how to tell my masculine girlfriend that i like femme presentation?
June 2, 2012 11:30 AM   Subscribe

how to tell my masculine girlfriend that i like femme presentation?

I'm a woman who's been dating a great girl for about 6 months. I like her a lot and can see a great life with her however she is more masculine that i prefer. she's stated a number of times that she will dress more femme and states that she has, though not all the time. this has become an issue for me b/c no matter how i try to talk myself out of it (i know it's a social construct), i'm not sexually/physically turned on by this presentation.

I'm a bit resentful b/c i feel a bit led on by her comments like "if you're supportive, i'll dress more femme." i asked her what would be supportive and she said to be complimentary. this is not difficult b/c she has an amazing body and i fawn all over her for it.

her lack of putting on a pair of heels, wearing something other than a sports bra, her defensiveness despite her desire to wear femme stuff lets me know that this is a sensitive subject.

she wants to know about what my hesitation is and i want to tell her in ways that don't hurt her feelings. i wanna say masculine presentation does nothing for me sexually. i wanna say i need to see the softer girlier side sometimes (even though i'd prefer it 24/7). i wanna say that femme presentation allows me to express a diff side of me as well.
idk if it matters but i have a more femme presentation.
any suggestions on how to talk about this?
posted by PeaPod to Human Relations (55 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure that her "desire to wear femme stuff" actually exists?

My boyfriend and I essentially broke up over this after several years, FYI.
posted by jacalata at 11:39 AM on June 2, 2012 [15 favorites]

I think the general rule is, you can't expect others to change a fundamental part of their identity to suit your tastes. She, as-is, in the presentation she prefers and has chosen for herself, isn't attractive to you; but this is how she's been since you met her, right?

In her (sensible, low-heeled) shoes, I would not take it well if a partner pulled what would feel to me like an emotional bait-and-switch six months into the relationship. *I* would be the one who'd feel led on.

I'm afraid my answer isn't terribly encouraging, but I just don't see a way you can impose this upon her without hurting her feelings.
posted by quivering_fantods at 11:40 AM on June 2, 2012 [49 favorites]

Part of this may be some hard thinking for you - if this is truly how she is, is the relationship right for you? If having a girlfriend with a more feminine aesthetic is a deal-breaker for you, and she is both sensitive about and prefers dressing more masculine, maybe you need to find different people.

I wouldn't tell her that the more masculine styles turn you off, but rather emphasize how much the more feminine styles turn you on.

How about asking her if she'd be willing to go shopping with you? Maybe start with cute flats you both like, and a more feminine outfit that she finds appealing. Then make a point of noticing and showing how much you like it when she dresses in a more feminine style. Tell her how turned on you that the other clothes turn you off.

Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 11:43 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you want anything to change you're going to have to reinforce her positively. If you say a word about how she doesn't turn you on as is -- actually, that's really kinda shitty and should you even be seeing her if that's the case?

Anyway, maybe start at a comfortable, "sexy" set of underwear? It's something she's not showing to the world, only you.
posted by sibboleth at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't do this.

Asking your partner to change for you - and to change something as complex and powerful as gender expression - is the first step on a road to Miserable Ville. Even if she listens to you and changes, will you be comfortable knowing that you're making her uncomfortable? That she's faking it for you? Will you then ask her to change more things about herself (guarantee you this is what her/her friends will think)? And what if you ask her and she tries then stops, or says no? You'll just get more resentful.

Frankly, I find it rather telling that you somehow resent her for her gender expression. That's pretty backwards and really makes me think you should break up. She deserves someone who loves her for who she is, not someone who wants her to change and resents her for it.
posted by buteo at 11:50 AM on June 2, 2012 [37 favorites]

I would also address the "femme" clothing on something other than shoes and bras, both of which are expensive, difficult to buy, and fundamentally serve a practical nature, even though they can also be pretty. Honestly, wearing a skirt seems like an easier change to me. I'm a fairly femme female and I barely ever wear heels because they are impractical in my day to day life.

Maybe start with some jewelry? Or a different cut of t-shirt or blouse? Or even a bra that isn't a sports bra, but isn't from Victoria's Secret either - something still on the practical end of the spectrum, but still consisting of two real cups and hooks in the back, not made of lycra.
posted by maryr at 11:50 AM on June 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Oh yeah, also, you're definitely doing the buying.
posted by sibboleth at 11:54 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you want her to wear a regular bra, try buying her one or (better) going shopping with her for one and fawning over it. I found buying my first "real bra" at age 20 very intimidating and wouldn't have gone alone.

Although I gotta say for me personally as a butch woman I would break up with you over this. Especially your "would prefer 24/7" comment.
posted by fbo at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2012 [13 favorites]

Something about your post makes me think you see femme presentation (wearing heels, shaped bras, etc) as objectively better and more attractive, not just an individual preference that some people have for themselves or something they prefer in partners. That's not OK and would make me feel defensive, too.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:00 PM on June 2, 2012 [14 favorites]

I was your girlfriend (more femme than she is, but still) in a hetero relationship. It wasn't good for anyone. He resented me for making him feel like he wasn't worth the effort of looking good and ashamed of needing more from me; I resented him for not wanting me the way I was. We had some really hideous, circular fights about this that were never resolved. These fights were basically, "why don't you think I'm hot when I'm being myself" vs "why is it so hard for you to look nice for me?" We don't speak any more and I wouldn't be surprised if he still carried some resentment about it. I am personally still working through what this did to my self-esteem.

