Relationships are complicated. You have two different individuals trying to build something between you that meets both of your needs.
Given how heteronormative our society is, relationships between two women can be slightly more tricky. And when one of you violates gender norms, it can be hard to know what to expect.
Dating a tomboy girlfriend doesn’t have to be any more difficult than any other relationship, but some other people might react to both of you differently as a result of your relationship. Let’s look at what it means when someone is a tomboy and how to have a successful relationship with them.
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Let’s start by thinking about what we mean when we talk about a “tomboy” and how it relates to someone’s gender identity. I want to be really clear here, though. This is how I’m using these terms in the context of this article. Some people will have different experiences and those experiences and preferences are completely valid.
When I’m talking about a tomboy, I’m not talking about someone’s gender identity. For me (and this article), a tomboy is someone who identifies as female but who acts and dresses in ways that society has designated as being more masculine.
This means that their gender identity is female, but that they choose to adopt some or all of a more masculine gender expression.
Traditionally, for example, a tomboy has been a girl or woman who is interested in sports or cars and who prefers to wear jeans and hoodies rather than heels and a little black dress. They also wouldn’t typically wear much makeup.
Although tomboy isn’t a gender identity, it can be a social identity. For many people, it’s a key part of how they see, understand, and describe themselves. Being a tomboy can feel like a “safe” identity because tomboys are often approved of by men and are allowed into more masculine spaces.
As society’s understanding of gender identity and gender expression has become more sophisticated, we don’t talk about tomboys as much as we used to. This is because we’re more aware that lots of us don’t fit neatly into the traditional “masculine” and “feminine” boxes.
Today, many young girls who would have been described as tomboys are known as “gender non-conforming.” This often means that they looked at the (theoretical) rules around feminine behavior and decided that those didn’t really work for them.
Someone who is comfortable setting their own standards for their preferences and behavior can be a wonderful person to be around. Being less influenced by gender norms and expectations allows them a freedom that many of us might be envious of.
Here are some of the advantages of being or dating a tomboy.
If your partner is a tomboy, they’re showing that they have the confidence to make their own decisions about themselves and their identity. They haven’t allowed society to tell them that they should enjoy pink and sparkles. They’ve made their own choice.
This means that parts of their identity are the result of deliberate thought and choice. They might be more consistent in their identity because they’ve given time and effort to become who they want to be.
Dating a tomboy, especially if you’re not one, can often give you the opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences. Your tomboy girlfriend will probably be into different things than your other friends and she might introduce you to some great new hobbies.
One of the wonderful things about becoming close to someone new is that you get to learn something about the world that you didn't know before. This is one of the reasons that traveling to new cultures is so valuable.
Having a partner who can expand your horizons and teach you something new is a recipe for a healthy relationship.
Dating someone who isn’t confined by gender norms can make it easier for you to explore your own gender identity. Being around someone who behaves authentically, no matter what society tells them, can give you the confidence to be your authentic self as well.
Congruence is the term therapists use to describe the feeling when you’re living according to your own personal values. Being authentic and congruent is important for your mental and emotional health, and your physical health as well.
If your partner is willing to ignore social gender norms in favor of being authentic, they’re probably also behaving authentically in other ways. Dating someone who is authentic makes it much easier to relax and trust them. You know who they are and you trust that they're going to be honest and upfront with you.
These days, being a tomboy isn’t usually a big deal. The people who might have been uncomfortable with tomboys in the past now save their cruel and unjust condemnation for the trans community.
There is one important caveat to that if you’re in a same-sex relationship with a tomboy. Some people have strong, entrenched beliefs about homosexual relationships that come directly from their heterosexual experiences. One of these is believing that one person in a lesbian relationship must be “the man.”
This is despite the somewhat obvious point that a lesbian relationship, by definition, neither has nor wants a man.
Sometimes, people are rude and intrusive enough that they’ll actually ask you about this, especially in reference to your sex life. In the majority of cases, they’ll just make subtle assumptions about your relationship. If you’re dating a tomboy, the assumption will be that they fulfill the role of “the man.”
This might mean that they look to your partner for decisions about large purchases or technology. They might assume that you’ll be the one taking on the majority of childcare.
How much these assumptions and expectations matter to you depends largely on you and your partner. For some people, they are deeply frustrating or upsetting. Others will find them simply naive and foolish.
Just because you have a tomboy girlfriend, don’t assume that she’ll want to fulfill all of the traditionally masculine roles. Remember that she is a gender-non-conforming woman, not a gender-conforming man.
She’s shown that she wants to act according to her own preferences and desires rather than those assigned to her by society. Respect that by not trying to push her into any gendered roles that she hasn’t chosen for herself.
For example, if you live together, don’t assume that she’s going to take out the trash or be responsible for the drains. Make sure that you work out the best solution for both of you, rather than putting her in the masculine role.
