Let’s get vintage “The L Word” for a moment here. Close those pretty gay eyes of yours and travel all the way back to 2004 — the year that low-waisted jeans and tramp stamps and Von Dutch trucker hats were all the burning rage.
The year “The L Word” came tumbling into our lives.
And if you, like me, were young and impressionable and slightly closeted, your life was never the same again.
2004 was also the year we first met Jenny. This was long before Jenny was a deranged, wildly successful writer with a mega-sized chip on her shoulder and an ego the size of the Dubai Mall (the world’s largest mall).
No, this was when our Jenny was a wide-eyed and innocent Bambi, new to LA and very, very, very new to the “lesbienne” life.
She’s shacking up with the swim coach (yawn). She’s feeling lost. Something’s tugging at her tender little soul. Something’s missing. What’s It All About, Alfie? What could possibly be missing from Jenny’s life? I mean, doesn’t she have ~everything~ a girl wants? An endless well of talent. An opportunity to live (rent-free) in the palm-tree-adorned City of Angels. A reasonably attractive boy toy that wants to (gasp) marry her. Bangs that never seem to get frizzy, even in the rain (which, as a Jewish girl like Jenny, I can safely say is a huge life victory). Haunting blue eyes and snow-white skin.
What the hell is wrong with Jenny that she feels so… restless? So empty. So unsatisfied.
And then, she meets Marina. Marina! Who is tall. And Literary. And European. And she gets Jenny. She knows intrinsically that Jenny is not just a sweet, doe-eyed, small-town gal who works at a bougie West Hollywood grocery store. She knows that beneath those prim Peter Pan-collared dresses lives a deep, tortured, complicated, otherworldly dyke.
(Important aside: Anyone who wears a lot of Peter Pan collars is overcompensating for something. Never believe a girl who claims to be innocent in a Peter Pan collar. I say this as a faux-innocent, up-to-no-good who wears a LOT of Peter Pan collars.)
And Jenny is instantly intoxicated by the ~prowess~ of Goddess Marina, Queen Of The Chic Lesbos. As soon as Jenny gets a taste of Marina, life as she knows it is never the same. Now she gets it. She gets what was missing this whole time. Women!
That giant gaping void in her heart had been so colossal that she almost fell right through it. But right before she lost herself within herself, Marina appeared, and her energy was so expansive that it covered up that vast empty space. So instead of falling to her personal death, she fell into Marina.
And yes, they have this undeniably insane chemistry, but Jenny has baggage, man. She’s got the Tim thing (yawn). She’s got untreated mental health issues. She’s just figuring out that she’s one of us. And not to be that bitch, but lez be honest: Marina has baggage too. She’s in a troubled, open relationship with the uber-wealthy Francesca, she’s a seductress who loves to play with Jenny’s fragile emotions, and she’s waving the biggest Red Flag of ’em all. She’s magnetically attracted to Jenny. As much as I love Jenny and appreciate her ethereal beauty, we all know when you’re attracted to a girl who is in a messy place, you’ve got your own mess swirling inside of you like a goddamn tornado.
And as quickly as it starts, the walls come tumbling down! Everything falls apart faster than Usain Bolt sprinting toward the finish line! Jenny leaves Tim. Marina has a nervous breakdown. She goes back to whatever chic planet in Europe she’s from. She attempts suicide. We find out she’s married. To a man.
So was Marina, even with their tragic ending, the BIG love of Jenny’s life? No. She was Jenny’s breakthrough love.
Every lesbian has a breakthrough love. Oh, you know the drill: You’re living your life, and like our favorite blue-eyed goth, Jenny, you just ~know~ something is missing. You watch your friends gush over their boyfriends and talk about how much they DIE for the sex and the pecks and the abs, and you’re just like sitting at dinner clutching your wine wondering what THE HELL is wrong with you — like, is there something you’re just not fundamentally comprehending? Because you feel blasé as f*ck about men’s abs.
(You secretly suspect that you might be gay, but also you can’t be gay, because you’ve never seen a gay woman in your life, except for maybe your humorless phys. ed. teacher in grade school, and you’re nothing like her.)
And then you see this girl at some otherwise boring party, and she has all this swag and sparkle, and you suddenly feel really nervous and awkward and intoxicated and kind of like you’re going to vomit all over the rug, which is weird because you haven’t had anything to drink yet. And you keep going to the bathroom to wipe off the beads of sweat that won’t leave your forehead alone, and maybe you even dry heave a few times while you’re in there. And then when you come slinking out of the bathroom, this girl creature confidently struts over to you hips first like a gunslinger, and you think you might die, but you don’t die — you talk to her.
And then she takes you for a ride in her cool car, and you’ve never ever felt so goddamn high before and so turned on but also so… freaked out. Like some sort of higher-power is holding your breath against your own will, and if you dare breathe this beatific moment will fade into nothingness and bleak reality will reveal itself again. And then she KISSES you on the mouth, and you breathe into her, and this jolt of electricity surges through your entire body, and zap, zap, zaps you right in the crux of your soul. Chills crawl up your spine and creep their way into your brain, where they instantly decide to live there for life.