Her gender presentation is part of who she is--it is part of what makes her respect herself, part of her personal politics, and part of her understanding of who she is as a person. It's hard enough to know the world at large doesn't consider you attractive when you aren't being appropriately feminine; it's pretty devastating when the person who should have your back agrees with everyone else. It cripples confidence. It's not something she can change overnight. You really do have to be into her for all of who she is, not just the parts that you think are great. Don't settle for someone who can't turn you on, even if she's a great person. It's not good for either of you. She's great--just not for you.
posted by sockomatic at 12:01 PM on June 2, 2012 [35 favorites]

i'm a straight woman who probably dresses a lot like your girlfriend. i know when i dress more femme my husband likes it and others say i look good, but it's hard for me. it's not my comfort zone. after years and years i've sort of settled.

i think the advice above is pretty good. would she be open to help? just this week i was thinking i should go get a bra fitting to help me stop wearing sports bras all the time. if i had friends i trusted to go shopping to help me get a bit more femme but still feel like me, i'd be open to it, but i'm also tired of buying clothes i won't really wear. this will never include heals or a lot of make up or whatever, and that's OK.

so you can try to talk to her about it, but i think ultimately it's probably how she is. i feel really lucky that my husband has never made me feel less attractive because i tend to dress like ernie douglas from "my three sons". she might really want to change, or she might be trying to make you happy. if this is a deal breaker for you, i don't see how it can work.
posted by kendrak at 12:05 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

We tried to make it work for three years, by the way. We talked about it. I am like you when it comes to women; I am way more turned on by feminine women. So I understood his point, and tried my best. I dressed up for him, but I always felt odd about it. I felt awkward and uncomfortable in those clothes, and I could never really relax in them. He eventually had a quasi-affair with a woman who was more feminine. It happened right in front of me and really drove the point home that I could never be feminine in the way he liked. I could never really make it work for me, because I wasn't being myself--in fact, he often got frustrated with me because I lacked confidence in those clothes. Now that we've broken up, I've actually become more feminine, because there wasn't the threat of a break up hanging over my head the whole time I was trying to figure out how to be more feminine.
posted by sockomatic at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you explain the "defensiveness" and "led on" parts? Asking for support and defining it as compliments doesn't really waive the defensive flag for me. Lots of folks say they want support, but can't always articulate and clarify what that means to them.

In fact, it strikes me as rather self-possessed, fair and reasonable. It says to me "Okay, you want this, I'm willing to give it a shot. This is what I need from you in order to do that." Is there more to it than what you're stating here?

Do you feel led on because you fawn over her efforts to be femme and she just doesn't make very many of them or because you compliment her body and she's not making the femme effort she said she would? Again, not sure I'm following here.

Of course this will be sensitive for both of you and of course there is a high risk for defensiveness. It will be up to her to decide how personally invested she is in her presentation and if she can change without compromising herself. It will be up to you to decide if you can adapt to her without compromising yourself. It will also be up to you to be careful to communicate that what you like is a preference no better or worse than her own and that are not trying to change some essential element of her nature and character. It's a complicated dance.

If you can both do this with more a spirit of generosity and fun and less one of anxiety and insecurity, the higher the chances are that you can both get what you want and get it happily.
posted by space_cookie at 12:11 PM on June 2, 2012

how to tell my masculine girlfriend that i like femme presentation?

You've already told her. It sounds like your real question is, "How can I convince my masculine girlfriend to like or at least tolerate dressing femme for me?" And you can't.

If she wanted to dress femme, she would.

It sounds like this is enough of a preference for you that her dressing up on occasion wouldn't cut it, that you want a shift from how she's dressing now toward something more feminine. If she wore a fancy bra and heels one evening, but then the next morning was back in a sports bra and sneakers, would you feel a little twinge of disappointment--like, what's so hard about dressing up a little? And, at the same time, her personal style is enough of a preference for her that she's not interested in seriously changing it.

If her masculine presentation truly does nothing for you, then perhaps this is the wrong relationship for both of you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:11 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am a cis femme(ish) woman, married to a man. I have a style that is not so much "butch" as it is "practical"; I wear sneakers, sports bras, and very little makeup. I currently have my hair long because my husband likes it that way, but it is starting to piss me off and I am probably going to cut it short soon. My husband has made two things clear: 1) he finds it incredibly hot when I dress and present as more feminine and sexy 2) he married ME, not a hairstyle or a dress or a pair of shoes, and he finds me plenty hot on my own.

Because of point 2, I feel comfortable indulging point 1 from time to time. If I felt like he was only attracted to me when I strapped myself into an uncomfortable bra and unstable shoes and spent an hour painting and primping, I would be resentful and sad. I would be particularly wary of ever going down that road if I felt like he would never be satisfied until/unless I looked like that all the time -- if I felt like he would "prefer it 24/7."

