Thursday, January 31, 2013

Challenges of Long-Term Lesbian Relationships

 A Long-Term Power Couple
Two women who gossip together, debrief on relationship issues, exchange sexual intimacies, what could be problematic about this picture? In many ways, nothing is and that’s why many lesbians get together in the first place. But the more challenging part of this equation is staying together.

Unlike places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, in the U.S. the separation between the culture of men and the culture of women exists informally but nevertheless, serves as a divider for the men and women. The football with the boys and shopping with the girls stereotype is simply shorthand for a far wider separation that makes it easier for same-gender couples to meet, yet harder to persist in queer relationships.

Continuing to have friends is a given for heterosexual, married women. And I don’t mean only friends that are also coupled and visited with in pairs, I mean real “heart” friends. For lesbians in couples, emotional intimacy can be threatening for the life partner. There is no automatic dividing line between other women, as all of them have the potential of being seen as romantic partners. To prevent this, once coupled lesbians often engage in what I call emotional monogamy, meaning other couple friends are encouraged but new emotional intimacy is not. 

Among queer women some of the greatest wear and tear on relationships comes from the joined-at-the-hip phenomenon. This “urge to merge” is deadly to long term connections because it becomes attempting to share the totality of one’s existence tends to be deadly in a relationship. It is far healthier to bring home stories and adventures from two separate lives.. This involves cultivation of individual friends and interests; a simple thing that the majority of straight folks do automatically.

Being sexually monogamous yet emotionally non-monogamous is possible. But this feat  is more challenging for lesbians than for our straight sisters. It means being open to the kind of real friendships we had with each other before we were taught that emotional intimacy is automatically a precursor to sexual intimacy. This is debatable, but he absence of the possibility of true friendship cuts off an emotionally satisfying and healing connection to others. Friendship should not only be for teenagers, searching singles and old married ladies. Paired lesbians need friends too.

Of course, the major things that make our relationships more difficult are factors such as outright discrimination, lack of social support, denial of marriage rights, and inequality under the law, things that fall under the general umbrella of lesbian oppression. All are obstacles working against the longevity of lesbian relationships, demanding that we explore workable new alternatives.