I am aware that I have talked a lot about others’ stories so far but not very much about my own. I promise to tell my story, all of it, one day soon, but here is a snapshot of my story right now: I broke up with my girlfriend, two months ago.
So now there are big cavernous spaces in my life where she once was: in my thoughts, in my bed, in my time, in my future. I can’t seem to get over the silence; first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I miss her and I feel sad so much of the time. And while it is so so tempting to fill up all the spaces and all the hours with distraction – work, alcohol, friends, food, writing, music, books – I am trying to face my sadness head on in an attempt make sense of it.
The pain of a break-up can be indescribable, but society recognises this and we are usually given leeway to grieve and process. That is unless you are a woman who loved another woman, in which case your experience might feel very different. Most people take it for granted that, if they enter into a relationship, their commitment is accepted, acknowledged and support by their family and community. Not having that support would be hard enough whilst in a relationship, but think for a minute what that would be like if no one understood or acknowledged your break-up, or even that you were together in the first place?
I don’t know anyone who has experienced this so I can only imagine the loneliness they must feel. I feel painfully lonely in my breakup even though everyone knows about it. I think if no one knew or acknowledged how I felt right now I would begin to question whether the relationship had ever actually happened, and I can only imagine the dangerous path that might lead me down…
The stories I have heard are about breakups where friends and family knew of their relationship but didn’t accept it as valid. People have told of their families being positively chipper on hearing of a break-up, or belittling the relationship as a phase, openly hoping ‘that will be the end of it’ and offering little or nothing in the way of support. ‘Maybe now you can find yourself a nice boyfriend’ is such an innocuous comment on the one hand, but to someone who has just had her world fall apart it would be like a sharp slap in the face that leaves a mark long after the physical pain has gone.
I am so very lucky that the friends and family in my life don’t see any difference between my dating a woman or a man, but these stories show that not everyone is as fortunate. And all the stories I have heard so far are from my city-dwelling Western world, but what of those who can’t even imagine sharing their break-up…with anyone? What would that do to a person, hiding their feelings in a vault of unimaginable pain and sadness?
Although women who love women don’t have a monopoly on break-up pain, the added burden for those who aren’t supported means they might really struggle to make sense of their break-up and recover, particularly if the only person they can share their pain with is the very person they are mourning for.
I may feel lonely right now, but I know how lucky I am that I can talk openly about my pain, that it is acknowledged by others, that I can expect empathy and kindness when I share my story. I think of how lost I feel and I can’t imagine having to hide and deal with this alone, possibly with an added dose of shame and self-loathing thrown in. I hope I can use my experiences to help those who can’t share their stories openly to share them with me instead. The pain of a break-up is universal, and if I can find a positive in my pain it’s that sharing mine might help someone else to ease theirs a little.