I took a mental step back, being straight and not queer, and said, “Please tell me more.” This intelligent and articulate woman ventured to share something vulnerable and very relevant to her life with me and I wanted to truly hear her perspective.

She went on to explain she had dated men before but dating women now was so sticky and icky and difficult and different and … just too much. She had taken a year off from dating and relationships to catch her breath and to reset so to speak.

When I told her I hear that from all sexual identities and genders, she kept going, insistent it WAS different. She said, “There are so many feelings and moods to navigate with two women it gets too dicey too quick and tender wounds are triggered and then feelings are hurt and it devolves quickly.”

There was another older lesbian woman who’s been in a long term relationship with her wife for over 30 years who had been invited into the original casual conversation and she volunteered “All I know is two lesbians go on three good dates, then one if not both of them immediately start to look to move in together!” The other woman nodded her ahead and agreed, then said, “See, that’s different!”

We had to jump back on a pickleball court after that so we both said “to be continued” . . . but I was curious and looked it up and found some notable differences.

  1.  Two women menstruating can cause some delays in having sex. Rather than just 3 days a month without sex, it might be 6 days.
  2.  And the emotions that can be heightened around this period are also doubled, so that’s of note.
  3.  But the need for birth control and fear of pregnancies become a moot point.
  4.  While men have a tendency to have sex on the brain, women are more inclined towards intimacy. In a lesbian relationship, on the other hand, there are more chances that both partners would want to get to know each other better before going to bed together.
  5.  No surprise here that one-night stands in a lesbian relationship have a tendency to turn into relationships.
  6. There can be challenges with separating platonic and romantic feelings at the beginning of the relationship.
  7. Lesbian relationships can create more attention when they walk into a restaurant hand in hand. Sometimes this can be negative homophobic attention, but in Austin, Texas more times than not, I hope it’s from a place of inclusion.

One relatively consistent finding in research on lesbian and gay couples is that they are more likely than heterosexual couples to value and achieve equality in their relationships (Dunne, 1997).

Nonetheless, I have worked with many queer couples over the 20 years I’ve been practicing and I have many lesbian friends both single, partnered and married and many of the underpinnings underneath dating are the exact same. And yet, I will agree there are some differences. But those gender differences are not why it’s hard.

It’s hard to be in romantic relationship when you don’t first have a good relationship with yourself. Period. We are all mammals and we are all designed to attach and connect to others. And it is so important for us to do so that when we don’t feel we belong or have our person to attach to, we can feel the fear of abandonment, exile from the tribe, or even the terror of annihilation. We can’t survive alone. And our whole being knows this.

And if you have dated (over 5 years) as long as I did before choosing my ideal partner, you also know the bone crushing weight of loneliness. Even if you’re taking a hiatus or doing a complete reset around dating, we are designed to connect. Loneliness comes. It doesn’t have to crush us, but if you’ve never felt that pain, please know it gets your attention. It’s formidable.

As babies, we had to attach to our mother or primary caregiver and when they turned away from us, even for a bit, our nervous system sounded a warning if not an all out alarm. We knew we couldn’t make it without them. And if we never got a significant level of soothing, connection or engagement (also called co-regulation) from this primary caregiver, then we spend our lives trying to get it. OUT. THERE.

Makes sense. We were designed to get it outside of ourselves as babies so we keep looking for that connection from someone who will devote themselves to us. Somebody who will fuse with us like we got or were supposed to get as infants. But as the baby grows and develops, they are supposed to go through developmental stages that allow them to separate from their mother or primary caregiver and go explore and then come home and little by little learn more and more about what they think and feel and desire outside of their caregivers’ perspective.

In essence we each must learn to differentiate and develop our own beliefs, interests, desires and values. And we do this for our whole lives if we are actively participating in life, but being able to actively differentiate and yet stay attached to your partner might be difficult if the message you got about how to be in relationship was either fuse completely or get dismissed, ignored or completely left behind, or worse, yet, abused, or don’t rock the boat and cause a disruption in the minimal connection you are getting now, or ultimately, connection is painful and it’s best to avoid it.

My personal childhood, clear, but tacit message was to not have any needs and rather meet the needs of those around me. And it was a Catholic childhood so if I would do this with a smile and offer my needs and pain and desires up to God silently, then God would be extra pleased with me and my worth would be established. Bam! Ingredients for a codependent, undifferentiated cake in the making!

So, I fused with my first husband and l then I fused with my second husband. But as I continued to grow and work and evolve, I began to also differentiate and hold onto myself, and as I did so, it required me to notice my needs, own them and then share them. Shakily at first. A raised voice or emphatic dismissal or pejorative pat on the head could make me drop myself and all my needs, and ultimately run back to fuse with my partner or concede my reality for theirs. Anything to make me feel connected and safe again. This is not intrinsic to only straight people, this is a human response.

Spend some time with your attachment patterns. As prosaic as it might be, your first 3 months especially, and then collectively the first 3 years defined much about how you got set up for healthy attachment . . . or not. First, for symbiosis or fusion and then differentiation while also maintaining attachment, then rapprochement, or leaving and coming back, and then ultimately developing an even deeper understanding of yourself while deepening your attachments to others as well.

LipSync: Tuned In, Turned On, Transformative Dating is a dating program that addresses this issue and creates a pathway to cultivate the all important relationship with yourself first, and then maintain that connection while being able to invest in attaching to someone else on a deep, meaningful level.

Works Cited: 1-7 information from: https://lesbiannews.com/how-different-straight-and-lesbian-relationships/

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