We’ve all been through breakups. If you’re lucky, it’s just been one or two, or perhaps you’re someone who’s suffered more breakups than you care to admit. Regardless, you know the feeling: that deep pit at the bottom of your stomach, that painful heaviness in your chest that’s enough to make you want to cry (and
often does), the seemingly never-ending feeling of wanting to retreat to bed at all costs, the immense need to somehow be anesthetized from any and all emotion …
The pain of a breakup is one sure way that same-sex relationships are exactly like heterosexual ones: It just hurts. What’s also true of all breakups, regardless of what gender you date and love, is that it takes time to recover. The recovery process varies from person to person but should generally include allowing yourself to feel your feelings, knowing when to give yourself a break from them with a few pleasant distractions and indulgences and relying on support from loved ones. Another typical feature of a breakup is that you stop physically seeing the person that you’re trying to heal from the loss of. If you live together, someone moves out. If you share the same friends, you all quickly learn how to navigate making plans so that you and your ex don’t end up in the same place at the same time. When you realize that you’ve left your favorite T-shirt at your ex’s house, you ask them to mail it to you or begrudgingly succumb to the fact that it’s gone forever.
But what about when you share the same community?
While some people claim that an LGBTQ community or “Gayborhood” isn’t necessary in the age of marriage equality and the granting of other civil rights, most cities in America still have fully functioning LGBTQ communities existing within them. In Philadelphia specifically, our community and neighborhood feels much more like a very large, ever-growing extended family than it does the part of the city where gay bars are situated. So, while breakups may mean having to move to a new home and carefully planning outings with friends, it is fairly safe to say that no one is saying goodbye to this community after a split. Unfortunately, however, this comes with consequence.
For a heterosexual man or woman going through a breakup, there is much less concern related to running into your ex-significant other. There is also less of a chance he or she will accidentally fall upon information related to the ex. On the other hand, in same-sex breakups, there is a significantly greater likelihood that you will run into or inadvertently learn information about your ex, maybe much sooner than is suitable for your very fragile heart and emotional state. In fact, most research on efficient ways of recovering from a breakup suggests a total and complete cut-off for the first several months (minimally) after the relationship’s end. In the age of social media, it has also been widely recommended that you unfriend your ex; it’s best not to know anything about what they are up to, especially when social media is often a forum for displaying distorted realities. The less you know and the less you see, the better off you are. So, for members of the LGBT community, what are the effects on our healing processes when following such guidelines for a healthy breakup isn’t always possible?
As you are probably able to predict, the more your ex remains a part of your present in the early stages of the breakup, the more prolonged the time spent healing will be. However, the value that a strong, cohesive community can provide to you, especially in times of emotional strain, greatly outweighs the consequences of sharing that same community with your ex. Being a part of a community works against feelings of isolation and alienation, which, in turn, helps to fend off depression. Community also helps to remind us that the difficult experience of breaking up is one we have all gone through, and therefore can relate to each other in.
So, what should you do if you run into your ex when, in reality, you are too emotionally raw to be enduring such an experience? What’s best is to briefly and cordially acknowledge his or her presence (unless, of course, there are extenuating circumstances that would make that a poor decision) and then do your best to navigate your way out of that situation promptly. In times like these, ego can often get in the way of our ability to respect our own needs: “I don’t want him to think I’m leaving because of him” are easy thoughts to stumble upon but should be quieted by the more valuable choice to respect your own needs. Self-care is crucial.
Breakups are never easy. They are painful and trying, especially when there are added complexities, but it is important to remember a few things: It won’t last forever, community always helps and healthy choices will shorten the life of your pain.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist specializing in issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community in addition to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental illnesses. Her private practice, Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, offers both individual and couples sessions (www.lgbtphillytherapy.com).