“Do you love me?” I asked Samantha, my partner, moments after she walked in the door from a long day at law school. We’d just relocated to Toronto after living in Vancouver for five years, where we left behind all of our friends. The move made me feel needy since I knew virtually no one when we moved. While Samantha spent long hours in class making new friends and connections, I spent hours feeling lonely and lost in a new-to-me city.
“Of course I love you,” she answered, tossing her bag onto the floor as she plopped down on the futon to sit next to me.
“Are you in love with me?” I asked, steeling myself for the answer I already knew was coming.
“I… I don’t know. What does it mean to be in love, anyway?” she responded cooly, completely disinterested in the emotional crisis I was having.
I promised myself I’d stay calm when this answer came. But once the words tumbled out of her mouth, any hope I had of holding it together flew right out the window, along with the hopes and dreams we’d shared for our relationship. As my partner of seven years told me she wasn’t in love with me, I sobbed. Heavily. And so did she. She confessed that her love for me had shifted, and there was nothing I could do to change her mind. She told me I felt more like her sister than her lover. That night, we laid on our bed holding hands and crying for hours as our dog went back and forth between us, licking away the tears streaming down our cheeks.
While we transitioned our lives away from each other, we fought all the time. I mean, we said the ugliest shit two people could say to each other. After seven years of spending every day together, we knew exactly how to press each other’s buttons, and oh god, did we ever. By the time she moved out of our tiny one-bedroom basement apartment, I was ready to shove her ass out the door, change the locks, and never see her again.
But within two days, I was missing her. Hard. Not for sex. Not even for cuddles (but those would’ve been nice, too). I missed her friendship. Her laughter. Her presence in my life. The way she made me feel grounded and safe, no matter what was happening. And we had a beloved dog we had to figure out what to do with. So we met up and discussed a shared custody arrangement for our little furry fellow, and that was the start of our lifelong friendship.
It wasn’t easy, at first. In fact, sometimes it was downright horrible. There were a lot of bumps in the road (and ugly arguments) as we navigated our way from being lovers to friends. There were times when I thought we’d never make it to the other side and would simply be dog co-parents and nothing more. As it turned out, however, the love and memories we shared were stronger than any desire to kick each other out of our lives for good.
Over time, our anger and hurt shifted into a solid friendship—one that ended up meaning more to me than any other friendship I’d ever had, up to that point.
It’s been over 13 years now since our break-up, and we’re the best of friends. We help take care of each other’s children. We’ve comforted each other through break-ups with other women. We’ve taken care of each other when we’re sick. We’ve gone on family vacations together. And we’ve embraced each other’s new partners with love and open arms.
Of course, this kind of friendship isn’t all that rare for lesbians. Most of us remain friends with our exes. If we don’t, we run the risk of bumping into them when we’re at the few local watering holes for queer women, and who needs that kind of awkward in a small-ish community like ours, right?
But it’s so much more than that—we’ve shared so much of ourselves, and shared it so intimately—how can we let go of that, like it never happened? Lesbians seem to be incapable of that. I’m pretty sure it’s biological. It’s not, but just let me live.
Apparently, science says that those of us who stay friends with our exes are more likely to be psychopaths and/or narcissists. Ouch. If that’s true, then pretty much all lesbians are narcissists because most of us are not only friends with most of our exes, we’re pretty damn good at it, too.
When I tell other lesbians that my ex-partner is my best friend (seriously, we live a two-minute walk away from each other), they totally get it. Don’t even bat an eye. When I tell straight people, they’re equal parts horrified, fascinated, and confused.
Of course, it’s not always possible or ideal to stay friends with an ex. I don’t advocate remaining friends with anyone who abused you emotionally, physically, or psychologically. Cut that bitch out and never look back. But if you and your ex ended your relationship on amicable(ish) terms, what do you have to lose? There’s always the danger of the dreaded on-again/off-again relationship. If you find yourself still fantasizing about kissing her, you’re not ready to be her friend. Don’t even try to fool yourself—or her. But if you’ve truly moved on and are ready to be friends and not friends who are still in love with each other, I highly recommend it.
Queers are more likely to stay friends with our exes, in part, because we might not have huge support networks. And we know our community is small. Those of us in marginalized communities need the support of others in our community, which is another reason why we lesbians tend to stay friends with our exes, long after the relationship has ended. And let’s face it—it’s hard to meet new people and make new friends—arguably even harder than finding someone else to date and fall in love with.
Having my ex as my best friend is truly one of the most beautiful gifts that life has ever given me. We make far better friends than we ever made lovers/partners. And I wouldn’t change that now for anything in the world.