Gender stereotypes, miscommunication can hinder relationships among people of all gender identifications and sexual orientations

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Sophomore Ray George’s relationship with his girlfriend started in a bit of an unconventional way.

“I actually didn’t ask my girlfriend [out] on our first date,” George said. “She asked me out first.”

Marissa Oehlhof, an instructor in the Psychology department, said one of the traditional gender stereotypes is for men to initiate relationships.

“Men have a responsibility to do all of the asking, to take the risk, whereas the women are kind of waiting around to be asked,” she said.

Other stereotypes include an expectation that men are oversexed and “ready to go,” while women are perceived to be undersexed and “in control of their urges.”

This can lead women to suppress their natural sexuality for fear of being looked at as promiscuous, and it can also affect men, Oehlhof said.

“Alternately, guys who aren’t looking to just have sex with anything that moves kind of get this negative stereotype as well,” she said. “Like ‘What’s wrong with you? Do you not like me? Am I not pretty enough? Are you not into me? Are you gay?’”

“It’s damaging,” she continued. “Guys aren’t ready-to-go sex machines 24 hours a day any more than women are.”

Stereotypes can affect same-sex relationships as well.

Tobias Spears, assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center, said same-sex couples can feel pressured to fit into a “homo-normative box.”

“We’re taught that relationships look like a man and a woman,” he said. “We sometimes even bring that into spaces where same-gender and same-sex people have relationships.”

In same-sex relationships, a common question among men is who will be the patriarchal, controlling figure, while women also feel a push to identify as a more feminine “lipstick lesbian” or a more masculine lesbian, Spears said.

People’s roles should not be dictated to their gender expression or sex, and these roles develop out of routine, Spears said.

“Those notions are so outdated and so unhelpful when we want to allow people to be who they really are,” he said. “We just need to make sure that whatever role someone chooses to be in a relationship that we can respect that.”

Regardless of sexual orientation, Spears also said there is a misconception that people who move from partner to partner are incapable of compassion.

“People show their love and showcase who they are in very different ways,” he said. “My job is to teach students that there’s multiplicity in relationships, that relationships don’t all look the same.”

George also sees a stigma for people who do not necessarily settle down.

“It’s reasonable to think that someone might not be tied down to one person and be in a committed relationship,” he said.

As someone who has only dated one person, George said he sometimes senses social pressure to date around as well.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Well, you haven’t tried out other options, you don’t know what other people are like, you don’t know what you’re missing,’” George said.

It is important for couples to be honest with each other when they approach relationships, Oehlhof said. Things to consider are whether to pursue a committed or an open relationship, and to be honest when problems arise.

“It breeds resentment in a lot of cases if someone’s not getting what they want sexually, but they never share it with their partner,” she said. “Partners aren’t psychic, so communication is definitely a huge responsibility.”

Being honest in a romantic relationship can prevent a lot of stress later on, George said.

“Being up front about your feelings toward the relationship … can cause stress on the relationship, but ultimately that stress is going to cause it to grow,” he said.

It is possible to alienate someone with honest communication, but it may be a good thing in the long run, Oehlhof said.

“It might mean that you can get into a relationship with somebody you are more compatible with,” she said.

There is some research that indicates men and women communicate differently, Oehlhof said.

“It presents its own challenges, where men are often listening for the take-home message [and] women are listening for details,” she said. “Communication is a big aspect of relationships that a lot of people fail on, and it’s practice makes perfect. Or at least practice makes better.”