What it's like to be a woman in love with a bisexual man

High school girls dating high school boys might imagine their biggest threat comes from a leggy blonde on the netball team, but what if it's a male rugby star that catches his eye? According to two researchers studying relationships with bisexual men, it doesn't have to be a story of heartbreak.

Bisexuals and their partners say they often feel silenced by wider society. But an Australian study into the experiences of 78 women in relationships with bisexual men has revealed some of the nuances of their situation.
If we tell the children that Dad's bi, what happens when that child goes to school and starts talking about Dad and Mum and their relationship?
Maria Palotti-Chiarolli, Deakin University
The women were aged between 19 and 65, from a range of cultures, and from all over Australia, says Dr Maria Palotti-Chiarolli, a senior lecturer at Deakin University, who compiled a book based on the study.


'The women themselves were predominantly heterosexual,' she says. 'Some were married, some not married.

'Some were grandmothers who had not told their middle-class children that they were in a relationship with a bisexual man because their children were too conservative to hear it.

'Some of the relationships were very problematic and sad, but we had some of the sexiest and fun stories as well.'

Sara Lubowitz, who is married to a bisexual man, was a co-researcher on the study. She said there was often a lot of secrecy involved in these women's lives.
'I went to houses that were in very nice, white bread, middle-class areas, with women who had only just found out that their partner was having sex with men and had been doing that for a very long time,' she says.

'They were some of the really heartbreaking stories. Shock, betrayal and grief was a big part of it, and the fact they felt so isolated.'

Sacred beds and gendered monogamy

For some, Lubowitz says, the bisexual infidelity is marginally easier to bear than the heterosexual kind.

'If you think of growing up as a young woman at school, you would've thought that if there was a threat to your relationship it would come from the captain of the netball team—the tall, blonde, leggy girl,' she says.

'You never looked at the rugby player, you never saw the captain of the rugby team as the person who might challenge your relationship.

'If you grow up in that kind of society—and that's what we grow up to believe in Australia—then it's a great shock. You aren't prepared for dealing with the complicated feelings that come up.

'But there's not a competitive aspect. For some women they don't feel it is a threat if the man has sex with other men, because you can't compete with another man.
Palotti-Chiarolli says some women do go into these relationships fully aware of the situation, but specific rules for each couple are key.

An important question, she says, is whether each partner intends to be monogamous, and if not, under what conditions they sleep with other people.
'There's something called the sacred bed relationship, a rule which says you can have sex with someone outside the home only,' she says.

'STIs are a very important part of the issue. How are we going to maintain each other's safety?

'If women feel that they are in control, and they have a sense that they aren't going to be deceived, or talk about gendered monogamy—"you can only have sex with a guy"—the relationships can be really satisfying.'

Parenting with a bisexual father

Palotti-Chiarolli says bisexual men are often more sensitive fathers because they've had to challenge some of the stereotypes of masculinity. But she found parenting had its complications.

'If we tell the children that Dad's bi, what happens when that child goes to school and starts talking about Dad and Mum and their relationship?' she says.
Lubowitz says she went into her relationship with a bisexual man with her eyes open, and this year they celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
'I think to begin with, we just made things up as we went along. We went through some difficulties, and we also went through some great times,' she says.
'The fact that you can walk along with your husband and both look at the same guy and think he's attractive is something that a lot of people don't share.'

A family life that's stable, 'normal', even beautiful

While Lubowitz's son, aged 20, knows his father is bisexual, their 13-year-old daughter doesn't know. But she says at some point it will be talked about.
'When she's older and exploring her own sexuality, that will be when it's talked about,' she says.

'I didn't know about my mum and dad's sexuality. We didn't sit down and talk about it. I don't think you need to know everything about your parent's sexuality as a child.'
Lubowitz says their family life is very happy and 'normal'.
'People would view it that way from the outside,' she says. 'Nothing would threaten our marriage and it never really has.'

Palotti-Chiarolli says stable relationships aren't unusual, but they're not the ones the media tends to focus on.

'It is common, but it's the story that isn't heard very much. We tend to get the negative and sad stories,' she says.

'There are many women and men under great strain because our society isn't open about relationship diversity and sexual diversity, and family diversity, but there are so many relationships that are as beautiful as Sara's.'