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.
I hear and agree with your frustrations. Relationship failure is not unique to the gay community as heterosexual divorce rate is also climbing. This is obviously a complex question with a more complex answer.Here are my thoughts on the subject in no particular order:
The advancement of women
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. While is awesome, the increased freedom comes with increased responsibility. Career-minded women will focus their energy and attention on their careers, and lifestyle, sometimes leading to an imbalanced personal life, where a long-term relationship gets left behind. If a long term relationship isn’t created as a priority, then it needs time and space to be given the energy it deserves. So often, I hear successful, professional women complain that they can’t meet anyone compatible, but then tell me they have no free time to go out and meet a stranger.
Technology and social media
Studies show smart phones and social media are significant contributing factors to our growing sense of isolation. We log in, read about other people’s lives and think ours isn’t good enough and feel depressed and isolated. The trouble with online communication on social media is that our communication is often superficial and passive. Passively following a childhood friend’s adventures in a voyeuristic, online way, rather than simply meeting for lunch, doesn’t allow us the opportunity to truly, actively participate in their life. Another problem with social media 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.
These fantasies are 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.
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. Testosterone 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.
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.
My personal theory about Lesbian 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.
Delayed adolescence within the Lesbian Community
A friend of mine retold a story about a recent party, where a woman became so intoxicated she peed on the host’s couch while passed out.
If she was in college or her early 20’s, this wouldn’t be all that abnormal and actually, rather amusing. But this woman was 35. Not quite as amusing when you’re over 30. 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 speed. 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.
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.
How To Conquer All These Obstacles and Still Find a Long Term Relationship?
Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is a complex question with a complex answer. All of my previous blog posts on healthy lesbian relationships have tackled this question in one way or another. There simply isn’t one way to find the woman of your dreams. Except there is: You need to stop searching online dating sites and go out and meet people. If there aren’t places where queer women go, join a business group of queer professionals. Join a sports team. Find a gay/lesbian center to volunteer at. I could go on and on, but the truth is, if you aren’t actively searching and dating for a long term relationship, it’s not going to find you. I meet women every single day who lament they can’t find a quality partner for a long term relationship. Obviously, there are many women out there looking for you! You just have to put yourselves in front of them.