Love Rules

As I discussed in my last post, Being Okay, we live in a society that has rules for how and who to love that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve come to expect the attitudes and language that reflect those heteronormative beliefs. I’m a bit surprised, though, at some of the attitudes and beliefs I run into within the LGBTQ+ community.

Being a single lesbian comes with challenges. I ran into some interesting views years ago that I knew I would encounter once I was single again. One experience I had in my thirties was when a lesbian friend who was in a relationship came to visit me from out of town. At the time, I was also in a relationship, but was living alone. She informed me that she was not “allowed” to stay in my house and had to make other arrangements. I felt hurt because I thought she and her partner did not trust me.

I also experienced people saying that they could not do things with a single lesbian unless their partner was also there. They were basically saying that they would not engage with the person individually, only as a couple. Clearly, their intention is to protect their relationship, but at what cost? If you do the math, you realize that if everyone thought this way, it would mean that single lesbians can only form close friendships with other single lesbians. Sure, you can form close friendships with a couple, but face it, we don’t always like or connect with both members of a couple, and sometimes it’s easier to have meaningful conversations one on one.

These attitudes and behaviors make single lesbians second class lesbians. It results in the people who may need love and support from friends the most instead being marginalized by their own community.

The Challenges of Going Solo

The legs of a person walking on a rainbow painted on a crosswalk

Knowing those attitudes existed, I recognized that making friends or even renewing friendships with lesbians could result in bumping into these types of rules of engagement. But when I was getting to know a new friend and she suddenly backed away, it hurt more deeply than I anticipated. I assumed (and it was later confirmed) that it was because her partner was feeling threatened. And I’ve been analyzing why it cut so deeply ever since.

What I’ve recognized is that the negative beliefs that I’ve carried about myself, formed by earlier experiences, were somehow reinforced by this experience. (See Being Okay.) I allowed the message that I was somehow not to be trusted to sink down deep. Even though I had not, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had done something wrong. I realize now that the healthy response would have been to just let it all go, to have some compassion for whatever they were working through, and to move along. But I found that difficult to do. I seemed to get stuck in a pattern of trying to prove that I was a good person and worthy of their trust and respect.

The good news is that it highlighted some work that I needed to do. One of the powerful things about EMDR therapy is that the therapist can use the emotions that such an experience brings to the surface. It provided us with the chance to process another level of shame and trauma from my past.

Less Rules, More Love

In addition to feeling emotionally hooked, I was also frustrated by this and by the other attitudes I knew were present with other friends. It bothers me that a marginalized community can add another layer of marginalization onto its single members. Just like I have work to do to process my own responses, I think these attitudes are a symptom of work that needs to be done by others. I introduced the concept of R.A.I.N. in the post titled Working with Anxiety. We can use the same process to work with other emotions.

Young woman sitting and enjoying in idyllic foggy mountain landscape, celebrating freedom at beautiful sunrise.  she is sitting in a rock formation that looks like a heart.

It seems to me that the rules and boundaries people place around friendships are a result of insecurity, jealousy, and fear of abandonment. These emotions often connect to past traumas. The presence of these emotions often manifests in a lack of trust of partners and others. (The reality is, people don’t need to trust everyone. They just need to trust their partners.) Of course that trust is built upon good communication which could be the topic of several posts. But I’d like to focus on the inner work first. Lack of trust is sometimes a result of past behaviors of partners, but it is more often a result our own reaction to what is happening around us.

How things often play out often looks like this:

  • A becomes friends with another person.
  • B feels jealous and insecure and worries they may be left for the new person.
  • B makes rules for how A can engage with C or tells them not to engage with C at all.

The jealous partner mistakenly thinks these feelings are fair reasons for controlling their partner’s closeness to that person. But strong emotional reactions are usually bad reasons to set boundaries. Boundaries should be established when we are feeling solid and communication is clear, not when we are off balance and fearful. Here’s how the R.A.I.N. practice might look with these emotions.

  • R – Recognize what is happening. Owning the emotions of insecurity, jealousy or fear is an important first step.
  • A – Allow it to be what it is. We might say, “There you are again, green-eyed monster” and just sit with it a while.
  • I – Investigate what is happening in our body. What does this emotion feel like? Is it solid or fluid? Where do we feel it in our body? Does it stay in the same place or move around?
  • N – Not identifying. Here, we can avoid building a strong story line around the feeling. We can refrain from justifying or thinking about who is right and wrong. We recognize this emotion is energy that will pass through.

Should we avoid talking about it with our partners? No. A conversation about our feelings may be very helpful to us and them.

Something like: “When I saw you talking with her, I felt anxious and insecure. I worried that she offered you something I don’t. I’m working on these feelings. As I process these emotions, what I need from you is _______.”

The blank could be:

  • More cuddling
  • More quality time together
  • Reassurance that our relationship is strong

From Rules That Limit Love to a Love That Rules

Red hearts are sitting in the bed of a toy yellow truck and also flying out of it

When we each work to process our emotions and heal from past hurts, we are more open to the love that we might receive from all kinds of people around us. That sets us on a cycle toward more security and trust with everyone. We can create a society where love does indeed rule.

I have adopted this motto:

Love is limitless! Give it freely. Accept it joyfully. Celebrate the love that the people in your life receive.

You are welcome to use it too!

Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust.

Bell Hooks

The love expressed between women is particular and powerful because we have had to love in order to live; love has been our survival.

Audre Lorde

Since loving is about knowing, we have more meaningful love relationships when we know each other and it takes time to know each other.

Bell Hooks


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