When we think about entering a relationship, we tend to focus on the qualities we are looking for in a potential partner. Sometimes we become so fixated on the traits we want from the other person that we lose sight of all of the amazing qualities we have to offer. If we do not acknowledge our own attributes, we handicap our chances of entering a healthy relationship in two ways: 1) We do not present our truest, best selves and 2) We end up settling for someone, believing we do not deserve more.
As gay men, we have a greater tendency than our heterosexual counterparts to play down our strengths. This does not mean we are unworthy. It just means that—because we have endured issues that affected our identity development while growing up—our self-esteem may have taken a hit.
Self-acceptance is key to our mental and emotional health; however, societal homophobia and heterosexism have been shown to interfere with the development of self-acceptance (Weber-Gilmore et al, 2011). When we are bombarded with messages geared to a heterosexual population, the development of own healthy identities may be thwarted, since “normal models” rarely relate to our experience. Further compounding the issue is the outright rejection of our sexual-minority status through homophobic images and messaging.
In addition, unlike other minority groups (e.g., Hispanics and African Americans), we likely did not grow up in a family or community that shared, embraced, and supported our sexual orientation (Morrow, 2004). For example, if teased at school about being gay, most of us did not return home to gay parents or siblings who would help us take pride in this difference and incorporate it into our identities.
How do we get a better sense of ourselves? We begin by making a list of our qualities—first by asking ourselves what our attributes are, and then by asking our friends and family members what they observe to be our strengths. If we rely solely on our own observations, we will likely cut ourselves short—either because we simply do not see our gifts, or we are too shy or insecure to acknowledge them.
Next, we must actually believe everything we have listed. A simple exercise for realizing how great we truly are is this: For each trait we have trouble accepting, write that trait on the top of a sheet of paper and learn to “own” it. For example, “I am kind.” Under that attribute, create two columns—one that says “Evidence For” and the other labeled “Evidence Against.” Then fill out each column. Be objective here; do not allow self-doubt to detract from the positive evidence. Revisit this exercise the day after initially working on it, because a new day will provide fresh perspective and new evidence.
When we examine what we have written, our strengths should become more obvious to us. We will often find that we were not allowing ourselves to fully appreciate our qualities.
Embracing what we have to offer the world will increase our self-esteem, which will, in turn, attract potential suitors. Then we will be in a better place to decide who deserves an opportunity to be in a healthy, intimate relationship with us.
Morrow, D.F. (2004). Social Work Practice With Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Adolescents. Families in Society, 85, 91- 99.
Weber-Gilmore, G., Rose, S., & Rubinstein, R. (2011). The Impact of Internalized Homophobia on Outness for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals. The Professional Counselor, 1(3), 163-175.
Feeling comfortable with your single status is key to entering a healthy relationship. Sound like a paradox? Read on, and you will understand why this works.
If you have ever gone to the grocery store when you are hungry, you know that is usually a recipe for disaster. Instead of making decisions with your head or wallet, you think with your stomach. Unfortunately, your stomach does not care about your budget, the weight you are trying to lose, or the fact that you hated a particular snack last time you bought it.
A similar phenomenon happens when you go out in the hopes of finding “the one.” You expend most of your energy scouring the crowds for Mr. Right. However, when you are that starved for love, your judgment becomes easily compromised. You may wind up connecting with people you know would not interest you if you were not so “hungry,” and then you bring home a “snack” that is not satisfying. We have all been there.
If you accept being single for the moment, you give yourself the freedom to make more informed decisions about who is worth the investment of your time and energy—and who is not. We all have limited personal resources, so it is important to use them where you will gain the most benefit. Accepting your single status enables you to avoid clinging to someone who is a bad match, then struggling to figure out if the relationship is a keeper or not.
It is best to make wise decisions when first meeting a potential mate—before you find yourself stuck in the momentum of the relationship. Remember: When we cannot figure out if we should be in our current relationship, it is often because we should not have pursued that relationship in the first place. And the longer it goes on, the harder it is to change directions.
Contributing to the decision—“should I stay or should I go?”—is the convincing voice that says we should avoid being alone. How many times have we stayed in relationships, experienced unnecessary pain, and endured unhappiness just so we could escape feeling alone? The fear of loneliness often deters us from making and following through on decisions that are in our best interests. If we accept being single, then that fear of loneliness loses its power over us.
Gay men are especially susceptible to the emotional stress that comes with fears of loneliness. This is due in part to the fact that most gay men experience some level of internalized homophobia and this serves to lower our comfort level for being on our own. Because of the abundance of negative words, images, and connections put out there by friends, family, media, and society, we cannot help but take some of that in and mistakenly believe we are bad or negative people. The degree to which we experience feelings of internalized homophobia plays a role in determining how well we are able to love ourselves and how secure we are with ourselves (Weber, 2008). The more we love and believe in ourselves, the less love and validation we need from others in order to feel whole.
Another reason we are more vulnerable to loneliness is the lack of support we received growing up, versus that of our heterosexual peers. Evidence shows that gay men tend to have less support available to them when young (Friedman et al) because: 1) we are more likely to isolate ourselves due to the shame and/or confusion we felt for being different than our peers; 2) we may have felt unsafe getting close to others, especially males, because we did not want them to learn of our sexual orientation; or 3) others may have shunned us because of their limited and negative beliefs regarding homosexuality. Any of these reasons would affect us, making it more difficult for us to feel comfortable being on our own.