Just because someone describes themselves as a tomboy doesn’t mean that there are no other aspects to her personality or that she doesn’t have more specific likes and dislikes. She might love doing practical things and drinking beer but hate watching sports, for example.
Assuming that she is going to like all masculine hobbies or interests is just as bad as assuming that she’s going to want to spend all day going clothes shopping or in the salon.
What this tip really comes down to is communication, which is the essential ingredient in any healthy relationship. We all get frustrated when other people assume things about us that are wrong, so try not to make assumptions.
This can actually be a huge benefit of dating a tomboy. If she has loads of interests that are wildly different from yours, there’s a huge scope for discussing new ideas and learning more about each other and the world.
If you’re a more feminine woman, you might find that your tomboy girlfriend has lots of hobbies and interests that you’ve never tried before. You might not be particularly interested in many of them.
That’s ok. You don’t have to have a strong interest in her passions for themselves. You might not love car mechanics, woodworking, or playing soccer. What you do need to do is care about those things because she cares about them.
Your tomboy girlfriend will want to share her excitement about her activities and achievements with you, and she will probably feel isolated and lonely if you don’t show at least some interest. Showing an interest in her interests is a way of demonstrating that she's important to you.
For example, if she takes up long-distance running, it’s important for her that you know at least something about what she’s doing and what she’s aiming for. This lets her tell you her latest time or distance and know that you understand what that means and whether it’s a big achievement or not.
Ask her questions about her interests and pay attention to her answers. Try to understand at least the basics so you can have a conversation about her hobby and have some ideas about how to support her.
Remember that this isn’t a one-directional obligation. She should also be willing to try to understand your interests and share some of your enthusiasm.
As someone who loves building and fixing things, I know first-hand how irritating it is for a tomboy when others are either surprised by her ability or refuse to accept that she might be an expert at something ‘masculine’.
Showing that you recognize her ability and respect her achievements is key to helping a tomboyish woman feel happy and valued. This is particularly the case if the rest of the world seems to be intent on putting her down.
Many tomboys have ‘acts of service’ as their love language. When she repairs your car or fixes your leaking tap, she’s showing you that she cares. She’s looking after the person who matters to her. If you assume that she’s not capable, she can feel as though you’re rejecting that love.
This can be tough, especially if you grew up in a family where you expected to call someone out to fix things around the house or to take the car into the shop when something went wrong.
A tomboy girlfriend is often adventurous and keen to explore the world around her. She will probably be keen to try out a wide range of different hobbies and activities in the hope of finding something that she enjoys.
A tomboy is also rarely upset at trying out something that they don’t end up enjoying. Rather than feeling uncomfortable or frustrated, she’s more likely to be proud that she’s tried something new and learned whether she likes it or not.
You don’t always have to go with her on these adventures, but she will want you to be supportive of them. She needs to feel supported and encouraged to explore, rather than resented and confined.
If you’ve mostly dated femme women, having a tomboy girlfriend can be somewhat different, especially if you’re on the femme side yourself. You might find that some of your expectations around lesbian relationships have to adjust slightly.
If you’re mostly interested in feminine activities and pastimes, you might have shared those with your previous girlfriends. For example, you might have had dates to get couples massages or to get your nails done.
A tomboy girlfriend isn’t likely to enjoy those kinds of dates. She might go for the massage but, rather than the relaxing experience you were expecting, she’ll ask them to help her work out the knots she got from a recent basketball game.
It’s understandable if these differences feel challenging, especially if you’re used to lesbian relationships with femme women. Try not to catastrophize over having different interests.
In the queer community, we rarely look to straight relationships for guidance on building a healthy, intimate connection, but this might be one area where we can at least set our minds at rest. Having interests that are not shared is the norm for most straight relationships, including genuinely healthy ones.
As a woman, dating a tomboy can sometimes bring stereotypical gender roles into your relationship. She might do the traditionally masculine chores, for example. This isn’t inevitable, though. You choose how you divide labor and assign roles in your relationship. Dating a tomboy doesn’t change that.
Your tomboy girlfriend is already expressing her own gender identity in her own way. Your main goal is to make sure that she never feels that she has to change her expression to avoid making you uncomfortable and having her back if others push her to change.
Society might judge you for dating a tomboy, but those people are probably already judging you for being a lesbian. People will draw their own conclusions and make awful comments like “I know which one of you’s the man.” Avoid those people. Hopefully, one day soon, no one will judge.
Just like everyone else, some tomboyish women are interested in dating someone who is very similar to themselves and others are interested in dating someone who has different characteristics. Some tomboys are straight, others are lesbians or bi. Some want to date another butch, others prefer a femme partner.
Tomboy women can make great girlfriends. They’re strong, independent, and confident, which can be incredibly sexy. They’re also great partners if you want someone to help you defy social expectations. Treat her as an individual and with lots of respect and you’ll have an amazing girlfriend.
What do you think? Do you enjoy having a tomboy girlfriend? Let me know in the comments, and share this article with someone who might enjoy reading about dating a tomboy.