Dear Dr. Frankie, My Relationships Never Last
Dr. Frankie Bashan
Dear Dr. Frankie,
One thing that I consistently see in the lesbian world is short lived relationships. I come from a world where my parents have been together for 52 years, have friends and siblings who have been together for 20 plus years, and really value lifelong commitments. My beef is that it seems that those are few and far in between in our community and would like to know why that is the case. Also, it would be interesting to learn how we as a community could do a better job of having said lifelong commitments. —Underwhelmed by Romance
I hear and agree with your frustrations. This is obviously a complex question with a more complex answer. Relationship failure is not unique to the gay community as heterosexual divorce rate is also climbing. Here are my thoughts on the subject in no particular order:
The advancement of women. The advancement of women is a trend that impacts both the straight and gay communities. Modern women are more independent than ever before. We have been afforded more opportunities in athletics, education, and the workplace, all of which lead to an increased sense of empowerment. We are free to make our own decisions and we have the financial means and educational background to back up these decisions. Historically women have stayed in unhappy or abusive relationships when they should have left, but this is less the case now. Career minded women also focus a great deal of their energy and attention on their careers, and this can lead to an imbalanced personal life where relationships are not always prioritized.
Technology and social media. Studies show, and it is also my opinion that technology, including smart phones and social media, are significant contributing factors to our growing sense of isolation. Common sense would say that because of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, that we are connected to one another on an unprecedented level. Interestingly, depression and reported feelings of isolation are on the rise. This could be because although these sites have enabled us to connect with long lost friends and maintain relationships with people we would have otherwise lost contact with, our communication with them is superficial and often passive. Even though we might be connected to childhood friends we often find ourselves following their adventures in a voyeuristic, passive way rather than simply meeting them for lunch to catch up. Another problem with the social media boom is that because we are reconnecting with people from our past, the “grass is always greener” syndrome can raise its ugly head. I have sat across from many a client who has reported that they reconnected with an old flame and whether they realize it or not, fantasies get played out. This cyber relationship is an escape from their mundane reality. They find themselves communicating with this person about the funny things that happened at work, and what they wished they were doing rather than what they were actually doing. These are thoughts and conversations we should be having with our real-life friends and partners. Instead these are being directed via cyberspace to an old flame. Social media has made us more vulnerable to getting derailed from significant real-life relationships.
Internalized homophobia. Here’s a trivia question for you, when was homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM)? If you guessed 1955 you would be dead wrong. The answer is 1986, a mere 26 years ago. Widespread acceptance of homosexuality is in its infancy. I believe one result of this is that there is a high rate of internalized homophobia. We pick up overt as well as subtle forms of discrimination from our friends and family. Most gay couples I know who have been married paid for their own weddings, their parents didn’t pay. Many gay couples who have been together for years have never even had a wedding. Even when we are coupled we are often not invited to our straight couple friend’s more intimate get-togethers. Our children are sometimes mysteriously excluded from activities. Even though most people are friendly (hopefully), there often appear to be mysterious, invisible barriers between us and “mainstream” society. Well, sometimes this feeling of isolation can be internalized and the message is that we are somehow inadequate and our relationships are not as valued. This can result in self-sabotage. If our friends, family and society don’t value and support us in our relationships then it can be easy for us to devalue them as well.
Lesbian bed death. Another common problem is lesbian bed death. Unfortunately women often do not prioritize sex and intimacy in the same way men do. Testerone drives libido and is of course found in greater quantities in men. The onset of lesbian bed death can lead to relationship doldrums and eventually ruin. Without intimacy people feel lonely, disconnected, sexually isolated, and they often veer off.
Trauma. It is important to note that the rate of sexual trauma for women is about 25%. For very obvious reasons, victims of sexual abuse often have a hard time letting themselves be vulnerable. Their ability to trust others and create healthy relationships can also be impaired.
Drama. I personally have a theory about drama. As lesbians we are already navigating a smaller population of eligible partners. Most of us also have many lesbian friends. In the gay community we often frequent the same coffee shops, bars and neighborhoods. When there are less women available and many of us hang out in the same places, there is a higher chance that you could find yourself attracted to your friends, or your friend’s ex, or even your ex’s ex. And predictably that leads to more drama within the community. I have also noticed a higher rate of delayed adolescence within our community. A friend of mine was telling me recently about a wild party where a woman became so intoxicated she peed on someone’s couch while passed out. If the woman was in college or maybe even her early 20’s this wouldn’t be seen as a completely abnormal occurrence, some might event find it funny.
However, it’s not quite so endearing when we are talking about a 35-year-old. Of course this is a specific incident I mention, but I find overall that as a community we are very accepting of alcohol-abuse and even “social” use of cocaine and methamphetamine. This is unhealthy behavior and the fact that it runs rampant in our community I believe speaks to the low expectations we have for ourselves.