If a strongly feminine gender presentation is really important to you, you need to find someone who is happy and excited to present that way all the time. There are plenty of them. It's not fair to either of you to be in a relationship where your desire only comes at the expense of her comfort.
posted by KathrynT at 12:12 PM on June 2, 2012 [35 favorites]

masculine presentation does nothing for me sexually.

That's totally fine. But why are you dating a woman who presents this way at all, let alone for the past 6 months? Basic rule of dating: never ever ever partner with someone hoping they will change. They will not and you will be unhappy.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:14 PM on June 2, 2012 [30 favorites]

I felt awkward and uncomfortable in those clothes, and I could never really relax in them.

This raises a really good point. If your gal does end up trying out a more femme look, she may end up feeling weird, and as a result, not at all sexy. So it might backfire on you.

infini brought up something that popped into my head when I read your post: while a masculine presentation can be chosen for all sorts of reasons, if there is even a *whiff* of a chance that she has chosen this as a reaction to any trauma in her past, it is 100% no-go nuh-uh not OK to ask her to rethink it. That's just way too psychologically fraught.

Having said all that, I did want to also add that you have a 100% right as well to be with a partner who flips your switches in all respects.
posted by quivering_fantods at 12:25 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want a woman who is more girly, find one. Don't make your girlfriend into something she's not. It won't be good for either of you.
posted by luckynerd at 12:26 PM on June 2, 2012

Heels, nice clothes, makeup, styled long hair, pretty much all "feminine" stuff -- it's not designed to make life easier. It all takes more time, and usually makes you less able to carry your own things, makes you walk more slowly and carefully, makes you have to pay more attention to avoiding stains and tears, and really makes you more helpless -- in addition to making you more emotionally vulnerable to other people's evaluations of your appearance.

So, to encourage femininity in a partner, you have to not only take away from the disadvantages, but make them fun. Open car doors, carry stuff she might need, live (for the evenings) a cushioned life, be chivalrous. Plan the time so that she won't have to cook or vacuum or navigate across uneven terrain -- and make sure she knows to expect that. Make sure she doesn't need to walk too far. Basically, take exquisite, fun care of her.

All this in addition to appreciating, verbally and in other ways, the presentation.
posted by amtho at 12:26 PM on June 2, 2012 [17 favorites]

Perhaps you could try looking at it from her point of view. Dress that way yourself for a while and see how it feels. High heels cause all kinds of damage, tight clothing is uncomfortable, being stared at due to your outside can be VERY uncomfortable, and it costs a ton of money to spend on being "femme." Is that a new term? Because it sounds like you want something out of Mad Men instead of a real live woman who is comfortable in her own skin and style of dressing. A woman can be "feminine" without dressing "femme," whatever that is.

I don't mind dressing up to go out to a nice dinner but my husband's mantra is "dress the way that makes you feel comfortable," and still, I, as a human being, do not need anyone's permission to dress the way I feel. So even that is a bit chauvanistic, coming from a guy with a pot belly who wears stained shirts and old socks with holes and takes a shower only when he feels like it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:28 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you can change the way that your girlfriend chooses to present herself. The way that we choose to present ourselves externally in terms of our clothing, hair style, accessories, etc.. generally speaking represents a part of who we are.

So, each time you ask your girlfriend to change her clothing or the way that she presents herself from a more masculine look to a more feminine look, you are asking her to change a part of who she is and how she identifies.

If I was in your girlfriend's position, I would without a doubt be hurt and say comments that are full of empty promises just so that we can move past this part of the conversation. It's kind of like when someone tells you that you need to lose weight but you are not ready to lose weight or don't want to lose weight. So, you try to fill that uncomfortable silence with comments like "yeah I know" or "Okay, I will" (although you know that you won't) just to talk about a different topic instead of the hurtful topic.

With that being said, I can most certainly understand where you are coming from because everyone has their own preferences when looking for a partner and attraction plays a role to a certain extent. But, if your girlfriend has always presented herself in a more masculine way then you won't be able to change that. And even if she didn't present this way earlier on, I don't think you should change it now either.

You need to have more open conversations about this WITHOUT asking her to change her physical appearance. You need to work on becoming more comfortable with how she presents. Try to find something that you do like about her such as her body as you said or perhaps her eyes or her smile. These things won't change regardless of what she wears.

If you want to have a conversation with her, then talk about acceptance rather than change. Tell her that you know that physical presentation has been a recent topic, but that you want to be supportive because you like her for who she is and that you want her to dress in a way that feels right for her. Ask her how you can show more support.
posted by livinglearning at 12:52 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dapper butch woman here. I too would break up with you over this, and I wouldn't look back - in fact, I'd be astonished that someone who wants to date a femme woman had wasted my time and led me on.

Look, you sound like you could stand to do some serious thinking about gender presentation and what it means. Being a butch person and dating a femme - which I infer from your whole "this allows me to express my gender differently as well" thing is what you want - isn't just "being a butch person and dating someone you pressure into dressing girlie all the time". You want to date someone who looks like a femme, you need to date someone who identifies as femme. You might enjoy some blogs and tumblrs by femme women - perhaps you're familiar with The Queer Fat Femme Guide to Life, or you might enjoy some of the writing on Pretty Queer. And a quick google of "queer femme tumblr" produces (I've just checked) a long list of useful links.

