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This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Lesbian dating and courtship were explored based on in- terviews with 38 predominantly white lesbians ages representing young adult, adult, and midlife age groups.
Friendship was found to be the most widely used courtship script across all age groups, followed by the sexually explicit and romance scripts, with friendship and romance scripts being preferred. Friendship was found to be differentiated from romance by two main criteria: Ver- bal declarations of interest and nonverbal behaviors were the primary means of communicating sexual attraction. Few lesbians adhered to tra- ditional gender roles in dating, and those who reported assuming the feminine reactive role nevertheless rejected the traditional notion that Suzanna M.
She received her doctorate in clinical psychology in from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she began her research on lesbian relationships. Lesbian Love and Re- lationships ed: Overall, midlife lesbians were more purposive in their dating and more free from gender roles. Will the rela- tionship that has just been initiated result in being lovers, partners, or friends, or some combination?
Moreover, exactly how do lesbian relationships typi- cally get initiated? Is dating a clearly defined concept, or is the establishment of contact usually more ambiguous in its intent? These questions are of consid- erable interest to lesbians. A great many advice and humor books and social commentaries have addressed these issues e. Our intent in the present research was to provide an in-depth descriptive ac- count of lesbian dating and courtship that would begin to close the gap in knowledge concerning lesbian relationship formation.
We examined what courtship scripts lesbians had used in past relationships, how they defined les- bian dating and what was unique about it, and how romantic relations versus friendship were solicited and developed.
Also evaluated were the extent to which lesbians adopted gender roles when dating and the impact previous les- bian and heterosexual dating experience had on behavior. Last, a qualitative post hoc analysis was conducted to determine whether developmental changes in views about courtship emerged among the three age groups of participants, including young adult, adult, and midlife lesbians.
Dating and Courtship Scripts Contemporary heterosexual courtship typically relies on dating as a way to initiate romantic relationships Bailey, A graduated series of dates is considered the first step to a serious romance Modell, Once an exclusive pairing has been established, a couple may enter into a more formal courtship phase.
The extent to which lesbians follow patterns of heterosexual dating and courtship has not been established. That some lesbians date is obvious. Per- sonal advertisements written by lesbians often expressly state an interest in dating. Likewise, lesbians who participated in research by Cini and Malafi and Klinkenberg and Rose were able to provide detailed de- scriptions of dating.
However, others declined to participate because they had gotten involved with a friend and never dated. Thus, dating and courtship as they traditionally occur may not apply to lesbians. Three courtship scripts that have been used by Rose, Zand, and Cini to describe lesbian couple formation include a romance, friendship, and sexu- ally explicit script.
A script refers to a set of stereotypical actions defined by cultural norms that serve as a guide for what feelings and behaviors should oc- cur in a specific situation Gagnon, ; Ginsberg, The relationship usually rapidly proceeds towards commitment. Dating may be one means of initiating a relationship, but it appears that the dating phase for lesbians may be very short or that a more serious courtship may be preferred from the beginning.
For instance, Cini and Malafi found that by a fifth date, respondents re- ported being both sexually and emotionally involved and tended to regard themselves as a couple. In the other two major patterns of lesbian courtship, the friendship script and the sexually explicit script, the components of emotional intimacy and sexual attraction hypothetically play out differently. Neither script requires dating for its initiation.
The friendship script, believed to be the most common courtship script among lesbians, emphasizes emotional intimacy over sexual- ity. According to this script, two women become friends, fall in love, and es- tablish a committed relationship with each other that may or may not be sexual, as in the case of lesbian Boston marriages e.
In contrast, the sexually explicit script primarily focuses on sexuality and at- traction; emotional intimacy is less important or may not even be present. The most immediate questions raised by the preceding discussion are: What courtship scripts do lesbians actually use, and what script is most preferred? Related issues concern how lesbians define dating and whether lesbian dating has unique characteristics not associated with heterosexual models.
These were addressed in the present research. In addition, the degree to which scripts may overlap may create ambiguity. The courtship scripts described above may not be as distinct in practice as in theory.
The friendship script is one that is particularly confusing, because it is often difficult for lesbians to know whether an informal interaction with another woman is a date or a non-roman- tic friendship overture.
What script is followed may be easier to discern in ret- rospect than during its enactment. Or, scripts might be blended, with both friendship and romance as the goal.
Lesbians place a high value on friendship and appear to act quickly to establish an intimate connection within the context of a dating relationship Rose et al. Two questions raised by script ambiguity that also were ex- plored in the present research concerned how lesbians distinguish friendship from romance and what rituals signal the progression of the relationship to a more serious level, such as from friendship or dating to commitment.
