Law enforcement affects an officer's personal life. This is especially true in reference to police officers' intimate relationships. "Police work is a lifestyle," 29-year veteran Betsy Brantner Smith says. "If you choose to be with someone in law enforcement you also choose that lifestyle." With the majority of officers being male, much of the dialogue and resources available to police couples revolves around male/female relationships. Although immensely helpful to the majority, the issues female officers face goes, many times, unacknowledged. Stereotypes and challenges abound in their quest for a significant other. Fortunately, with understanding by both partners, relationships can be healthy and gratifying regardless of occupation.
"There are two main stereotypes," Smith explains. "One, she is a short-haired, very manly, gruff-voiced woman who is just stomping around telling everyone what to do. Very masculine." Like all occupations, female officers run the gamut as far as personal attributes. Regardless, this stereotype is pervasive. Another part to this stereotype is the misperception a feminine, petite woman who can not do the job.
The other main stereotype comes from Charlie's Angels. Smith explains, "Ooh, is she hot? Does she handcuff you? A lot of sexual innuendo. Does she tell you want to do? Does she let you touch her gun? All that childish nonsense." This stereotype is built on fantasy and not reality.
In spite of the stereotypes, female officers seek and enter relationships. The occupation provides a myriad of challenges. "Just the mere act of trying to date is difficult," says Smith. "It is real hard to find someone who wants to go on a date with you when you get off at 7 in the morning." Sorting through all the physical and emotional issues the job brings to a new relationship can be difficult for both people. Mary (not her real name) explains a perception she faced, "That you're carrying a gun all the time, always eating at Dunkin' Donuts, that real lack of real understanding of what we do on a day to day basis." Unlike most occupations, police work often defines a person in the mind of a potential mate. I doubt going on a blind date with a woman who is an audio-visual specialist will set the same tone. "There is still an odd fascination with women in law enforcement," Smith states. "While you're dating you've got to kind of wade through that. It can be very intimidating for the person who is dating a female cop who carries a gun and has a constitutional authority to take a life."
A Cop's World
Once dating turns into a relationship, female officers continue to face challenges. The strong personality of many female officers and her existence in a cop's world adds complications. "You're going with this woman you find attractive and who's fun to be with. You're an accountant and you're telling her about your day and she's talking about the guy she tasered and the active shooting training she went to or she's talking about her new AR 15 and the training she's going to," explains Smith. "She's talking about things they don't understand and she sees it as fun. Normal people don't understand us and they look at us and think this girl is a little off. I'm not sure I want to be a part of this world."
The Boys' Club
According to Smith, women make up around 10% of law enforcement nationwide. Female officers are surrounded by men. That can be hard for a partner to handle. "One of the things, they're going to hear is, your girlfriend or your wife works with all men, aren't you afraid she's going to cheat on you? Do you trust her?" Smith explains. "That becomes a big issue in police relationships. There are huge, huge trust issues." Another part of being in the minority at work is the issue of equality. "As women, we are always trying to prove ourselves as equals," Mary explains.