship. Thus, a primary benefit that women reap in their friendships with gay men is absent in the friendships between straight men and lesbian women.

2) Women’s Sexual Fluidity

While men often identify as either straight or gay, women are less black and white when it comes to their sexuality. It has been demonstrated that relative to men, women are more likely to report bisexual attractions than exclusive same-sex attractions2,3. Because women (especially women who are attracted to the same-sex) tend to be more fluid in regards to their sexuality, men may also perceive these women to be fluid. Men may therefore assume that a potential mating opportunity exists in their friendship even if these women only only prefer other women as partners. Due to men’s higher sexual drive and their desire for more sexual partners on average4, their relationship with lesbian women may become convoluted due to men’s heightened sexual desire.

Even though friendships between straight men and lesbian women may not be as common as gay male-straight female friendships, it should not be assumed that these friendships do not exist. In fact, there may be a good handful of friendships between straight men and lesbian women that share a very close relationship.

References:

  1. Muraco, A. (2006). Intentional families: Fictive kin ties between cross-gender, different sexual orientation friends. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 1313-1325.
  2. Diamond, L. M. (2006). The evolution of plasticity in female-female desire. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 16, 245-274.
  3. Peplau, L. A. (2001). Rethinking women’s sexual orientation: An interdisciplinary, relationship-focused approach. Personal Relationships, 8, 1-9.
  4. Schmitt, D. P., Shackelford, T. K. & Buss, D. M. (2001). Are men really more ‘oriented’ toward short-term mating than women? A critical review of theory and research. Psychology, Evolution & Gender, 3, 211-239.

Romantic Bad Luck

An open and uncomfortable secret for some gays and lesbians is that they sometimes develop crushes or fall in love with straight men and women. A simplistic answer is that there are more straights than gays and by a sad numbers game, this sort of thing just happens. Because these unrequited feelings are just romantic bad luck, the crush itself isn’t really a problem that needs to be addressed. The problem is solved by declaring it “not a problem.” This explanation, while well intended, ignores larger concerns and actually can make gays and lesbians worse off.

gay-love

Another explanation for what is going on is due to psychological factors in how people think about an ideal romance. We learn what a successful romance is by looking at romantic paradigm cases like Romeo and Juliet, Disney princesses, or even sitcoms like Friends or Sex and the City. Psychological studies show that people tend to misremember their own romantic experiences as versions of these paradigm cases1. For example, if a couple’s family does not like the significant other’s in-laws, the couple tends to exaggerate the fighting and may even imagine plots to break up the couple a la Romeo and Juliet. A couple that constantly breaks up and gets back together due to major differences like marriage, children, where to live, etc., may remember their experiences through a lens of Ross and Rachel rather than as they actually were.

Cheshire Calhoun, a philosopher who focuses on gay and lesbian identity, points out that the paradigm cases almost exclusively cast heterosexuals. Gays and lesbians, like anyone else, look to these models for guidance about what a genuine or authentic romance should be like but have psychological dissonance because the cast of characters they see, one man one woman, is different than the cast of characters they want, two men or two women. Homosexuals aren’t massively mistaken here, but rather are trying to build a romantic model with the best materials they have available, which just so happen to be heterosexual examples. I think when gays and lesbians do fall in love with straight counterparts, it is because they are trying to live out the romantic models they have grown up with as best they can.

Kurt

One way to help address this dissonance is to provide gays and lesbians with romantic models featuring gays and lesbians. Movies and TV shows are now making gay and lesbian relationships more common, and this is a good start, but none of these models have the kind of currency that the above romantic models have. In short, the more models that show functional gay and lesbian romances, the more likely the romantic substitution will get smaller.

References:

1. Averill, James R. and Boothroyd, Phyllis, “On Falling in Love in Conformance with the Romantic Ideal,” Motivation and Emotion, 1 (1977): 235-47. De Sousa, Ronald. The Rationality of Emotion. (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 1987), 181-184.

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We thank Kurt Blankschaen for contributing this post. Kurt is currently pursuing his PhD in philosophy at The University of Kansas.