Why does the first lesbian breakup hurt so much?
I was reminded recently by a friend of a friend how horrible the first serious lesbian breakup can be. If there is a single lesbian rite of passage, this one is it. One of the things about the first heart-rending, eviscera stomping, soul draining lesbian breakup is that you don’t know at the time that it’s because its the first, and because heterosexism makes things worse at every point.
The first time is always the hardest
By the time many women have their first real love affair with another woman, they have been thinking about it for a long time. Most of us are not lucky enough to live somewhere where we can come out and start dating women in high school like the straights get to do. Then add on the fact that only 2-10% of the women you meet are interested in falling in love with a woman, which means you are likely to way more than the usual number of unrequited crushes growing up, on women who just are never going to see you as a potential romantic partner.
Women coming out are often wishy washy
Even if you are lucky enough to fall in love with a woman who is into women, she is likely going to be dealing with a lot of internalized heterosexism. Because of this, she may only see heterosexual relationships as ‘real’ relationships, and anything done with another woman is just ‘playing’. A woman like this might prioritize any competing attention from men more highly or be closeted or uncommitted about your relationship. It takes awhile for women coming out to find other women who are prepared to take a relationship with her seriously and this can be heartbreaking. Some of these women will end up with guys, and others will deal with their negative feelings towards relationships with women and become available for serious relationships with women, but it can take a long, painful while.
The first one feels like ‘The One’
Because you may have been wishing or hoping to be with a woman for a long time by the time you find a woman to openly be in a relationship with, she may feel like the answer to your prayers, all your hopes and dreams. She is not just one woman, she is all the women you have ever wanted. This is ‘It’. A lot of women fall really hard for their first women lover and don’t realize that the powerful oceanic, rightness of making love with a woman is not necessarily about this particular woman, but about their own feeling of rightness about being with a woman, period. You may feel like you have never loved anyone like this before and will never love anyone this way again, and it can make people go to great lengths to hold on to a relationship that on other levels isn’t working at all well for them.
Women are often more emotionally intimate with other women
Friendships between women are often more emotionally intimate than friendships between men, or between women and men. Women tend to share that same deep emotional intimacy with women they are sexual with as well, and that might be a deeper emotional connection than they have ever felt with anyone they have been sexual with before. It’s powerful stuff. If you are nervous when people see you deeply, you are going to be nervous a lot in your first lesbian relationship. When people are nervous about intimacy, sometimes they behave badly to push others away.
The endings are often messy
People just sorting their stuff out are often not the best at it at first. The first breakup can be full of angst and drama, internalized homophobia (“women are too hard, I’m going back to men!”).
Family and friends are often unsupportive
Family and friends who know about your first lesbian relationship may be unsupportive, or only reluctantly supportive, and may be happy when your relationship ends, thinking it means you will go back to being straight. Even if they are not overtly negative, they may not take a lesbian relationship as seriously as a heterosexual one and not be supportive or empathetic when it ends, leaving the newly broken up lesbian or queer woman without social support from people who get it.
It gets better, and welcome to the team
You will likely never get your heart broken as hard ever again as it was by the first woman you fell deeply in love with. You will find community of queer or lesbian women who get it, and you will gradually meet others. A lot of lesbian dating behaviour will now make sense to you, particularly women’s reluctance to date someone who hasn’t been with women before. Lesbian relationships are rich and satisfying, and this unfortunately hard rite of passage is absolutely worth the later happiness. Hang in there. Find another lesbian or queer woman and go out for a beverage and commisserate about first loves and first breakups. You will find most of us have ‘been there’ and will agree that yes, the first time IS the worst. It helps.
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash