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Two Sense: My Boyfriend Is Trying to Label Me

Illustration credit: GrandeDuc

Illustration credit: GrandeDuc

I'm in love with a guy I've been seeing a few months. I think he's in love with me too, but we've hit a glitch. In sharing some of our relationship histories (not over-sharing, just the basics), I told him about my last serious relationship, which was with a woman. I lived with her for three years and we parted amicably with no drama. That was two whole years ago, and I've dated both men and women since. My boyfriend is having a problem believing I can commit because of how fluid my sexual orientation is—sometimes a woman, sometimes a man. He asks me to "decide" whether I am lesbian or heterosexual, even though I don't subscribe to any label, and when I try to nail myself down at least by claiming to be "bisexual," he somehow doesn't believe it. He thinks "bisexual" means a woman who's had a few female romps in college but is really heterosexual deep down. I can tell you right now: I would have no problem marrying this man and staying faithful. I love him! I loved my ex-girlfriend too, and was loyal and committed, but it didn't work out and I accepted that. But this label business is making me feel like there's something wrong with me. Is there? Or is he the one who's all hung up?

He Said: Your new BF is making a mistake that is still so common we will cut him some slack. Like a lot of people, he's confusing the fluidity of sexuality with notions of loyalty, commitment, and monogamy. Bisexuals are no more likely to stray than anyone else. The ability to find both genders sexually attractive (which most humans possess in some degree, by the way) does not mean you are somehow more likely to act on it. (In fact, he should be comforted by your lesbian side as the stereotype is that female same sex relationships tend to be most secure. I'm kidding—sort of.) He should also be reassured by the fact that you were mature enough to end your last relationship amicably and retain your good feelings about her. That's a great sign for your ability to work through emotional problems, something that everyone looks for in a partner or friend. Finally, he's also struggling with the immature straight male adolescent idea of lesbianism as sexy "phase." Out of respect for your identity and your future together he needs to come to terms with all of who you are and not diminish your complexity. Be very clear: This is about him, and not about you.

She Said: I agree, this is totally about him, and though I’m sure he has many wonderful qualities, I’m frankly wondering how such a sexually fluid woman is going to fare in the long term with a man who seems to have some pretty biased ideas about bisexuality. I personally know at least four women who have been in long-term, committed, and monogamous relationships with both men and women. If I know four of them, then it can’t be all that uncommon—you and your boyfriend must know a few others as well, right? Perhaps you should point them out, along with a few heterosexual friends who can’t seem to stay faithful to one person for more than six months. You could also hand him all kinds of research on the fluidity of human sexuality in general (see the Kinsey Scale) and of women in particular (see What Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner). But I’m thinking that logic may not do the trick here; I’m thinking that your boyfriend is feeling insecure about the fact that you can switch “channels” so easily. He may be thinking something along the lines of: If she can go straight or gay, what else can she do? Can I keep up with her sexually? Will I be able to satisfy her? He may be used to fending off the male competition for a “very straight” girlfriend but unsure about how to keep a woman happy when he also has to compete with the other fifty percent of the population. As hard as it may be, try not to take his feelings personally. Invite him into a deeper discussion of his actual fears and concerns, including an answer to the question, “What happens if you find yourself attracted to a woman again in the future?” This is an honest question, as there are things a woman can give you that your male partner simply cannot. Now’s the time to see if some discussion will help you two get over this hump, before you get any more serious or committed. Good luck.

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