At the weekend, as part of research into the commercialisation of loneliness, I attended a seminar at a London hotel on how to find your soulmate. The event was very much focussed on heterosexual love, and attended mainly by women, of all ages.
I have been out as a lesbian since 1977, aged 15, and have never been in the closet, so was nervous about the seminar attendees folk assuming I was straight. Also, I have never experienced the contemporary dating scene. I met my partner in 1987 when I was 25 years old. At that time there was no internet, therefore, no online dating, and little in the way of any other capitalist enterprise focussed on couples matching.
The ‘love guru’ at the seminar, a Californian, focussed on overcoming low self esteem, and how we can open our hearts to let potential soulmates in. It was during this session I realised, not for the first time, that straight women really could do with some advice from lesbians on how to find their life partner.
1. Supply and demand. Straight women are fishing from a very shallow pool. Because they are raised under patriarchy, and are afforded male privilege from the moment they are born, men can be jerks to have relationships with. I am not saying that women are faultless - far from it - but in my experience we are less likely to mistreat our partners, or lie about our circumstances.
2. Equality. Lesbians, because of the absence of a blueprint, have invented our own rules and etiquette, so there is far less of the ‘I’ll get the bill’ at the end of the meal, or ‘You should be the one to call me.’
With lesbian relationships it is not necessary to pander to an ego that is constructed and validated by the system of patriarchy. We do not have to tussle with the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” nonsense, which means we can spend that time dealing with proper, serious points of disagreement, such as whether to spend a Saturday quad biking to the nearest Army & Navy store, or head along to Ikea to source the snazziest radiator cat beds.
3. Friendship. Often the only form of support lesbians have is each other, particularly if we live or work in communities with rampant prejudice and bigotry. It is common for lesbians to have been friends with their lovers before, during and after their relationships. Whereas heterosexual couples tend to have very clear distinctions between friends and partners, us lezzers can often find ourselves in what looks like a very complicated family tree situation at gatherings, and few seem to mind that their ex partner is now their new sister-in-law, or that a partner’s new best friend is a recent ex.
4. Sustainability. Lesbians are less likely to stay together because we are married, or even if we have children together. In Scandinavia, for example, there are higher divorce/break-up rates amongst lesbians than their heterosexual counterparts. Data on divorce amongst lesbians elsewhere is too sparse from which to extrapolate, but, to generalise, women in same sex relationships do not often feel trapped by domestic violence, child custody battles or the dread of being viewed as a woman left on the shelf. Splitting up when it is time to do so is a good thing.
5. Sex. I feel sorry for women whose male partners consider emptying the dishwasher to be foreplay. I know there are many straight women out there having the best time in bed with their man, but it is fair to say, going on what I hear from my straight female friends, that Shere Hite’s findings in her groundbreaking research still pretty much stands. I know it is a cliche, but women really do know each others’ bodies and sexual responses pretty well without having to go on a course to discover what and where the clitorus is.
5. Growing old. Men tend to look for younger women when they reach middle or old age. I have rarely seen that happen between lesbians. In fact we tend not to go in for the age-disguising cosmetic offerings, such as hair dying, face-lifts or crash diets, simply because women tend to like ourselves and each other as we are, and yet straight women feel constantly judged by men.
6. Higher expectations. Women tend to talk about their male partners as ‘good enough’ as though they are settling for something less than they should. How many times have you heard the phrase, ‘He’s ever so good with the children’ (meaning that he does something approaching his share of the childcare), or, ‘He doesn’t cheat on me, get drunk or hit me’, as though these are qualities on a CV?
Maybe it is time for women to demand that men be more like other women in relationships? It might save a lot of heartache and disappointment after all.