Roughly two years ago, a notable number of the Autostraddle staff and also world at large went through what I now think of as The Summer of Breakups — long-term relationships that everyone had thought would last forever were suddenly turned on their head, including mine. Group chats were formed! Impulsive decisions were made! We started a channel in Slack! Pet custody was negotiated! Now, a few years down the road, some of it feels very distant (other times it doesn’t, like when my former landlord emailed me this week to find out if he needed to split the security deposit between me and my ex or not. I don’t know??). I’m not saying this summer will necessarily be a Summer of Breakups again — although it’s true there are two eclipses in Cancer season this year, yikes — but if you do find yourself suddenly among our number, I and many others are here to tell you that some semblance of a love life does exist on the other side of breakups, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
You aren’t alone!
If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, especially if you’re 30+, it’s easy to feel like the world moved on without you while you were taken. That everyone else is now in idyllic, perfect and endless relationships or marriages, and you have somehow found yourself the loser in a community game of musical chairs. This is not the case! As someone who left a very long-term relationship — an entire marriage! — and felt this way for a long time, I can tell you from personal experience it is really not the case. At first it felt like the only other gay single people on earth were 25-year-olds (no offense, 25-year-olds!) but that has turned out to be extremely not the case. People are single by choice and/or become single at all ages and all stages of life, for all kinds of reasons.
More than this, one great thing about dating post-divorce and post-30 was finding that not only were other people my age single, but a significant portion of them had also gone through at least one major relationship ending, either a marriage or a relationship they had expected to be in forever. Far from people thinking you’re weird or damaged or somehow off life’s track if a big relationship ended, it’s often an experience you can share and find that you’re feeling is normalized for yourself. So many other 30+ queer women have been divorced! I have been to the mount and I bring you this testimony!
Be flexible about ‘being ready’
If you’ve gone from a long-term relationship you were settled into for the long haul to being suddenly single, it may feel like you can never see that happening ever again. And definitely it makes sense to take some time and space for yourself! Maybe a very long time! Before looking for any new activity partners or partner partners. However, if you’re getting out of a big-deal relationship, especially if historically you’ve been a serial monogamist, it may not make sense to wait until you’re ready to once again share a co-op ownership and dog and Hitachi with someone to get back out there. That exact feeling may never arrive! And even if you are a serial monogamist, there are speeds between “alone forever, using the “haha” reaction in the group chat from the couch where you’re rewatching the musical episode of Buffy alone for the fiftieth time, alone” and “gay married.”
It’s fine if you don’t feel ready for a relationship again, but maybe you feel ready to get a drink with someone! Or see a movie with them! It’s not dishonest or bad to date even if you don’t expect to be dating with the intent to enter a Relationship. It’s fine to just be having fun, and giving yourself a reminder that you’re fun and interesting. You don’t have to obsess over whether you’re ‘ready for a relationship’ again, at least not for a while; you can just ask yourself whether you’re feeling ready to like, text someone. Maybe eventually you’ll find you’re thinking you might be ready for a relationship with someone you texted — or not! Also fine!
Be honest about what you want
The only way to get to that being fine, though, is to be honest about what you ARE ready and looking for — both with yourself and with other people. I think especially given the tropes of lesbians who want to move in immediately and raise 2.5 shelter cats, it can feel like you’re doing something wrong or bad if you don’t necessarily want that. You aren’t! As long as everyone involved knows what the deal is, you are doing great. This also goes for impulses of guilt in the other direction — if what you want is a serious girlfriend and 2.5 shelter cats, it’s okay and good to say that, to yourself and others! You don’t have to try to be into casual dating, casual sex, seeing multiple people or remembering which tinder date named Kelsey is which if that isn’t what you actually want! You and the people around you will be so much happier if you don’t, and it will be so much easier to find the person or people you’ll be really happy with if you’re super clear on what you’re looking for rather than trying to accommodate.
You don’t have to hide your breakup
Returning briefly to point #1, you don’t need to be apologetic about the fact that you had a major and really difficult experience, and the ways it will probably impact you. You don’t have to hide that you’re still sad or that it was a big deal; if your date suggests going to the place you had your wedding rehearsal dinner at for drinks, you can say you’d rather not because it would make you feel weird! This doesn’t have to be the same as dumping stuff on your date; it can just be normal low-grade emotional sharing and vulnerability, like sharing that you had a bad day at work — your date knows you have a job! Your date knows you have had other relationships! It isn’t a state secret, and you don’t need to try to make it one.
You can also talk about things that aren’t your breakup!
AND YET. While it’s kind of a queer dating cliché to spend major parts of your first dates dishing about your exes — and that’s a totally fine thing to do! — it’s also true that part of dating other people is about moving on from your relationship, not finding a new space to rehash it in. If you’re finding that your ex or breakup is coming up nonstop, or you can’t stop comparing new people to your ex, maybe it’s time to take a step back! Life is long; it’s ok to need more time. Do you have a journal! No reason, just wondering! I love this one.