In order to help us accept being single—despite feeling like we are actually “starving” to be in a relationship—we must change the way we view our reality. How is that possible? With radical acceptance. At various points in our lives, we have probably practiced this technique. In fact, we employ radical acceptance every time we relinquish control of a situation’s outcome, knowing there is nothing we can do to affect it. When we fully (or radically) accept those things we cannot control, we practice radical acceptance. It does not mean we become complacent and give up; instead it means we acknowledge our inability to manipulate a situation to go exactly the way we would like.
One way to accomplish radical acceptance is through self-talk. We actually tell ourselves, out loud or internally, that whether or not tonight is the night we meet our significant other is out of our control. While there are things we are able to do that will increase our chances of entering a healthy relationship—like accepting being single for the moment—there are still a lot of variables that are beyond our control. If we radically accept this and focus our energy on something more productive, such as living in the moment and enjoying ourselves and our friends when out, we will be happier individuals and make more informed decisions when it comes time to enter a relationship.
Friedman, M.S., Marshal, M.P., Stall, R., Cheong, J., & Wright, E.R. (2008). Gay-related Development, Early Abuse and Adult Health Outcomes Among Gay Males. AIDS and Behavior, 12, 891-902.
Weber, G. N. (2008). Using to Numb the Pain: Substance Use and Abuse Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 30, 31-48.
Relationships in general – LGBT and non-LGBT– take a lot of learning and work in order to be healthy. This is partly due to growing up without specifically being taught how to have stimulating and satisfying romantic partnerships. At most, we were able to see our parent’s relationship, however, that may not have been the best model for us, especially since it was not likely a model that involved a parent that identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Below are some quick tips on how to maintain a healthy relationship when any of the partners identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
1) It is important to feel like a couple. Others, including family and friends, may not be as prone to see you as a couple as they would a non-LGBT couple, so make sure that you do things, like celebrating anniversaries, to ensure you see yourself as a unit. Seeing yourself as a couple will allow you to have an additional reason to work through difficult times and stay together.
2) Attempt engaging in a dialogue with your partner instead of talking at each other – trying to just prove a point. It is natural when someone feels attacked for them to do whatever necessary to survive. This often leads to arguments that do not get resolved. When you do not like something that your partner did, try to share your experience of what happened by speaking from the “I” and helping your partner understand how you feel about the situation.
3) When it comes to sex, try to get rid of any shame and stigma you may have by talking about what might be getting in the way of more intimate sex with your partner. Many of us may feel that we can just work out these issues while actually having sex, however, especially for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, there needs to be actual discussion about how each person feels about sex and what stimulates them.
Finding “the one” to love takes a lot of work, especially if you are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. One obvious issue we have to deal with is that our options may be limited due to close-mindedness or fewer people falling into our sexual orientation group. An issue that may not be as obvious is having to deal with all the negative messaging about ourselves that we internalize. Living with these thoughts easily leads to a lower sense of self-worth and having low self-esteem makes it more difficult to find the partner you actually deserve.
To increase your chances of finding your relationship match:
1) Accept being single, for the moment. While single, focus on the benefits of not being in a relationship and enjoy yourself. You will make poorer decisions if you are desperate to be in a relationship with someone. Think of it like grocery shopping when you are starving – not a good idea.
2) Learn more about you. Before making a list of all the things you want from your perfect partner, make sure you are fully aware of all of your great attributes. This will allow you to be more confident in yourself and help you choose partners that are deserving of all you have to offer.
3) Do not stay in a relationship for the sake of being in a relationship. If you have made sincere attempts at working at the relationship and your gut is telling you that it is not working, then you need to move on, heal, and learn, so that you make yourself available for a better partner.
If you are interested in learning more about finding your relationship match or other issues related to the LGBT community, please feel free to visit my website, LGBTtherapyNJ.com.
Regardless of whether you are 10, 20, or 50, coming out can be a difficult task. If you are reading this, you likely have already made the decision to come out and live a more authentic life. You have decided that the relief you would get from no longer hiding outweighs the fear of any possible consequences. Your courage should be celebrated.
I came out during my junior year of college, after gaining a better understanding that I had nothing to be ashamed of and that I was an essential part of a movement. Bruce Bawer’s book A Place at the Table helped me to realize that while a portion of society saw me as abnormal, that was not the reality. And The Times of Harvey Milk documentary helped me to understand that my coming out would lend another example of why the world need not fear or look down upon homosexuals.
If you are indeed ready to come out, I offer you these three tips to help make the process as easy and rewarding as possible.
1. Start by telling someone whom you are most confident will have a positive initial reaction, then tell more people as you feel prepared to do so.
2. Face-to-face is not the only option. Use any medium you feel most comfortable communicating this message.
3. Understand that others, especially family members, may go through a grieving process if they believe they are losing the fantasy they had of your current and future life.
If you are interested in learning more about coming out or other issues related to the LGBT community, please feel free to visit my website, LGBTtherapyNJ.com.
Israel Martinez, LCSW
I am a psychotherapist who has been working with the LGBT community on a professional basis for over ten years. This background provides me with unique expertise on issues that tend to be a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender experience.