I was not happy when I was dressing in a girlier manner. Not one bit. No one was making me do it, I just bowed to social pressure. And I felt fake and uncomfortable all the time. I have never felt so at ease, so much myself, since I cut myself loose from the social imperative to wear ruffles and cap sleeves and girlie shoes. Now, I did date during that time, and I usually felt like I was acting - I had some good times in those relationships, but I was always conscious of feeling artificial, at one remove from my partner. It's not fair to ask someone to do that.

Maybe you should try it for a week - or if you do dress in a girlie manner, try dressing differently. Wear skirts and dresses and do your hair, or wear chinos and a button-front and oxfords - wear something that totally changes the way you interact with the world and how people see you. Then picture having to do that all the time to keep sweet with a partner. Then break up with this girl and date around a little more.
posted by Frowner at 12:55 PM on June 2, 2012 [36 favorites]

Dress that way yourself for a while and see how it feels.

The OP says she *does* dress femme, so the issue here isn't a failure of empathy.

So, to encourage femininity in a partner, you have to not only take away from the disadvantages, but make them fun. Open car doors, carry stuff she might need, live (for the evenings) a cushioned life, be chivalrous.

This won't work. If the OP's girlfriend got pleasure out of being treated that way, she'd have figured it out long ago: the pros and cons of dressing femme are not exactly a mystery. Girls start experimenting with gender expression in our pre-teens or even earlier, and by the time we're fully grown most of us have a pretty good idea of what makes us happy.

Sorry OP: it sounds like this is a basic compatibility issue. I don't think you're going to be very successful in cajoling her. She may say she's willing to do it if you compliment her, but if your experience thus far doesn't support that, I'd believe what she actually does rather than what she says.

She doesn't dress femme because she doesn't want to. That's fine, but if it doesn't work for you then you two should probably break up.
posted by Susan PG at 12:56 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was not happy when I was dressing in a girlier manner.

God, me too. The discussion here is giving me flashbacks. I used to dress like a grubby punk boy, and the boy part was what triggered weird responses. Mostly, it was my female friends gender-policing me -- constantly wanting to teach me how to do makeup and hair, paint nails, bleach and wax and pluck, tan, read magazines about fashion trends, blah blah. What a fucking bore.

Their arguments were always that it'd make me more attractive to guys, but the world isn't quite that simple -- there were lots of guys who wanted a girlfriend who wasn't super-femme, and those were the ones that *I* liked.

Anyway, yes. I would never have dated a guy who tried to control what I wore or how I self-presented. It just doesn't need to be that hard. People should just date people they find sexually attractive out the gate, not people they need to modify to be interested in.
posted by Susan PG at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Tell her you have come to realize that you want or need to be with someone who presents as femme, you are sorry to be changing the rules this far into the game, and that you understand if that can't be her because it's not who she is or wants to be.

Do you get to keep her if you tell her this? Probably not. But why would you want to when you're not turned on by her?
posted by J. Wilson at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2012

thanks all for your answers. i was hoping for guidance on how to have a conversation about this sensitive topic which she and i are open to albiet difficult. also, i hear Partner A say that "they knew that Partner B didn't like XXX, but was ok with it." i'm curious how Partner A was told this wo getting their feelings hurt. I'm wondering how to have these honest conversations about delicate matters.

for what it's worth, the reason i had hope for her to sometimes dress femme is b/c she's told me that we has in the past, has dressed femme for work but just not around me and says she wants to and will in the future. if she said she would never express this side of her, i would have ended it. however, from what she said it seems to be part of her expression and seemed to need positive compliments and feedback.

i get the impression that this femme side is one that she isn't experienced in so i have offered to take her shopping (i'm happy to do the buying), show her the ropes, do some trial and error as i did when i first started out playing in make-up & aqua net.

i agree with KathrynT as well...i'm also more practical most days b/c of my lifestyle (walk a mile to work, rushing in the morning so i don't fuss with my hair, like to be comfortable).

amtho: my heart would leap to take good fun care of her. and i do sometimes now...even when my hunny is in her tshirt & sneakers;)
posted by PeaPod at 1:21 PM on June 2, 2012

I just wanted to come in here and say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being more attracted to more femme presenting women. Nothing.

The only challenge for you here is finding a dynamic where your partner feels comfortable presenting as more femme that is neither aggressive nor weird and creepy if one is possible. I would start by finding a salient moment and just asking a lot of questions about how your partner feels about gender presentation.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:23 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Either don't tell her and get over it or tell her you aren't attracted to her. Don't ever phrase it like she needs to change.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am a former tomboy who now dresses/presents much more "femme". I agree that you can't change a fundamental part of someone. HOWEVER if her "dressing masculine" is because of a lack of knowledge/experience, it's something you can help her with.

I am seriously still hugely grateful to the friend who took me shopping for my first set of "girl pants" and reassured me when I tried on pants that fit completely differently than I was used to. She just shook her head, and said "Damn, girl, you look AWESOME. It's supposed to feel like that, and you'll get used to it in under a week. If you don't, bring them back."