And suddenly, you understand what all the girls were talking about. This sex obsession. You’ve officially been rendered obsessed. But not with a boy pecs. With girl boobs. With girl curves. With girl skin.
Life as you know it will never be the same again. And just like Jenny does with Marina, you become completely infatuated beyond repair with this swagtastic lesbian. And likely, just as Marina does with Jenny, she becomes vehemently obsessed with you too.
Because a breakthrough love is a powerful love.
It’s powerful for you, because this person has come into your life, and in an instant, dove deep inside of you and pulled out the missing piece. She unearthed the truth of who you really are. My god! This person changes your life. Of course, you’re going to have the fiercest of feelings for the person who takes a pair of bolt cutters and cuts the chord that’s keeping you shackled to this life of lies you’ve been living! Of course!
And it’s intense for this girl too. Even if she’s a card-carrying member of the Lesbian Community who has slept with more women than she can count, it’s intense to be someone’s first. It’s wild to be the steering the ship that leads a woman to the Isle of Lesbos. It’s a big electric dance party for your ego. You think, “Wow, I kissed this girl, and now her entire life has changed and she’s realized she’s a f*cking lesbian! I *must* be amazing.” How can the whole experience not serve as a giant rush of power? Of course it’s a giant rush of power to spark someone’s sexuality. Of course!
Only therein lies the rub: A breakthrough love isn’t necessarily a love that’s derived out of a deep and meaningful connection. It doesn’t have the history and the conversations and the mundane inconveniences of The Big Love of your life (click here to read an in-depth analysis of The Big Love).
See, The Big Love of your life has picked you up from the airport during rush hour and spent the night in the hospital with you when your eye is infected from sleeping in your contact lenses. The Big Love has seen you sick and bloated and bored.
Because the breakthrough love is such a wild shitstorm of new feelings and experiences, it’s not often founded on anything real. Jenny didn’t really know Marina. Marina didn’t really know Jenny. They confused the heat between them for this insane compatibility, but really they’re both just high off oxytocin (the feel-good hormone that washes over us when we have an orgasm and makes us feel like we’re in love even if we’re not in love — we just, well, had really great sex).
And here’s the thing with oxytocin: Just like any drug, eventually it wears off. And when the beautifully distorted filter of orgasmic bliss comes off for the first time, and you look at this person you think you’re in love with — raw pores and fine lines and acne in high definition — you might not like what you see. You might wake up one morning and roll over and look at your breakthrough love and suddenly think, “I HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON WITH THIS PERSON. WHAT AM I DOING?” (I call it sudden repulsion syndrome.)
Once Jenny left Tim and felt settled into herself, she had a glimmer of real confidence for the first time. And when you gain confidence, illusions fade. You’re not desperate for the high anymore, because reality doesn’t seem so scary once you know who you are. And in her newfound clarity, she realized maybe it wasn’t all about Marina. Maybe Marina just pulled out the gold buried deep in the soil. The gold was always there, and Marina found it, and that’s amazing, but maybe now she doesn’t want to be with Marina, who is in an open relationship and recklessly flirts with everyone under the sun.
While the chemistry between Marina and Jenny was absolutely real, maybe the fantasy of who Marina is wasn’t real (is a fantasy ever real?). And maybe, just maybe, it’s too intense to stay with your breakthrough love, anyway. Maybe that kind of druggie-like intensity is meant to be short-lived. I mean, you can’t live in that manic, over-sexed state forever! Eventually, you have to go back to work. Eventually, you’re going to need someone to pick you up from the airport and help you do horrible things like move out of your six-story walk-up apartment. Maybe you’re starting to crave things that are deeper than rambunctious lust. Things that are real. Things that you do with your Big Love. Because your Big Love is a love that stands the test of time. You go through the sex-crazed oxytocin period with your Big Love, but when the inebriation fades and you’re suddenly sober, you still stick around. You might have heartbreaks and ups and downs and drama with your Big Love, but you’ve been through tangible life shit together. Deaths. Family fights. Car accidents. The works.
The breakthrough love is exactly what it sounds like: A breakthrough. This is why, even if the breakthrough ends in a breakdown, it’s always worth it. It’s always to be worshipped in the neat folds of your memory. It’s always to be placed on the highest of pedestals. It’s the love that sets you free. It’s the love that lets you loose into this wild and wonderful lesbian world (the only world I want to live in).
And Big Love, on the other hand, it doesn’t belong on a pedestal. It’s too gritty to live that high up on some sort of altar. It belongs on your fingertips. In your arms. Inside of your mouth.
Even if it doesn’t work out in the long run.
Bette and Tina might not work out in the end, but their love isn’t some illustrious, god-like fantasy. Their love lives on earth. It has this super solid foundation.
Bette and Tina built their love. They laid each brick down with their bare, calloused hands. They got dirt underneath their nails. They built something together. Something that, even if they choose to walk in opposite directions, has floorboards that will never break. For the ground they built is made out of the strongest force alive. Love.