Disposable mindset. We now have a mindset where virtually everything can be replaced, including relationships. I would venture to guess that most of us drive cars that aren’t paid off, and once they are paid off we get bored. We lease brand new cars for 24-36 months, we walk away from our mortgages, we replace our perfectly functioning iPhone with the newest version that has Siri. In fact many manufactured items are made shoddily to last a year or two tops, with the expectation that they will be replaced anyway. I also believe it is a similar phenomenon and translates to short attention spans in relationships. Many people, straight and gay, fall prey to the idea, “hey you never know what else is out there, I’m sure I am missing out on something great!” Our parents and especially grandparents did not approach life with the expectation of instant gratification. They understood that relationships took time to grow and at times were a hell of a lot of work. Again, I think some of us suffer from low expectations and when our three-year relationship gets “boring” we go out searching for something more exciting. There simply is not an expectation that our relationship last 50 years and weather the “till death do us part” storm.
Dear Dr Frankie,
I am a 48 year old woman (and should know better), I was in a 7 year relationship with an alcoholic and was finally able to get out of it. It took me 2 years to get myself back, well I met a beautiful woman we had a few dates and realized that we had everything in common (well except music) we can talk about anything and everything, we are both very out in our work and personal lives, we always talked, had a gentle touch in passing snuggled etc.... when we first met we were both looking for new jobs and within 3 months both found one. Then things changed, I am very happy in my job, but she on the other hand is not, she has always been a very confident, self-assured woman, but now her job has beat her down so much that she feels like she isn’t worth anything! She says that I am the best thing that has ever happened to her but she hasn’t been able to touch me in over a year not even a cuddle or to hold hands. (soooo not an exaggeration) anytime I want a kiss or a hug I have to initiate it. We have talked about it (‘till I am blue in the face) I am trying to be supportive but I am so lonely for her all I can do anymore is cry. This is not my first rodeo; I have never felt this deeply for anyone on my life and cannot imagine one without her in it. But I can’t keep feeling more and more like I am her sister. – Tired in Texas
Dear Tired in Texas,
It sounds like you love each other deeply, so I would do everything within my power to try and remedy the situation. Let’s jump into problem solving mode. It sounds like her unhappiness at her job has impacted her to such a degree that she’s tuned out and turned off. She may be depressed and lacking motivation and desire in her life, which will of course impact your relationship with her. To go a year without affection and touch, especially after you have repeatedly expressed your desire to receive more of her love, is incredibly emotionally damaging. At some point on the near horizon, you need to set a boundary and make some type of forward progress. This could mean one of several things. Certainly another conversation is in order, during which you may have to suggest a plan of action such as attending couples therapy or individual therapy. Plan a romantic weekend getaway where cell phones and tablets are left OFF. Get her away from work and perhaps the “old” her will emerge. Work is a significant stressor in life and it’s amazing how getting away can make one’s outlook on life cheerier. If the time ever feels right, consider taking her to a lighthearted, but informative, class at a Good Vibrations or other lesbian-friendly sex shop.
If none of these interventions rekindles your spark then unfortunately you may need to acknowledge the impasse. This might mean accepting that the attraction you once shared is no longer. Moving on with your life will certainly be painful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a friendship with healthy boundaries. I learned early in life that we are all responsible for our own happiness. That means you are responsible for getting your own needs met. We all deserve to give and receive love but you will have to be honest with yourself. It might be hard to see it now, but by making the tough decision you are actually making room for something more satisfying. At this point you’re in so deep with your current relationship, you can’t see what opportunities might lie ahead. Who knows what you’re missing out on by staying in an unloving relationship.
Hi Dr Frankie,
I am 35, I live in France, though I am not French, I am married to a great guy, kids etc...But my great guy is great as in big brother / best friend (and always has been). Four months ago out of the blue I got an arrow shot right to the heart, this has NEVER happened to me before, I admit that I am head over heels for an amazing, and in my opinion the most handsome girl in the galaxy. The object of my desire has a long term girlfriend, but we have become good friends. She knows that I have a huge crush on her and I know that I float her boat. She has said that if she wasn’t paired up she would be up for a relationship with me.......this just breaks my heart. I know that I should probably put a stop to our friendship as I am pretty much obsessed (unhealthy!) Even my husband knows that I have a 'thing' for her, and though I have managed to play this down its ruining my mind to act as if everything is peachy. If you have any suggestions, PLEASE let me know, I would really appreciate an outside view. When I re-read this email it sounds pretty banal, but living in this situation is killing me. The love I feel is so strong. Je vous remercie—Not Banal Gal
Dear Not Banal,
If I were you I would start by acknowledging that neither you, nor the object of your desire are available to explore anything. I would also at least temporarily sever ties with your friend. This will give you space to try and sort out what is happening here. Hopefully you’ll be able to decipher whether you are in love with your friend or if you are more generally interested in women. Also take time to reflect if there is a deficiency in your marriage. Although your husband might be the most wonderful friend-brother-man around, it sounds as if your needs are not being met. If they were then you probably would not be so taken by this woman. I would also suggest you seek out a therapist to help you sort out these feelings and get to the root of the dilemma.
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