I didn't always take change well (still sorry for my snapping at my now-husband when he was trying to help me find girls' shorts), so a supportive and honest friend who has an eye for style is key for finding her flattering, comfortable stuff. The comments upthread about professionally fitting bras are spot-on.

Do you have some femme friends who would be willing to help out like this? Are you able to help out like that?

It'll be a gradual thing. What works is praise over time, and (through her desired medium) show her that she's damn sexy.

If you don't already know what makes her feel sexy down to her bones (Lingering glances? Looking her up and down and biting your lip? Comments? Caresses?), either ask her or experiment until you find something she responds strongly to.

You've really got to notice every time she even tries the tiniest step - reinforcement of tiny steps works great when it's unexpected.

You remember that whole "unexpected/unique compliments" advice they always give for icebreakers? You want that same thing here. Specificity is key: "Wow, babe, the shape of that neckline really compliments your face", etc.

Again, the above only works if it's what she really wants and you're supporting her on her quest for knowledge/self. Leading a horse to water et al. Good luck!
posted by bookdragoness at 2:28 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, maybe she could get some sexy heels for special times. ;)
posted by bookdragoness at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2012

One of the big things about presenting as femme is that it gets you a certain kind of attention from other people. Not just your partner. Is she feeling awkward or reluctant to take on that kind of "hey world, lookit my figure" role in public?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am a butch woman who used to dress femme for work because I (thought) I had to. I even wore skirts to customer visits and trade shows after being counseled about "appropriate dress" because I was wearing men's dress pants instead (this was in the mid-80s).

From what you have said, I wonder how much she really wants to appear femme versus keep your relationship going....

But, that's not what you asked. I would suggest rather than telling her what you don't want, tell her what you do want, with specifics and examples. E.g. that dress would look really sexy on you -- want to try it on?

If after several attempts at that, not much changes, perhaps this is not the relationship for you no matter how much you like her in other regards.
posted by elmay at 2:41 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If she indeed does want to dress more femme (as in, she enjoys it but she's scared), I think the best thing you can do is just go shopping and be patient. Ask her what kind of clothes she likes, ask her to point them out when she sees someone looking cute on the street or in a movie. Get an idea of her style and help her feel really, really amazing when she tries the look. Give her advice and try not to overwhelm her (it took me years to learn clothes, then years to learn makeup, then years to learn hair...).

I think you need to be really delicate, because nearly no one likes to hear that their partner wants them to feel more hobbled. Again, if this really is something that she wants, I think you should start small. Like buying a cute bra instead of a sports bra. Some of the most femme women I know don't wear heels, so I wouldn't get too worked up about that one-- they're quite bad for your feet and probably the most uncomfortable thing I can think of wearing (I wear them every day, and I like them but it feels very stupid sometimes.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:54 PM on June 2, 2012

You would prefer that she dress femme 24/7? You want to take her shopping, show her the ropes--basically reinvent her as you want her to be? Sounds pretty controlling to me. Her style is masculine. You say your not sexually/physically turned on by this presentation. ...she's stated a number of times that she will dress more femme and states that she has, though not all the time. And you're resentful that she doesn't dress the way you want.

Please let this woman go find someone who can be attracted to her for what and who she is. Quit trying to be Pygmalion. Allowing someone to express another part of their nature is vastly different from what you're demanding this person do so that you can be satisfied sexually. I'm with the others that say they'd be outta there in a flash.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

Disclaimer: I'm neither gay nor a woman.

Would it help, instead of the general "would you dress more femme" to put it into a schedule? In other words, ask her if she would like to go out on a dressy dinner date. Pick or offer her the choice of a few dressy places and you know, dress up together. You are placing a burden on her to dress up, so offer to pick up the check. Lavish honest compliments. Spend time really looking at her.

I don't know that it's fair to demand this frequently, but I think it's ok to plan it now and then and to make an occasion of it.

If she's not comfortable with your suggestion, have a back up plan that is 100% within her comfort zone.
posted by plinth at 5:09 PM on June 2, 2012

God, me too. The discussion here is giving me flashbacks. I used to dress like a grubby punk boy, and the boy part was what triggered weird responses. Mostly, it was my female friends gender-policing me -- constantly wanting to teach me how to do makeup and hair, paint nails, bleach and wax and pluck, tan, read magazines about fashion trends, blah blah.

Yeah, I think this might be part of what's going on here. I never had any interest in dressing girly either, and there's a lot of pressure from other people to change that, especially when you're younger. Well-meaning friends seem to get convinced that the "problem" is that you just don't know where the dresses are sold, and your mom gets mad that you don't want to wear a dress to Grandma's house when you're a kid, etc. Then on the occasions you do get shoehorned into a dress, everyone makes a point to compliment you for it, and you can see them relax visibly. It ends up being this tug-of-war between making yourself uncomfortable and making other people uncomfortable (at least until you find people who honestly don't give a shit either way!).

