Do you and your partner conform to traditional gender roles?
Less and less couples seem to follow the strict patterns set out in past generations, but there’s still enough attention on it that people give you a funny look when they find out you don’t follow the traditional paths. I’ll admit that I’ve been in heteronormative relationships myself, although they’re definitely not my favorite.
It’s more than just a personal preference, though – there are actually a bunch of reasons why being in a relationship with rigid expectations is so hard on you – and we’ve rounded up 8 of the biggest.
Gender roles make things a lot less interesting.
When you’re dating someone, you want to be dazzled and surprised, right? Well, gender roles take out quite a bit of the mystery involved, making the whole relationship a lot less exciting. It applies a rigid set of rules for each partner, even if one of the partners doesn’t understand or accept the expectations set forth. What’s even creepier is the fact that it promotes obedience and conformity over personality and individuality. Which, let’s face it, are two of the most important things in a partner. Do you really want to be with someone who’s exactly like everyone else?
That’s not to say that you can’t do the traditionally-expected roles in your relationship – and, in fact, it might be the easiest and most fitting option for you and your partner. But it shouldn’t be an expectation – it should be a serious personal decision from each of you. If you’re simply expecting your partner to perform a certain set of duties, without discussing your expectations, there’s a problem. Your partner needs to confirm that they are able and willing to meet your expectations, or else help come up with a compromise that makes you both happy.
Gender roles invalidate autonomy.
None of the roles we play in life are actually permanent or well-defined – but as humans we try to make sense of the chaos, and sometimes the easiest way to do that is to grab onto a definition that’s already out there, and ride it out until we know otherwise. But just because that’s the easiest way to do it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it – and, in fact, everything in life is involved by everyone directly involved, and literally no one else. Your love life and your home life are no exception here.
Automatically applying gender roles to a relationship takes away the opportunity for a serious conversation about each partner’s likes, dislikes, and expectations in the relationship. You may find out that you both have specific roles you want to perform in the relationship, and that those roles are complementary – great! But if you don’t ever talk about it, you’ll never actually know if your partner is happy. And, if you never revisit those roles when situations change, you may be forcing your partner into a box they’ve outgrown, which is never fun for anyone.
Gender roles are heteronormative AF.
While gender roles are not really great for any relationship, they are definitely more disadvantageous to those who don’t fit within the traditional male/female relationship binary balance. Relationships that involve two men, two women, or any other combination of two or more people are already set back from the time they leave the gate, because the natural balance of things won’t be well-defined at all.
The truth is that very few, if any, romantic or sexual relationships can be fit into such a tight mold, even in the cishetero community. Allowing gender roles to run your relationship normalizes “polar opposite” behavior, which leaves room for resentment and frustration from any partner who doesn’t fit the outlines set out for them. And, of course, it unnecessarily genders things that really don’t need to be gendered. I mean, just think about it for a second: If gender roles were real, lesbians would spend all day cuddling and crying, and gay male couples would spend all day fighting and having sex – every single day. Doesn’t sound too realistic now, does it?
Gender roles place barriers on self-improvement.
It’s human nature to want to be a better version of ourselves whenever and in whatever ways we can, but the idea that we fit into a specific role that was predefined before we were even born takes away our mental abilities to make ourselves better. Society says that women (and “more feminine” partners) should be tidy and organized, culinary goddesses, and – of course – that they should be caring and nurturing every minute of every day. Men (and “more masculine” partners), on the other hand, are expected to be shot-callers, income-bringers, and aggressive protectors – without ever acknowledging their own emotions.
But, the perfect partner is all of those things and so much more. The only issue here is that perfection should be a personal journey – not a stipulation one must adhere to before your love is given. Life doesn’t actually come with an easy-to-understand instruction manual, and our journeys toward being a good partner, a good person, and even a good parent (if we so choose) are all separate journeys. They each deserve their own attention, and trying to let your relationship define all three journeys for you leaves no room for what you really want. Again, if the things you want are defined by a traditional structure, then more power to you, but you must reach that conclusion for yourself.
Emotions get manipulated and assumed within the roles.
In a traditional binary relationship, the more masculine partner gets all the control, while being discouraged from being “soft.” Expressions of one’s emotions are seen as a weakness, with the exception of anger and aggression. It assumes that what the more masculine partner says goes, because there’s no way that the partner’s emotions could be getting in the way of things.
The more feminine partner, on the other hand, is discouraged from showing any sort of aggression or frustration – and it’s assumed that stress is just a part of the partner’s life, to be swallowed and dealt with alone. Requesting help is frowned on, too, because this partner is supposed to be the one taking requests and demands, not handing them out. If she does request help, it’s often seen as “nagging.”
But humans don’t usually fall into such strict definitions, as we’ve already discussed. Holding back your emotions isn’t good for everyone, and traditional gender roles are built around the idea of keeping your emotions to yourself. Communication is such an important part of any relationship, it’s hard to picture how anyone could be happy without that line of communication being open!
Gender roles favor one person indefinitely.
Remember when we said that your roles in life are not permanent or well-defined? Well, that means that those roles are bound to change at some point – either circumstantially or through clarifications. Your “place” in the relationship needs to be flexible to make up for those changes, or else the relationship will fall apart right when you need each other the most. If the “breadwinner” in the family gets injured and can’t work, will the “nurturer” be able to pick up the pieces and take over that section of your lives together?
The idea that your roles are pre-defined and inflexible also leads to feelings of resentment and frustration, even if there’s never a major crisis on the horizon. We tend to resent things we feel like we “have to” do – which takes all the romance out of otherwise-loving gestures. Because, believe it or not, doing something that makes your partner happy is pretty much the most loving gesture you can possibly do, but they need to go both directions.
Gender roles kill your sex life, too.
Too much rigidity and structure in the bedroom is no fun for anyone – one of the best parts about a healthy sexual relationship is excitement and a willingness to try new things. When one partner is expected to do more of the “giving” and the other partner more of the “receiving” – with no attention paid to actual desire levels – your sexual relationship can start to veer toward super unhealthy behaviors, fast.
Beyond that, one partner’s needs and wants should never be more important than the others, so assuming that your partner only needs sex when you need sex, or that they always want it when you want it, will inevitably lead to a sex life that feels more like a chore than an intimate act. (And, for those of you who didn’t know, most studs like orgasms, too. Make sure you spread that one around because a lot of women don’t even bother to try.)
TBH, very few people actually enjoy cleaning.
One of the most frustrating gender roles I personally deal with regularly is the idea of cooking and cleaning. Some people truly are tidy, well-organized, and keep a spotless living area. They easily squeeze in the cleaning in between everything else they have going on, and literally never put off cleaning up after themselves and their partners. I am not one of those people. Cooking and cleaning are not very high up on my list of priorities, but things do get done. If I was with a partner who expected me to do all the housework without any help, it would never work out.
When both partners have commitments outside of the home – whether work, school, volunteer activities, or whatever else you may have going on – time is already pretty limited. Not only do you need to fit in your not-home activities, but you’ve also got to leave time for yourself and to focus on your relationship, too. When all the household expectations fall to one partner, there are sacrifices that must be made to compensate for that time. Why should one partner’s time be more valuable than the other’s? Adulting sucks – but dumping all the burden on one person sucks more.