Flipping the Script: How Does Sexual Orientation Affect Your Choice to Leave Someone or Be Left at the Altar?

What can we say? We just can’t get enough of this iconic question. Today, we’re diving yet again into one of the trickier hypothetical scenarios presented in the Marriage Pact survey: “Would you rather leave someone or be left at the altar?” 

In our first look at this question, we found no significant patterns across religion, birth order, political affiliation, or class year—though we did observe a few correlations between a preference for leaving someone at the altar and traits associated with cynicism. 

In our most recent analysis, however, we observed an unequivocal trend in the aggregated Marriage Pact data from 13 schools: heterosexual women are more likely to prefer leaving someone at the altar, while heterosexual men are more likely to prefer being left. 

But how do things differ for LGBTQ+ identifying students? To find out, we broke responses down across gender and sexual orientation at four schools: Middlebury, Bowdoin, Georgetown, and Tufts. As a reminder, averages for this question lie on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicates a preference for being left, and 7 a preference for leaving. 

A few interesting differences clearly emerged between straight and LGBTQ+ students:

  • At every school we looked at excluding Bowdoin, homosexual women were less likely than heterosexual women to choose to leave.

  • Conversely, homosexual men were more likely than heterosexual men to choose to leave at all four schools. 

  • Averages for bisexual men and women typically fell between averages for heterosexual and homosexual students of the same gender.

  • We didn’t find any clear patterns across schools for non-binary students (due to their small sample size and lack of significant findings, we chose not to present data). 


Sexual Orientation Altar Middlebury


Sexual Orientation Altar Bowdoin


Sexual Orientation Altar Georgetown


Sexual Orientation Altar Tufts

Essentially, the trend we previously observed in straight students—in which women are more likely to indicate a preference for leaving and men a preference for being left—was clearly subverted in LGBTQ+ students. To glean some insights, I spoke again to Dr. Lisa Medoff, a developmental psychologist at Stanford University. 

In our last conservation, Dr. Medoff noted resistance to gender scripts as one of the primary reasons for the differences in average responses between straight men and women. For example, women—who have historically lacked agency in their lives—may find it empowering to leave an unstable relationship with a man, whereas men may choose to be left in an attempt to avoid being stereotyped as a callous heartbreaker.

For LGBTQ+ students, however, the lack of clearly-defined scripts associated with queer identities and relationships means that students may simply have fewer stereotypes to challenge. 

Dr. Medoff:

People who belong to groups that deviate from the social norm may find it a bit easier to not take traditional gender roles into consideration, and feel less pressure to conform to or challenge certain behaviors. 

I think in addition to not needing to challenge particular gender roles within relationships, there just aren’t as many scripts for LGBTQ+ students to follow. There’s also a little bit more of a negotiation of roles within a queer relationship in a way there might not be for heterosexual couples, where the norm is more clearly defined. It can be very easy to fall into some stereotyped roles, because it’s been all around us for so long.

For example, because gay women may not subscribe to the image of the helpless woman waiting for someone to sweep her off her feet, they may feel less of a need to reject this stereotype. Similarly, gay men might not worry about fitting the hetero-masculine stereotype of a cold-hearted man who abandons his partner mid-ceremony.

Dr. Medoff also hypothesizes that the lack of models for same-sex relationships in the media may make it difficult for LGBTQ+ students to place themselves in this scenario. 

Dr. Medoff:

I think about media portrayals as well: of the models out there for relationships, there just aren’t that many movies or TV shows that show gay characters getting married. It just may not be as easy to have an image of what that scenario could look like for you or the other person. 

And in same-gender relationships, it may not be as easy to put yourself in the place of one of the characters. For example, if I’m a heterosexual female, watching a movie about a man and a woman getting married, and the woman gets her heart broken or is left at the altar, I’m going to put myself in her place automatically. Whereas if I’m watching something with two women getting married, and one leaves the other, it’s not exactly clear who I’m meant to identify with. 

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that all students’ responses to this question, regardless of identity, differ widely based on prior experiences, personality, and individual relationship preferences. 

One male student at Stanford who identifies as gay said he would actually prefer to be left: “I just don’t think I would have gotten to the point where I’d have to leave someone. I would’ve ended things before then.” Another non-binary, queer-identifying student at Stanford said they would “much rather leave. I might actually have a good reason to do so and it would be less embarrassing. If I got left it would mean that I must’ve fucked up somehow.”

Despite individual differences, however, the overall trends we observe still shed light on the ways in which gender and sexual identities inform role-negotiation and decision-making within relationships. Dr. Medoff closes by noting that the lack of clearly-defined gender roles for LGBTQ+ students may enable them to flip the script, carving out their own authentic niche within a relationship. 

Dr. Medoff:

It’s not always a good thing that LGBTQ+ students don’t have many scripts to follow. LGBTQ+ students are underrepresented and do face a lot of challenges—but in this one way, they are more free to forge their own path within a relationship that works for them. 

Have a question you’d like us to explore next? DM us on Instagram or Twitter, @MarriagePact.