So, that might be leading to the dynamic where your girlfriend halfheartedly agrees to dress more femininely, but then doesn't follow through. She's used to getting this from people and trying to deflect it in a way that works with acquaintances. It really seems like a fundamental incompatibility in your relationship. Obviously, I don't have any way to know how strongly she actually feels about it, but if someone asked me to do what you're asking her, they'd get a response along the lines of "haha! yeah, no, that won't be happening" just because I spent my formative years getting bullied into dressing "like a girl" and then feeling humiliated.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:41 PM on June 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Well-meaning friends seem to get convinced that the "problem" is that you just don't know where the dresses are sold

See, a whole lot of the "you just need to take her shopping and show her how cute lacy underwires can really be" advice on here rubs me the wrong way. That would be one thing if your girlfriend had herself expressed some interest in dressing in a girlier manner, or was always going on about how she loved her one dress but just couldn't seem to afford more of them. But it seems really patronizing when it's absolutely not what the girl wants. And when she's said - as you say in the OP - that she has been dressing femmier and you just apparently have not noticed, that suggests that your standards for feminine presentation are really different and that your standards demand a pretty radical level of commitment.

Wouldn't this bug folks a lot more if it were a man talking about his wife? Wouldn't it seem really controlling? Now, straight dudes and queer women are in different social positions, so it's not precisely the same thing, but it seems pretty misguided to me anyway. It seems to boil down to "how can I persuade my girlfriend to commit to an effort-intensive way of dressing that she has no real interest in and that will change her experience of being in the world, preferably amping things up to the point where she will do it 24/7, so that I will be sexually satisfied?" It's not quite the same as "how can I get someone to buy into my domestic discipline lifestyle" but it's a pretty intense thing to ask of someone.

I don't know - I think that if I'd been dating someone for six months and they broke out the "I can't be sexually satisfied unless you do this labor-intensive physical thing that you're not really into and that is a big part of your social identity", I would not be able to think of them the same way. I was once in a situation where I did essentially do a lot of acting in a relationship - I was a lot younger, I had some self esteem issues, and I went along with something fairly big that I wasn't really comfortable with for six months or so. It was incredibly destructive to me as a person, because I was always self-monitoring and became very conscious of my physicality and my affect. Women are socialized to self-monitor way more than is healthy, but this was something else again. It took me almost another six months to come down from that relationship to where I did not feel that my normal way of being was a problem that had to be managed and controlled. It still makes me feel faintly ill to think of that time. And yes, it did have a lot to do with gender presentation - it was that big a deal to be acting all the time.
posted by Frowner at 6:59 PM on June 2, 2012 [18 favorites]

All your good intentions will not mitigate how hurtful this is.

People you date are not like rocks of marble you can chip away at and then find the sculpture underneath.

People you date are already a sculpture, complicated, and the more you chip away, the more you harm what makes them a work of art.

We all have this impulse. Don't feel bad. We have all been there, in love, and trying to make someone into a person they are not. But eventually, hopefully, you learn:

Walk away. Let them go. Someone else will love them as they are. And you, too, will find someone else who you can love as they are.

This is only six months in. Don't force it. Be an adult. Move on.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:41 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi. I'm not your girlfriend but I've been in that position before. I'm a bisexual woman who dates women across the butch/femme spectrum. I am femme in nature, but dress in the Katharine Hepburn feminine-in-men's-clothing kind of way. That is, I wear trousers more than skirts, chunky heels and laceups more than stilettos, and lace bras precisely never because they make my nipples itch. I feel femme when I dress like this; I feel powerful and sensual and very much rooted in a strong self-identity, and I have noticed that I receive more looks and lingering gaze when I am dressed like myself.

And yet, I spent many years in a relationship with someone who claimed to love me the way I was, but left shopping bags full of lacy underthings on the bed (usually in my size, but almost never in my taste in colours or trim or style), would lay out outfits for me to wear while I was bathing or elsewhere in the house (again, not what I would have chosen), bought me perfume without asking why I don't wear it (allergies), and would spend a lot of time making veiled comments about how she thought I'd "look hot as a femme" - which is what I was doing. It just wasn't what she considered "femme enough."

I was crushed by the experience. It negated my own sense of who I was sexually. It had a significant effect on my expression of gender, and almost killed my interest in playing with gender dynamics through clothing. I felt that she was responding to the look rather than to the woman beneath, and I was so relieved when the relationship ended (in large part because I felt invisible, as if my partner had never cared to know the real me).

I am using a sock account because I still have shame around how I internalized my ex's ideals and denied my own reality. If you like what you like, and your girlfriend has to change to be what you really want in a woman's appearance, then I think she is not the woman for you. You are worried about how she will react precisely because you know, on some level, that she will be hurt. Maybe she will wonder if you've really been attracted to her for the past six months, or to the idea of a woman that will change many things about herself to make you happy.
posted by sphallolalia at 7:56 PM on June 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

So, she'd be perfect if she just changed for you?

She deserves someone to love her just the way she is.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:48 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

for what it's worth, the reason i had hope for her to sometimes dress femme is b/c she's told me that we has in the past, has dressed femme for work but just not around me and says she wants to and will in the future. if she said she would never express this side of her, i would have ended it. however, from what she said it seems to be part of her expression and seemed to need positive compliments and feedback.

