Why Exactly Are Queer Breakups So Hard?

Queer breakups transcend time and space.

Photo by iStock

I love love. I’m a hopeless romantic. The kind of person to throw myself entirely into a new relationship. The kind of person to leave love notes on a lover’s nightstand after the second week of knowing each other. I flourish off new love, that feeling of vulnerably showing someone else your messy, gooey, pink insides. Of tenderly looking up at them with questioning eyes, as if to say, “Can I trust you with this part of me?” And slowly creaking open the dusty window to your heart—a heart that may still be scarred from a past lover. 

Queer love has moved me to come out to my family; queer love has moved me (literally) to U-Haul with someone far too soon; queer love has moved me to evolve into a more emotionally attuned person. Queer love has also torn me to pieces; queer love had me shattering glasses in my backyard out of anguish; queer love has had me holed up in my apartment all winter downing bottles of wine; queer love has had me peeled over on the sidewalk because the pain was so viscerally embedded in my being.

People who say that queer love is just like straight love are simply wrong. Our love is vastly different. And so is our heartbreak.

The Actual Breakup

I texted a friend the other morning, “Sorry I’m running late, we’re having a very queer breakup.” And she knew exactly what I meant. Queer breakups last all day—you go from holding each other and crying to making out to stepping outside for fresh air and coffee to getting back into bed for more crying to talking about your feelings to having sex to arguing to more crying. Sometimes this goes on for weeks, or even months, as couples grasp desperately for common ground. It doesn’t really matter how long it lasts because queer breakups transcend time and space.

Queer relationships often have a component of trauma bonding. As a demographic, we’re more likely to experience familial rejection, sexual abuse, and mental illness than straight cis people. As we connect with our intimate partners, we share these deep-seated traumas and hold space for each other. That process of deeply knowing what makes someone tick is hard to let go of. Queer relationships tend to go beyond simply being lovers—we become each other’s best friend, partner, support system, and chosen family. The loss from a queer breakup goes deep into the core of these emotional ties.

The Breakup Sex

Breakup sex is like 60 percent of a queer breakup. It’s usually very wet (from tears, duh) and passionate and kind of sloppy and filled with broken I love you‘s. You just have to be careful because breakup sex can sometimes evolve into forgetting about the breakup and suddenly getting back together, without even realizing it.

It’s happened to me, and I bet it’s happened to you. You come to pick up your things from her apartment and before you know it, you’re f*cking. And then you sleep over. And then you get brunch the next morning. And then before you know it, you’re just back into your old patterns.

Allow yourself to have breakup sex during the actual breakup, but not after. If you have to or decide to meet up after you break up, make sure you meet in a neutral location (not either of your apartments), so you don’t fall into this pattern.

The Aftermath

After a breakup, straight people cling to idioms like, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea,” or “thank you, next,” or the affirmation that a random blind date from a friend of a friend is awaiting them. And because there are plenty of straight people, these idioms are true.

My first girlfriend and I lived in rural upstate New York. We held onto our love long past when we should have. In part, we held on because it was our first lesbian love, and we had gone through so many coming-of-age moments together. But we also held on out of fear. There was a deep fear that I wouldn’t find anyone else who loved me like she loved me, someone who understood my deepest vulnerabilities the way she did, someone I was so incredibly attracted to as I was to her. Swiping on Tinder as a rural queer lasts about three minutes until the app says “searching for more matches…” Straight people get on dating apps post-breakup and swipe to their hearts delight, or simply go to the local bar to meet new people. Their options for meeting potential partners are plentiful, no matter where they live. A few months after this particular breakup, I moved to the city—in large part because I was seeking queer connection.

Since then, I’ve gone through semi-breakups with casual flings to earth-shattering breakups with people I thought would be my life partner. I’ve stayed friends with some and cut others out of my life. But that fear is always lingering. There simply are fewer options when it comes to queer dating. We are a minority. I’m the one to say, “Maybe we’ll find each other again in the future,” clinging to the belief that this person is meant to be in my life as a lover. And I always write a goddamn love letter to them after a breakup. It’s this morbid thing I do because I want them to know how deeply I loved them and to have it in writing to always look back on. If that’s not the gayest thing you’ve heard today, I can’t help you…

The Healing

After a queer breakup, we’re left wondering either how to transition into friendship or how to handle seeing a toxic ex we don’t want to befriend out in the community. There are so many powerful aspects of existing in an insular community, like supporting each other through hardships and bonding over shared experiences. But there are downfalls—and having to exist in the same space as your exes in a huge one. Especially if there were forms of abuse in the relationship, which often leaves the person who was abused feeling even more isolated after a breakup. The nuances to queer breakups are multidimensional.

If you’re having a queer breakup, come up for air. Don’t let yourself wallow in the emotional processing of your breakup for too long. We queers are hard-wired to do that, to sit with our ex-lovers and process the feelings we have about our breakup, even after the fact, and call it “friendship.” Take time to care for your heart. Mend your wounds. You don’t need to be friends right away. Transitioning from a romantic relationship to a friendship can’t happen overnight. You’ll both need time.

And if you don’t want to be friends with your ex, that’s valid. There can be so much pressure to automatically be friends because you exist in the same community, and people don’t want to pick sides. None of that is your problem. You don’t even need a reason to not want to be friends with an ex—it could be that you simply don’t want to put in the work to transition the relationship, and that’s OK. Trust your instincts after a breakup, and let yourself be selfish in all the best ways. Care for yourself the way you’ve cared for past lovers. Nurture your body and emotions. Pour all the love you need to into yourself.

Finding New Love

Promise me that you’ll love again. It’s always worth it because when you find the right love for you, it feels like coming home to yourself. It expands everything you ever knew about the world around you. It creates a safe space for a lover to gently caress all the parts of you that you thought were unworthy of attention, affection, and acceptance.

No matter how heartbreaking and drama-filled my breakups have been, I wouldn’t take any of them back. They’ve helped me grow. They’ve helped me understand what kind of love I want to nurture with future partners. Some of my best writing has come from queer breakups.

The way queer people love is powerful, and the way we come undone from love is equally moving. It may seem bizarre to the heteronormative world, but I don’t care. So I’ll keep our drawn-out emotional conversations pouring over every moment of our relationship. I’ll keep our gut-wrenching goodbye love letters. I’ll keep our telling each other all the ways in which we were hurt, so we can move forward as friends. Even though queer heartbreak has had my guts spilled in the middle of the street more times than I can count, I’ll keep it all. Because it means I loved and was loved by someone who truly saw me in my rawest form.