Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can Lesbians be Friends?

I have had a partner for going on fifteen years. We have a unique relationship because we have never lived together, in fact, I live in Berkeley and she lives in Oakland. We joke that our abode is huge because it has a freeway running down the middle.

The result of our living apart together arrangement is that we each have individual friends, as well as couple friends. As a couple, we sometimes also spend time with each other’s individual friends as well. The odd fact is that the great preponderance of these women friends are heterosexuals and I’m trying to reconcile the reason that this occurs.

Emotional intimacy beyond the couple relationship is necessary for healthy life. Straight women know this well. A boyfriend, husband or loving partner is great but without girlfriends life can be lacking in depth, dimension, and empathy. There is no way that one other person can fill each arising need, nor should they be expected to. I thought this was a given and that, especially child-free adults, would want to form new friendships at all points in their lives.

 For lesbians, there is no similar cultural frame of reference. I believe that, for single lesbians, the need for friendship gets subsumed by the search for lover-ship. Friends are the negative default setting to finding lovers. This is particularly true when folks are working and time is of the essence. The classic sentiment is, if the chemistry is not there, let’s just be friends.

As lesbians, we are a prickly bunch. We all share a history of unrequited love, thwarted romance and ferocious repression. The scar tissue that forms around these negative experiences, especially for us boomer-aged dykes, can be limitless and all-consuming. Our sexuality confuses the issue too. The potential complications of sexual attraction loom over every female to female relationship. And, due to women's oppression, fear of everything from a verbal slight to real, physical danger is always present in our lives.

But being real friends requires a lot more than chemistry. It involves shared interests, trust, mirroring our damaged and difficult selves in a way that requires compassion and understanding. It is not a fallback position, but one of fundamental, front-line support.

Lesbians often draw friends from their pool of ex-lovers or their non-attraction pool of potential lovers. But what about the idea of meeting new women with shared interests, more like straight women do? Does the nebulous sexual element make it any attempt at connection too threatening? Are we doomed to be constrained by this dynamic forever?

You might think that the fact I’m in a relationship would make me more desirable, you know, a safe harbor for the seeking. But I’m getting the feeling that it also makes me a waste of time, like squandering valuable infrastructure capital on a cul-de-sac instead of laying the foundation for a bridge or freeway.

The destination is critical but the journey itself is also important. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the present through a wider lens. Life is uncertain. If the bolts break in that bridge or the cement cracks in that freeway, spending time on a restful cul-de-sac could be just what the doctor ordered.