You know, this is pretty much what I said to my ex when he asked me to dress better. The reason I stayed in that relationship was that I thought that my occasionaly femme-y behavior and curiosity about becoming more feminine meant that I could eventually become desireable in the way that my ex wanted me to be. That maybe the real me underneath was feminine, and everything I knew about myself was actually wrong.

We both really liked each other and didn't--couldn't--believe that this was a fundamental incompatibility. So, we talked gently, and we tried in the ways that people were suggesting in this thread.

We went shopping together, often. He complimented me endlessly when I dressed right....and got cold when I didn't. I watched many, many, many episodes of What Not to Wear. I spent thousands of dollars on a new wardrobe, learned to walk in heels. I got pretty good at makeup and grooming. I often got envious sounding compliments from other women. But I couldn't really fight my fundamental lack of vanity; I just didn't and don't care about being feminine in an essential way. So I would forget, and he would resent me, and it was all very painful. Like I said earlier, he found someone who was naturally feminine, and the effortlessness of their relationship really drove home how pointless all my effort was. It broke my heart.

This is a shitty Faustian bargain that you're both trying to make. Don't do this to yourselves.
posted by sockomatic at 9:12 PM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

Agree with many posts above, this is a recipe for sadness.
posted by ead at 9:29 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

She is humoring you.

That is something people do when a repeated strong desire from their partner is leveled against them.
posted by French Fry at 9:33 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

i wanna say i need to see the softer girlier side sometimes (even though i'd prefer it 24/7). i wanna say that femme presentation allows me to express a diff side of me as well.
idk if it matters but i have a more femme presentation.

Okay - so based on the above, I'm wondering the following (and it could be COMPLETE conjecture, and I know I might be way off-base!)

I wonder if maybe you just need to redefine how you see relationships? Because what I'm getting from this is that:

You are femme
She is butch
If she were more femme you could be different (more butch?)
You want to be more more different

It makes me wonder if you think there can only be one "masculine" individual in the relationship and then the other must be "feminine" and since she won't "concede" the masculine role you're "stuck" with the feminine role (sorry for all the "quotes"!) - you know, the typical man/woman relationship we're taught. I would recommend trying to explore this "different side" of yourself wholly independent of her actions - don't say, "well, I have to wait until she's wearing a skirt before I can open a door for her". If you initiate sex when she's wearing her girliest top, she might get the picture, and get that positive, complimentary support she wanted.

That said, if you go through this and you find that you really do want someone who's a femme 24/7, just say you're not clicking. It's only been six-months, just a trial period. I've met numerous people who I thought I would marry but after a few months of dating realized that, no, I really just wanted to grow old with them as "friends".
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:07 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Read over your own words. You describe your girlfriend as masculine, so we'll take your word for it that she's masculine. But you want her to "present" as femme, i.e. to pretend to be the opposite of what you say she is. This will never work.

So to answer your question, how can you make this gal pretend to be something she's not? You can't, in the long term. And she'd hate you for trying; and even more for succeeding. It's ok to break up over this. She deserves someone who finds her attractive as she is; and you deserve to date someone you're attracted to. So she's a "great girl" and you "like her a lot"? Cool, this is what platonic friendships are for.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:17 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, been there. I'm kind of soft butch I guess - I only wear sports bras when I'm playing sports, but trousers more than skirts, non-dressy skirts with combat boots, heels and makeup once in a blue moon. My ex always wanted me to present more feminine, and I tried, because I loved him and I wanted to make him happy. I genuinely meant it when I told him I'd like to dress more femme, and I told him I needed compliments and fuss when I did to reinforce it, and he tried, and I tried, but ultimately it just. did. not. work. I'm a short 'n sturdy tomboy and I feel like I'm in drag in heels and full makeup. Not to mention it's fucking uncomfortable. I feel exposed and self-conscious and like all the other girls are laughing at me and the whole thing of not being good enough for my partner as I was just battered the hell out of my self-confidence and made it even harder for me to put myself in clothes that made me feel uncomfortable and exposed.

'Just put on a pair of heels' is not a big deal for you, but for someone like me, or like your girlfriend, it's a massive deal and switches a nice evening out into an evening of being preoccupied with the pain in my feet and the restricted movement I now have and having to think about where I step all the time and oh god, stairs, and feeling vulnerable because I can't run if there's trouble and feeling self-conscious because I'm thinking about my feet all the damn time and feeling like everyone else is judging me because I'm really not that good at walking in heels and what if I fall over and fuck, my calves ache and you're happy and you fuss over me a bit but I'm too preoccupied to really notice and I don't feel sexy and why the hell couldn't I just wear my flats and you get the idea, maybe.

I have learned from this experience. If my current partner started asking me to dress more femme, I would consider it a giant red flag.

tl;dr - My point is I guess that she's probably totally genuine when she says she wants to be more femme for you, but that doesn't mean she actually can be. You don't need to tell her that you're not hot for her when she's butch. She's defensive because she knows. Break up, is my advice.
posted by corvine at 3:36 AM on June 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't want to turn this into a pile-on, but another thing to consider is that you are not the first person who has asked her to explore dressing more femme for. You're not the first person who took her shopping to give her fashion advice and some new clothes with. You are not necessarily opening her up to new horizons that she's never seen. More likely her reaction is, "oh, this again. Maybe I can manage the issue so we won't both go crazy."

