The U-Haul Effect: Same Sex Relationships for Women

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same sex relationshipsThere is a common joke in the LGBTQ community about women dating other women: Two women go out for a first date. The date goes well and a second date is planned. One or both of the women show up to the second date with a U-Haul carrying all their life possessions as they’ve now fully committed to the relationship.

Queer women in same sex relationships often get accused of moving into their relationship way too quickly! While there are many myths and assumptions made about women in same sex partnerships, there are also some unique experiences that women may be more likely encounter in same sex relationships. Let’s take a moment to explore a couple of them.

The Impact of Gender

Gender plays a huge role in all forms of relationships and same sex relationships for women are no exception. As we all know, women tend to be socialized to be excellent caregivers. We are raised to think of others’ needs before our own and nurture all those around us.

When you have two women dating each other, it’s not uncommon to quickly recognize you’ve got twice the dose of this gendered socialization affecting the relationship. This can be a good thing in many ways! Research shows the most successful relationships thrive on a partner’s ability to think of their significant other’s needs and find ways to be responsive. Women’s same sex relationships have been documented as some of the strongest relationships out there because of women’s strength in nurturing others.

The tricky part of nurturing others is that we also have to bring our needs into the relationship in order for it to truly be successful. We can’t only be nurturers to a relationship just like we can’t only bring our own needs to a relationship without reciprocating care. And in general, women have had less exposure to learning how to bring their rights and needs into their relationships, leaving women vulnerable to excelling at being caregivers at the cost of their own need for care.

Whenever I work with women in any relationship form, I often talk a lot about the balance between caring for ourselves, making space for our needs to be met, and finding ways to be responsive to our partners. This can be especially important to remember in same-sex relationships for women where there may be a tendency for both partners to displace their needs as a way of nurturing the partnership.

In effect, it can be helpful for women to take time to think about how gender has influenced their approach to relationships and whether there is anything they would like to change in their approach.

The Impact of Homophobia

Another unique consideration for queer women in same sex partnerships relates to how the consequences of homophobia interfere or disrupt the relationship.

Homophobia can be described as the history of fear, discomfort and discrimination of same sex partnerships.

When women enter relationship with one another, they will carry stories of how comfortable and/or uncomfortable being in a same sex relationship has been for them. They will also have varied experiences of social support around them and resources to handle the disruptions of living in communities where homophobia continues to persist in many ways. These kinds of experiences will greatly impact the couple’s ability to persist as a minority couple in a predominantly straight culture around them.

Sometimes women’s responses to these experiences of homophobia and feeling less safe simply because they are in a same sex relationship will be to nurture a close bond more quickly as a way of protecting themselves from the outside world. Thus, a woman bringing her metaphorical U-Haul to the second date may in fact be an adaptive attempt to buffer herself and her new relationship!

While this may be a tempting strategy for women in the beginning of a relationship, it’s not without it’s risks. For example, women can run the risk of shifting that protective closeness in the relationship into a premature settling on this new relationship in order to find some safety and companionship in an otherwise hetero-normative world. The risk in this is that it can undermine a woman’s right to search for a compatible partner that truly suits them and is able to optimally respond to their needs.

While there are lots of similarities between same sex partnerships for women compared to all forms of relationship, there are also some important and unique considerations. And in this way, it can be especially helpful to women in same sex partnerships to explore some of the unique resources and vulnerabilities that they have access to in their union.

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About Author

Sarah McDougall currently works as a Relationship Therapist with New Roots Therapy in Whitby, and as Youth and Family Counsellor at Addiction Services for York Region. As a graduate student, she was chosen as the 2012 recipient for the AAMFT Minority Student Scholarship, based on her unique contributions to the field as a member of the LGBTQ community. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Sarah is interested in sharing knowledge related to LGBTQ rights and creating safer communities for all persons.

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