Life and Love
Nov 14, 2012

Relationships: How men and women think of love

By: Michele Sponagle

Richard Bernardin Author: Elle Canada Credits: Richard Bernardin

Life and Love
Nov 14, 2012

Relationships: How men and women think of love

By: Michele Sponagle

I've looked at love from both sides now. No, really. To me, this is not just a line from a Joni Mitchell song. It's my life. As a bisexual woman, I've dated, dumped, loved and lost men and women. I think it gives me a unique perspective on each gender - their strengths, their weaknesses and the minefields you can step on when you're in a relationship with a him or a her.

The majority of my life has been spent with men. I've had long-term, live-in relationships with two of them - and I was content with the status quo until I accidentally fell madly in love with a woman 12 years ago.

We became fast friends, and she knew more about who I really was than anyone on the planet. We were in perfect sync, something I'd never experienced with a guy. To say that Sara,* a pretty blond writer, and I had passion is an understatement.

If I could have unzipped her skin and crawled in to get closer to her, I would have. But a flame that burns this hot is bound to burn up everything in its path.

She left her husband (oops, didn't I mention that?) and moved from Philadelphia to be closer to me. Once on her own, though, she wanted to explore single life as a lesbian, and we fought as I tried to pull her to me and she battled for space.

After two years, our relationship was done. The experience floored me and turned my world upside down. Imagine having your entire sense of self thrown into a blender. It sent me scrambling to figure out who and what I was. I didn't identify with most lesbians. I still loved men and being with them in every sense. But I also knew now how wonderfully fulfilling being with a woman could be.

I really didn't know much about bisexuality. I thought it was just a term for fence-sitters: people who were greedy and wanted to keep their options for love and sex wide open.

I was lucky enough to find a great therapist who specialized in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. He helped me understand and accept that I had the capacity to love a man or a woman.

What this meant in terms of how to live my life was more complicated. Over the next few years, I looked for a woman with whom I could feel the same way I had with Sara.

I dated a steady stream of women. I found it easy to woo them, and, at first, I flexed my new-found superpower to the max. Eventually I met Stacey, who started out as a friend and then became my common-law partner for eight years. It was pleasant and safe but unpassionate.

Find out how men and women are different in relationships on the next page...

bisexual-2.jpgWhen that relationship ended messily last year, I jumped onto the dating sites again - this time open to male or female companionship. Here's what my switch hitting taught me about love. When it comes to women, I really do see what men complain about when gals want to go from first date into a relationship in a nanosecond.

With Cindi, I was getting pressure for coupledom after the first week of dating. I took a cue from the guys and pulled back; I was slow to return calls and eventually initiated a "this is not working for me" talk.

I actually used a line that an elderly female friend had shared with me when I was lamenting about how tough it is to transition from dating into a relationship.

She said, "A kiss is not a contract." Unless you and your partner have talked and agreed that you are in an exclusive relationship, you're not - even if you've had sex, met the other's friends, etc.

Until that time, I think it's fair to keep looking. I think more women need to think of dating like shoe shopping: You should try on a few pairs with the hope of finding the best fit before you buy.

Back on the online lesbian/bisexual dating sites, I was amazed to see how many women showcased their sexuality. In the ads, I saw plenty of cleavage, provocative poses and even lingerie shots. It surprised me that women would send those to other women. Aren't we the sex that wants to look for love first and sex second?

Maybe we've been trained by society to dangle our sexuality out there like a carrot to get attention and to titillate. It didn't work with me. I want the emotional click to come first before I have sex with anyone. Yet many of the men I've dated are eager to have sex early on to see if a woman is relationship-worthy. I think they fear that they'll get stuck in a relationship with bad sex.

Women also fight with the good girl/bad girl dilemma, where we don't want to be thought of as "loose" if we do the nasty too soon. This was the case with Tony. I quizzed him and declared that I wouldn't be bedding him until I was sure that the seeds of a potential relationship were sprouting.

I made him wait, but it wasn't worth waiting for at all. He also talked with his mouth full and asked me for $20,000 to invest. Exit Tony.

I have also found that, although gals talk more freely and openly than men, I don't think they/we communicate all that well. Often, I think we say what we think we should say - what we believe is expected of women. My long-term partner Stacey taught me that. We talked a lot but not about things that really mattered, like how we were feeling about us.

Learn how men and women communicate differently and which is easier to get along with in a romantic relationship on the next page...

bisexual-2.jpgShe used the word "okay" often when things were definitely not okay. Not saying what you mean or meaning what you say dooms a relationship. A lack of real self-awareness isn't just a she thing.

Guys do it too. When I dated Larry, we had long talks in his hot tub. We saw each other for a month before he told me that, in four days, he was checking himself into a psychiatric hospital for three months for treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In his online profile, he described himself as "a happy-go-lucky man." What I think he meant to say was "I'd like to be a happy-go-lucky man." But that's some serious disconnect.

It became clear to me just how good both sexes are at fooling themselves and being out of touch with how they really feel. Recently, my ex-girlfriend Sara, the one who started me on my road to bisexualdom, reappeared in my life via Facebook. We chatted online before she flew in to stay with me for my birthday weekend. It clicked again.

Within a couple of days, we were talking about getting back together. Then I found out that Sara was already seeing someone else; I read her girlfriend's blog, in which she wrote about how she missed Sara, believing she was on a "business trip." Good riddance, Sara.

This brief tryst reminded me how good women are at manipulation. (I include myself here.) It's the dark side of being smart, empathic and wanting something. In the movie Friends With Benefits, Dylan (Justin Timberlake) asks: "Why do women think the only way to get men to do what they want is to manipulate them?"

Jamie (Mila Kunis) replies: "History, personal experience, romantic comedies." Well said. I've been single again for over a year and a half now, and I'm still learning from every date.

I'm better at stickhandling situations, such as the slow fizzle. With Bill, months of occasional emailing turned into a few G-rated dates, promises of another and then nothing from him.

I hate loose ends, so I sent an email saying it had been nice to spend time with him and wished him the best of luck. The polite kiss-off. Like most girls, I like resolution.

So I've learned to be the one who does the resolving and move on. I even took a few months off from dating because I sometimes find the repeated cycle of hope-reality-disappointment too soul-shredding.

I'm back in the game now, but I've taken a few pages from the boys' playbook. I won't chase. If he or she wants me, they'll let me know. And I try not to look back and ponder "would have/could have" questions. I just carry on.

Because I am bisexual, I have the gift of choice. These days, I'm looking for a man. After dating both sexes, I feel like I understand guys more. I know what to expect. Women are infinitely more complex and, hence, often bewildering. I fully realize the irony of this.

I am a woman, happy to be female, but I have a hard time deciphering the words and actions of my own sex. Men seem to be more direct in their communication. They don't ruminate to death over how they are going to say something. The words come out in all their undigested, raw glory.

And I appreciate that. In terms of sex, they are direct, clear, spontaneous. I've never had a boyfriend say "Let's have sex next Tuesday." But I once had a girlfriend who did.

I don't know what the next chapter of my dating life holds. I only know that I will continue to learn a lot and that it will never be dull. (Name have been changed.)

Read more:
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Dating and relationships: Dealing with unrequited love
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Life and Love

Relationships: How men and women think of love