People are who they are, and they generally arrived there after a set of important experiences that turned them into who they are now. Even worse, of they do change after a lot of stressful relationship tension, then the relationship will likely end anyway because the relationship itself will be associated with all of that angst and unhappiness.
posted by deanc at 6:18 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just as a follow-up...I have dressed somewhat, but not significantly different in relationships. I like dress-up, but for me dress-up can be a lot of different things, from dressing in specific sports-related outfits to literally dressing up for costume parties or dressing in a more feminine way.

I was in a long-term relationship with a guy who was really into the more feminine clothing I'd wear - so often, but not all the time when I was seeing him, I'd dress up. I liked how it made him feel, seeing me wearing those clothes, and it made me feel AMAZING by extension.

I'm in a relationship with a guy who vastly prefers me with no makeup and no heels. I won't lie - I enjoy both, and still wear both, but his preference makes me less likely to go to the trouble of dressing up when he is ambivalent to not being into the dressing up.

To be totally clear: I wear what entertains me, and wearing different things entertains me a lot. But I have zero problem with my relationship partner telling me what floats his boat, particularly what turns them on sexually. That won't mean that is what he gets every day, but I like knowing it. For me this is part of speaking his love language, sort of like knowing that when he washes my clothes, he's actually telling me that he adores me (that's me knowing his love language).

I've felt that a lot of the responses in this thread are pretty harsh. OP, if you're still reading, I'd encourage you to sit down with your girlfriend and talk candidly about it. Stick to the positives! And be honest with her, ask her to be honest with you.

Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 8:05 AM on June 3, 2012

That is, I wear trousers more than skirts, chunky heels and laceups more than stilettos, and lace bras precisely never because they make my nipples itch. I feel femme when I dress like this; I feel powerful and sensual and very much rooted in a strong self-identity, and I have noticed that I receive more looks and lingering gaze when I am dressed like myself.

I came to this thread to express a similar position. I'm undeniably femme and actually usually wear skirts, but I would feel ridiculously costumed and much less femme in anything pink or poofy. A woman isn't any less feminine in a sports bra, even though she's dressing less femme. But a narrow, proscribed opinion of dressing femme can feel like a criticism of one's basic femininity, and it can rankle.
posted by desuetude at 11:47 AM on June 3, 2012

I'm sorry to say that based on ehat you've said in the original post and responding to others, it doesn't sound like you're an ideal match long-term.
posted by lorimer at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2012

"butch" and "masculine" are not synonyms for a large number of people. "femme" and "feminine" are not synonyms for a large number of people. If you see the terms as synonyms and your partner doesn't, this is a pretty big divide to bridge. Perhaps each of you would be happier with others.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:04 PM on June 3, 2012

I mean, it sounds like you're femme and you're looking for a decidedly femme partner. And she's looking for a partner who is comfortable with her choices about gender expression no matter what they are. There s nothing wrong with either of your choices, but they're mutually incompatible.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:06 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My gender mantra since high school has been "if I'm wearing it, it's femme," most often in reference to a certain plaid shirt. This was my response to a slew of partners who wanted me to present in a more stereotypically "feminine" manner on a daily basis.

Now, I love a tight dress and big earrings*, but that's not the arbiter of my gender -- it's about how I relate to the world: my mannerisms, phrasings, the way that I move. It's that innate sense of self, my gender, that I seek to flaunt when I perform a particularly flamboyant version of femme.

Your partner's gender is whatever it will be, and you have to figure out whether or not you're attracted to that -- the way she moves, talks, fucks. The way she perceives the world and responds to its gaze. What she chooses to wrap around her form should only complement that which is already there. That gender, hers, can wear a dress. It can wear a cargo pants. With lipstick or leather. And your support in exploring the full range of expression that she has available to her, can be invaluable. But what is most sexy is confidence, and that will never come solely from satisfying another person's turn-on.

*when I'm in a setting where that won't mean judgements about my brains/ability to give consent/feminist values/queerness or threats to my safety.
posted by femmegrrr at 1:07 AM on June 4, 2012

Rereading this question, I noticed this:
this has become an issue for me b/c no matter how i try to talk myself out of it (i know it's a social construct), i'm not sexually/physically turned on by this presentation.

As someone who has remarked more than once and entirely seriously that some particular woman is nice but simply too tall, thin, blonde, and/or femme for me, I am pretty sure that attraction is not just about social construct, because social construct sure as hell is telling me that's what I should like. Yes, society plays a role, but don't expect that you can reason yourself out of something you might be wired to prefer.

It's OK if you don't like masculine women. There's nothing wrong with you if you don't. But there's also nothing wrong with them.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:16 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like she has presented herself pretty consistently, so you haven't been led on, but you may have led her on if you are really not attracted to her.

If you really think it is recoverable, try having some 'girly nights' where you go over your clothes, and figure out what she likes wearing, and what you find attractive of the things she likes wearing.
Also, heels are pretty extreme. Are there any shoes you would think are cute, that would be comfortable for her, and aren't heels?

If there is enough overlap in those circles, you're good. If not, let her find someone who is attracted to her apparently banging bod.
posted by Elysum at 9:47 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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