Gender Roles and Courtship The impact of gender roles on lesbian courtship also was investigated in the present research. First, it was expected lesbians would use more indirect than direct means of communicating interest in a partner. Traditional gender roles prescribe that men initiate the relationship; women are expected to wait to be asked for a date.
As women, lesbians may not have been socialized to initiate dating or courtship. This is perhaps one reason lesbians have been described as notoriously inactive in approaching another woman in whom they are interested e. Thus, as women, lesbians may be especially skilled at sending and interpreting nonverbal cues. Subsequently, we predicted that lesbians would rely on nonverbal proceptive behaviors more than direct verbal approaches e. Second, based on gender socialization, we predicted that lesbians would prefer the friendship script over the romance or sexually explicit scripts.
For instance, the need for one woman to assume the traditional male role of initiator in dating relationships may be circumvented by the friendship script. Women also generally are socialized to value intimacy and expressiveness over sexuality in relationships, a pattern of interaction that is most compatible with the friend- ship script.
Moreover, the process of coming out occurs within the context of a friendship for many lesbians e. In other words, lesbi- ans typically behave consistently with gender roles, that is, most do not adopt the male role. The prediction that few lesbians would adopt heterosexual roles was explored in the present research by asking participants the extent to which they assumed either a traditional masculine role when dating i. Previous heterosexual and lesbian dating experience also was as- sessed in order to test whether dating experience affected gender role behavior.
In summary, it appears that an exploration of lesbian dating and courtship would be a fruitful place to begin the study of lesbian relationship initiation. In the present research, the four issues raised above were investigated, including: Developmental Issues Whether courtship among lesbians is affected by adult development re- mains an open question. On the one hand, courtship scripts might be quite ro- Suzanna M.
Key developmental tasks for adolescent and young adult lesbians include coming out and establishing an intimate relationship Savin-Williams, Rose has suggested that lesbians entering their first relationship may be partic- ularly likely to adopt a friendship script because cultural scripts for same-sex ro- mance are not widely available.
Thus, a same-sex attraction initially may be la- beled or encoded as friendship rather than attraction. In young adulthood, les- bians also may lack opportunities to learn or apply other scripts due to confusion about their sexual identity, lack of role models, lack of same-age partners, or fear of anti-lesbian violence from peers Savin-Williams, Even so, many lesbians establish their first serious relationship in their 20s.
Research on adult years and midlife lesbians largely has been aimed at understanding couple relationships rather than courtship. This research emphasis reflects the heterosexist linearity of life span and relation- ship research, which assumes that young adult courtship will be followed by lifelong monogamy.
Although often not true for heterosexuals today, this lin- earity may be even less applicable to lesbians for several reasons. First, al- though many lesbians aspire to the cultural norm of establishing a lifelong monogamous relationship with a partner, few achieve this during their early adulthood, as is prescribed by traditional values.
Instead, there is a strong like- lihood that lesbians may have several episodes of same-sex dating, courtship, and partnership in their lifetimes. Second, not all lesbians endorse the concept of lifelong monogamy. Thus, we expected to find that many lesbians would be actively dating and courting well beyond their 20s. By midlife , it is possible to speculate based on limited information that developmental changes in dating and courtship might occur in a few areas.
Subsequently, they may adhere less to gender roles. Because most lesbians work from economic necessity, work continues to be a strong part of their identity. However, lesbians persist in deeply valuing relationships all their lives, often wanting more time at midlife to enjoy partners, friends, and per- sonal interests. Friends play a particularly strong role in the lives of both coupled and single lesbians. Thus, midlife lesbians may approach dating and courtship with more maturity.
For instance, they may have used more court- ship scripts, developed clearer preferences for how and what kind of relation- ship they wish to establish, be more skilled at interpreting or signaling romantic interest, and be less affected by gender expectations. Lesbians who enter their first courtship today face an immensely improved social climate compared to those who came out decades ago.
How these different experiences interact with age to affect dating and courtship remains to be determined. Overall, the multiplicity of influences on dating and courtship for lesbians across the life span makes developmental changes difficult to predict. Not enough groundwork has yet been laid in terms of lesbian adult development or cohort effects to anticipate reliably how dating might be affected. Thus, our in- tent in the present research was to investigate how and why lesbians date, with- out specifically focusing on developmental issues.
However, a qualitative post hoc analysis of lesbian dating was undertaken to determine whether develop- mental changes could be identified. To that end, responses from 38 lesbians we interviewed were examined as a function of three age groups, including young adults , adults , and midlife In summary, the research on lesbian dating and courtship presented here was intended to provide an exploratory descriptive analysis of lesbian relation- ship formation. Intensive interviews were conducted with lesbians to obtain the answer to 12 questions addressing the following themes: