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Are Gay Bars Bad for Gay Relationships?


The Dilemma

An ongoing argument exists in our community over whether gay bars pose a threat to gay relationships. The idea here is that by continuing to frequent these bars and clubs, gay couples increase their vulnerability to a multitude of issues related to impaired judgment, sending the wrong messages about the relationship, and instigating jealousy. On the other hand, much of the gay social scene has historically existed in gay nightlife, so it would be equally damaging for a couple to tie themselves off from their friends by never going out at all.

So, what are the implications of both conditions? Naturally, extreme cases of going out or staying in are probably unhealthy. However, should we accept that occasionally attending gay bars is bad for gay relationships as a general rule of thumb?

Does it Send the Wrong Message?

According to the relationship therapists at Couples Counseling Chicago, one of the 7 major mistakes most gay couples make is continuing to attend gay bars. Among other issues frequenting gay bars might present to gay couples, one of their primary arguments is that it sends the message to others that one or both of the members in the couple are single. In other words, simply attending gay bars gives mixed signals regarding the relationship status of the couple, implying that they are both single (or they wish to be).

The issue with this idea is that it takes on an outdated view of the gay scene and gay nightlife. Before social/hookup applications like Grindr, Tinder, and Jack’d were available, gay men were forced to frequent gay bars and nightclubs to meet other gay men. The primary function of gay nightlife was, at that time, driven by the motive to meet other guys to sleep with. However, the contemporary situation reveals that gay nightlife serves a far more expansive function.

Gar bars have become a place where straight girls can go dancing and avoid getting hit on by guys. Gay bars are a place where groups of gay men can go out as friends, and catch up over cocktails. Gay nightlife offers outlets of fun and creativity, such as Karaoke, Taco Tuesday, and other events that promote social cohesion and a sense of community. Yes, they also still serve as a place where gays can find a man to go home with, but I would argue that this is no longer the primary function of these establishments.

The idea of sending mixed signals is also a case-by-case, relationship-specific situation. More specifically, the way a couple acts in the real world (outside of the club and bar) should ideally take the same form as they interact in a bar setting. The respect they show for each other in a bar setting should be a reflection of the respect they have for each other in all other realms of life. Unless we are assuming that the couple has flawed ways of interacting to begin with, it is unreasonable to assume that their interactions would change in a bar setting.

What About Attention-Seeking?

Another reasoning that argues against frequenting gay bars as a couple is the idea that it creates a venue for attention-seeking behavior, resulting in competition that can be damaging to the relationship. These therapists presume that in a bar setting, couples are more likely to be focused on the attention they are receiving from other men at the bar, setting both guys up for a potential conflict over who gets more attention.

Although this situation is definitely possible if both guys in the relationship display juvenile behavior, I argue that this is most uncommon in the majority of adult gay relationships. If someone is in the early stages of gay adulthood and just recently came out, I could see this situation coming to fruition not because this individual is immature, but inexperienced in the gay world. In this case, if this individual was in a relationship, it would be useful to simply be mindful and conscious of his partner in a club or bar setting.

Impaired Judgement and Sloppiness

The third reason listed by Couples Counseling Chicago is the fact that impaired judgment can occur when drinking, and this can cause unnecessary discourse between the two guys. Although I disagree with most of their other points, this one I think is mostly accurate. It is both alarming and disturbing how much a person’s behavior can change as he drinks, not to mention the dynamic between two intoxicated men. With so many extraneous variables presented by the possibility of impaired judgment, this point is one to be particularly conscious of.

Getting Hit On and Jealousy

Their final point is that going out to gay bars increases the possibility of either (or both) guys getting hit on. They link this to the potential causation of jealousy, which we assume would lead to more argument. In my opinion, I think this point is encompassed by their first reason that argues going out to gay bars sends the wrong message to others. Again, I think this is a matter of relationship and individual maturity, and can be avoided by showing each other the same respect in a bar setting that they would in most other situations. Furthermore, I think a couple can collectively send the right message by simply acting like a couple in this type of setting, allowing others to recognize that they are at the bar to drink and have a good time.