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Lesbian / Relationships

Not All Lesbians Stay Friends With Their Exes And That’s Ok

"I wondered what it was exactly that made me less worthy"

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Written by Ellen Muller.

Art by Mo Santiago.

This can be a bit of an unpopular opinion for a lesbian to have, but I just don’t think I could handle dating someone who is tight with their ex.

I know, I know – it’s more of a reflection of my own baggage. I know that every relationship, gay or straight, is unique and that some people are able to achieve a truly platonic friendship with somebody they once had romantic feelings for. Logically, I know one experience shouldn’t mar my entire outlook. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll have a healthy bond with an ex and we’ll love each other enough to still want to be part of each other’s lives.

Surprisingly though, the main reason I’m immediately hesitant when a prospective partner mentions that they’re still close with their ex is that there’s one ex of mine who I would have loved nothing more than to call a friend.

As a possible consequence of binge-watching Seinfeld reruns for as long as I can remember, I have loved the idea of being the Elaine to some incredible girl’s Jerry. Ok, yes, they’re fictional, but I believed that their ‘exes turned BFFs’ dynamic was possible.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the idea of being the Elaine to some incredible girl’s Jerry.

Whether you’re watching sitcoms or googling articles on the subject, the main argument you’ll find in favour of friendship between exes being possible, is that it isn’t weird because that person was incredible enough for you to want to share your life with them for a period of time in the first place. Then there’s gay relationships and how they’re framed, discussed and represented. A myth does exist that that queer women are more likely to stay friends with their exes – because the community’s tightknit or because women are supposedly more mature.

So when the first girl I was ever crazy about told me she was still friends with her ex, I didn’t initially think anything of it. If anything, it made me like her more. I saw it as a sign of maturity.

At the time, there never seemed to be a reason to question her friendship with her ex. She was adamant that there was no chance of them ever dating again, because they had been friends before they dated, they shared mutual friends, and they hadn’t dated for a particularly long time. Ultimately, I accepted it because part of me hoped that if we ever broke up, that we would stay friends too. She was someone that I couldn’t believe had fancied me back. I understood why her ex wouldn’t want to lose that friendship. Plus, I was the new person in her life. We had only been acquaintances before we started dating, so who was I to be a killjoy who was anything other than totally ok with the fact that this ex-girlfriend was in regular contact?

Back then I was younger too – I had one foot barely out of the closet and was incredibly insecure about how to define myself. I didn’t know what it meant to be a gay girl, and so I relied on generalisations and representations for guidance. At that time I also had no other gay friends, and while straight friends advised that they personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with their boyfriends staying close friends with their exes, I didn’t know whether there was another set of rules or differences for when it’s two women dating. Thus generalisations were my reassurance anytime I felt a twinge of doubt.

While straight friends advised that they personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with their boyfriends staying close friends with their exes, I didn’t know whether there was another set of rules or differences for when it’s two women dating.

Seeing that dynamic left me with a very naive and ultimately unrealistic impression of what I could expect if, and eventually when, we broke up. For a long time I felt like there was something wrong with me because they could be friends but she just wasn’t interested in friendship with me at all.

I wondered what it was exactly that made me less worthy; plus those generalisations, which I had initially relied upon heavily for some much needed direction, also added to this sense of failure because if it’s the norm for queer women to stay friends with their exes then I mustn’t mean that much to her as she didn’t want to keep me around.

To her credit, my ex was upfront and told me that she didn’t see friendship with me as a possibility as we hadn’t started out as friends first. She was scared that being in contact with me would give me false hope, and although I could see her point, it remained a rejection I could never understand (after all, it had seemed pretty obvious to me that her ex was still blatantly hung up on her).

Those generalisations about queer dating – which I had relied on so heavily – compounded the inevitable rejection and the sense of failure that comes at the end of most relationships. I irrationally hated her ex for being lucky enough to text her whenever she wanted, and I hated the fact that if I ever wanted to reach out, no matter how much time had passed, it would be interpreted as me not having moved on.

Those generalisations about queer dating – which I had relied on so heavily – compounded the inevitable rejection and the sense of failure that comes at the end of most relationships.

I later found out that they had gotten back together (confirming a suspicion I had long held). Hearing that, along with the realisation that I had never really ever stood a chance, hurt possibly more than when she broke up with me the first time. 

It made me remember moments when we were dating, where it seemed obvious to me that her ex wasn’t over her – but I had quashed those apprehensions due to a mixture of insecurity and stereotypes around gay culture. I wish I’d had enough life experience then to realise that generalisations don’t fit everyone, and that they can, in fact, be harmful. 

I wish I’d had enough life experience then to realise that generalisations don’t fit everyone, and that they can, in fact, be harmful.

For so long I wanted to reach a point with her where we could occasionally catch up for a beer and just listen to how the other was doing, but now I realise gay or straight it isn’t always as simple as just you’re both two cool people and you decide to stay friends. Sometimes it’s not about you and sometimes you don’t get to understand why they can’t have you in their life anymore. We were never friends but for me that doesn’t diminish it anymore. We don’t talk but in a lot of ways she saved me, and for that she’ll always mean something to me.


About the Author

Ellen Muller is a Melbourne based freelance writer who keeps a satirical literature blog called ‘Poe’s very attractive cousin’. Check out her writing portfolio at ellenmuller.com to read more of her published pieces.

Follow on IG: @hello.ellenmuller


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