Gay Marriage: Supporting and Avoiding?

I want to touch on a topic that has not yet been discussed on Gay-Straight Relationships: marriage. I recently received an email from a reader that raised an interesting question regarding the topic. A gay male, whose name will remain anonymous, emailed me to inquire:

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“Sometimes I do not understand gay men. At one moment, you see them waving a flag for marriage equality, but then the next minute you notice them avoiding the thought of a long-term, committed relationship. It seems gay men enjoy the thought of marriage than actually wanting to pursue it. Why do you think this is?”

Based on my own observations, I have noticed something similar among gay men. This is most certainly not the case for all gay men, but some gay men prefer not to enter into long-term relationships even though many of them may be supporters of marriage equality. I do not necessarily view this as hypocritical; rather, I feel that many gay men want to support gay marriage even though they may not want to get married or pursue long-term relationships themselves.

Although research has not explored the ‘why’ behind this idea, I will offer two perspectives:

The Age Demographic – When I first read this inquiry, the first question that popped into my head was: Are these gay men younger or older? It is likely that age plays a huge role for whether gay men wish to pursue marriage partners. For instance, younger gay men (20s to early 30s) may simply not be ready for such a commitment. Even though some gay men in this age range seek and desire long-term, committed relationships, some gay men may not. Gay men in their mid-20s to early 30s may be still trying to establish their career, connections, and friendships. Thus, it isn’t that surprising that some gay men in this age range casually date rather than committing to something that is longer-term.

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Partial Acceptance – Another explanation that could be driving gay men away from long-term relationships in their own lives is that marriage is not yet 100% accepted. Even though the U.S. has made wonderful progress over the past few years, there are still many states where it is not legal for gay individuals to marry. Additionally, there are many places in the United States (even in the world) where it is frowned upon to have a gay partner at your hip. From a psychological perspective, this may cause gay men to feel ostracized by walking down the street with their partner.  Because of this, some gay men may not want to pursue long-term, committed relationships and may see it easier to casually date other gay men.

(Received reader’s consent to publicly post)

The “Forbidden Fruit” Phenomenon

It is obvious that gay men do not have a sexual attraction to women. This absence of attraction ultimately eliminates women’s need to self-protect against awkward love games or unwanted sexual advances. Women have an appreciation for their gay male friends because they are able to provide a platonic friendship without the sexual overture. But are there times when a straight woman may wonder or hope that her gay friend is romantically interested?

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For the most part, women desire men who will care for them, empathize with them, and listen to their concerns. Because gay men have such an instinctive ability to easily provide these things to their female friends, is it possible that these actions may arouse the desire for her gay friend to be a romantic partner? By providing a loving and nurturing relationship to his female friend, a gay male may become romantically or even sexually desired.  I call this the “Forbidden Fruit” phenomenon. It should be kept in mind that even though gay men are not attracted to women, women still have the potential to be attracted to gay men, as their heterosexuality does not discriminate between gay or straight men. Although the last thing that a gay man wants to do is sleep with his female friend, gay men may play along with his female friend in a way that teases her curiosity without ultimately doing anything sexual1. For example, gay men are not afraid to get crazy with their female friends on the dance floor.

“Maybe there won’t be marriage. Maybe there won’t be sex. But by God, there’ll be dancing!” – George, in the film: My Best Friend’s Wedding

Although exchanging loving words (e.g., “I love you”) and romantic-like gestures may become awkward in most opposite-sex friendships, a gay man may appreciate his female friend’s admiration, and this admiration may be beneficial to his overall self-esteem.

References:

  1. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.

The “Gay or Straight?” Game

One interesting thing about straight women and gay men is their mutual attraction to the same gender. Not do they share an appreciation for attractive men, but they are usually willing to talk about them for hours. When women and gay men get together over coffee, lunch, or dinner, men never seem to get left out of their conversation. While it is true that gay men and straight women can be seen discussing other topics, a great chunk of their time together may be discussing how to snag a guy that they are both checking out.

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The Game. For gay men and straight women, one of the more unique and fun aspects about “playing the field” is deciphering the sexual orientation of a cute guy.  When an attractive guy passes this couple on the street, you can almost always expect them to ask one another: “Whoa, do you think he’s gay or straight?” This simple question may turn into a little game for gay men and straight women. Although it is not uncommon for gay men to hope that the attractive man in question is homosexual, rarely do gay men impinge on their female friend’s romantic opportunity if the male in question is in fact heterosexual. The reverse is also true.  Females usually do not encroach on their gay friend’s romantic opportunity with another gay man. In fact, women may find joy in being able to set up their gay friend with another gay man who is attractive1.

“When we walk down the street together, a gay friend will often say, ‘Oh, that guy was checking you out,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, I think he was looking at you,’ and we’ll both walk away feeling better about ourselves.”  (Hopcke & Rafaty, 1999)

Hating the Player and Not the Game. Even though this game can easily be played between two gay men (which is done pretty frequently), a couple of complications may arise. First, gay men may take the game too competitively with other gay men. Imagine an attractive man walking past two single gay friends at the mall. Naturally, both gay men may lock their eyes on him. However, rather than mutually expressing their attraction to this man to each other, one of them may hold back while the other might insinuate asking him out. This may become problematic if both gay men desire this particular man.

Second, gay men may experience hints of jealousy when they play the game with one another.  Because gay men’s mating opportunities are quite limited compared to straight men’s mating opportunities2, gay men may place exceptionally high value on an attractive guy, especially if they are attractive themselves.  If one gay friend is slightly more attractive than the other, the gay friend that is more attractive may have a better chance at “winning” the game. Ultimately, this may cause a sense of tension and jealousy between these two gay men.

References:

  1. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.
  2. Russell, E.M., DelPriore, D. J., Butterfield, M. E., & Hill, S. E. (2013). Friends with benefits, but without the sex: Straight women and gay men exchange trustworthy mating advice. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 132-147.