The first girl I fell in love with, was one of those double-whammy lesbian love affairs. I fell in love with her in two different yet-equally-powerful ways at once. I fell in love with her romantically and as the soulmate best friend of my dreams. Her sexy prowess and huge protective heart made me swoon like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Our ability to silently connect in that very specific best friend way, made me feel like I was experiencing some kind of ‘90s movie Now and Then type sisterhood (creepy reference, I know). I was equal parts of obsessed with her as my new bestie and as my new lover.
“You know you can’t be best friends with your romantic partner, Zara,” my British mother would tell me, sounding like the strict headmaster of a posh all-girls school in London. She would stare coldly into my eyes as she took a prim sip of Twinings English Breakfast tea. As if she was reading my mind would purr “even if you’re a lesbian, darling.”
I would roll my eyes and spit a bitchy retort back, something like, “Whatever mom. You don’t get it. You’re not gay.” I would strut away in my Doc Martens boots and slam the front door as I had done weekly in high school.
“It’s going to hurt when it ends!” she would shrill behind me.
I would yell back, “You don’t understand me!” Because that’s all I could think of saying. But I knew in the deepest pit of my most utterly resentful heart, that bitch was right. It was going to hurt.
After three years of a (mostly) fantastic relationship, I split with my first love. I broke it off in front of an ATM machine after a night of heavy boozing and illegal drug use. She sobbed in the streets. I sobbed in the cab ride. The next morning I woke up with my head pounding like an anxious heartbeat and felt sick from regret. I did the classic lesbian move and tried to un-breakup with her. She wasn’t having it. She had thought deeply about it overnight and decided that as heartbroken as she felt, she knew this was the right thing to do. I knew she was right, but that didn’t ease the grief I was experiencing. I felt like someone had removed a vein out of my arm. She had become home for my blood and now that she was gone, my blood didn’t know where to go. I had never felt so unsafe. Of all the shit I had been through in my life (sexual trauma, deep betrayal, mental illness) no hardship held a candle to the soul-destroying pain of heartbreak.
I couldn’t get over her.
And the one person who I would normally call to break down these gut-wrenching feelings I was experiencing, the one person who always knew how to make me laugh and help me heal, was… her. I had lost my lover, yes. But mainly I had lost my best friend. I was beginning to realize, that’s why this breakup cut so deep for me. As much as I missed being in a relationship with her, what I was really missing was my best friend. And I believe best-friendship is the most powerful relationship you’ll ever have—even more powerful and intimate than any relationship you’ll have with a lover. There is nothing more honest and agenda-free than the relationship you have with your bestie.
I knew in the meantime, I needed to start making new friends and reconnecting with the old friends I had—in all honestly—neglected. I came crawling back to my best friend’s Owen and Ruba with my rainbow colored tail nervously tucked between my legs.
“I am so sorry I haven’t been around much,” I said to Ruba over the phone my voice quivering like the ground right before an earthquake erupts.
And because she’s such a good friend she said, “Thank you. I was really hurt by how absent you’ve been in my life but I’m going to forgive you.” My heart dropped into my chest. I vowed to never leave her feeling alone in the world again.
I went out on a limb and asked a coworker out for a drink. We drank cold glasses of champagne and spilled secrets and I suddenly was reminded that I was capable of cultivating new friendships still. The more I reached out to lifelong friends (always with my tail between my legs, it’s very important to acknowledge your shitty neglectful behavior) and the more I actively worked on making real-life plans with new friends, the more I began to heal. After about seven months I began to feel like Zara again. I realized I was over my ex, romantically… but I still deeply yearned for her as a friend. The ache for her as a lover had dissipated into the thin air, but the ache for her friendship was alive and real.
So I called her and boldly said: “I miss you. Not in a romantic way, I don’t want that with you ever again, but I want us to be friends. You are one of the best friend’s I’ve ever had in my entire life and I don’t see why we have to deprive ourselves of this friendship just because we once dated.”
I paused, expecting her to tell me to go f*ck myself (I had acted like a deranged loon in the early stages of our relationship). “Z. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Yes. I want to be your friend.” And in an instant, we were friends again. Zero romance. Zero flirtation. Zero butterflies or sexual attraction. Pure, wonderful, grounding, safe friendship.
That’s how I truly got over her. By allowing myself to not subscribe to the stupid rules we’re fed, stupid rules that tell us exes—under no circumstance—can be friends. I stopped drinking the kool-aid and started listening to my gut. And to this day this woman is still one of my best friends. She helps me navigate my relationship issues and I coach her through the complicated dynamic she shares with her parents. She was invited to my wedding.
So girls out there in the world who feel like they can’t get over the loss of the friendship with their ex, I challenge you to ask yourself the hard questions: Can we figure out a way to be friends? Answer this question honestly. And if you truly feel you are capable of transitioning back into being friends with your ex, I say try it.
Try it knowing that it very well might not work. It might stir up old feelings in one of you and set your mutual progress on fire. If that happens, walk away before you choke in the smoke. If you accidentally sleep together one drunken night, walk away before you end up entangled in the sheets of dysfunction. You are incapable of being best friends if you still have f*cking tendencies with your ex.
But also know that it could work out beautifully. You could perhaps have your gay cake and eat it too, babe. (What’s the point of having a goddamn cake if you don’t eat, right?) Plus, I believe that queer relationships are special like that. As queer people, we often have such strained relationships with our parents and childhood friends, that we can’t really afford to lose yet another person we let enter our worlds. Queer dynamics are often more evolved than heteronormative dynamics because they’ve had to be. You’re going to bond to someone in a very profound way when you know that half the world wants you dead and the other half doesn’t approve of your existence.
If you’re going through it, here’s what I suggest you do, babes: Before you deep dive back into a friendship with your ex, take some time off. Make new friends and call up your old friends. Remind yourself you are able to connect with people who aren’t your ex on a friendship level again (PSA: you should never have only just one friend!). Make sure the romantic part of your broken heart has healed. And when you’re ready… reach out to her. Yes, it’s a risk, my lesbian little sister. But everything that’s deep and valuable and beautiful in this life carries a bit of risk, right? You can’t gaze into a beautiful view without the lingering danger of splattering against the pavement. Beautiful views are always found in high places. You can fall from high places. But luckily our bodies were built to heal even after breaking bones. You’ll be OK, regardless.
Knowing that life isn’t so black and white and that you don’t have to excommunicate yourself from your ex forever just because you are no longer “dating” will help you get over her. It will show you that relationships are nuanced as f*ck, and not everything is black and white and carved into stone. There are no rules, except the ones you write for yourself.