Every queer girl knows that when you come out, you’re instantly handed two things: a plaid shirt and the keys to your very own U-Haul. I’m kidding…but only slightly (you actually have to pay for the U-Haul).
But in all seriousness, why do queer women seem to fall in love with other women so quickly? Are we just enamored by the mere possibility of feline co-ownership? Do our hormones fire without discretion at the first sight of an undercut? Or is there a real biological phenomenon behind this?
According to Dr. Lauren Costine, author of Lesbian Love Addiction, when two women fall in love they emit massive amounts of oxytocin and dopamine. Due to innate differences in biology, men do not release these chemicals in the same way. So, when two women connect with each other romantically, there is an enormous influx of “feel-good” chemicals flowing freely from both parties. This results in something Costine coins as an “oxyfest,” aka the real life version of Amortentia, and it’s literally addictive.
In fact, researchers have found that falling in love has the same effect as cocaine on the human brain and neuroscientists have linked “passionate love with intense changes in emotion and attention.” Assuming the vast majority of us aren’t interested in a strict regimen of hard drugs with a splash of emotional instability, these studies are seriously concerning.
However, since romantic love has been associated with lower levels of serotonin (a key element found in those with obsessive, intrusive thoughts), it’s easy to wonder if queer women are just doomed to repeat this cycle.
This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. True to my Scorpio nature, I’ve always been the type to love fiercely and fall way too quickly. Until very recently, I considered my intensity, hyperawareness and self sacrificial nature to be among my best traits. [Spoiler alert: they’re actually my most unhealthy.]
According to Claudia Bepko, a licensed clinical social worker and co-author of the paper “The Problem of Fusion in the Lesbian Relationship,” this is a result of gender socialization. Society encourages women “to be helpers, to be overly engaged in their relationships, to be over-focused on the other person rather than themselves.” Women are typically responsible for all the emotional labor in a relationship and are conditioned to sacrifice their needs for their partner’s.
Albeit seemingly rooted in good intention, this form of extreme partner prioritization can actually result in a loss of identity. “You will tell yourself that it’s more important to take care of her needs than it is to take care of your own,” says Bepko.
While our gender identity and sexual orientation does make us more likely to fall prey to these harmful patterns, it is possible to overcome them. The key to avoiding these forms of unhealthy relationships rests in awareness and in understanding the difference between intensity and intimacy.
According to One Love, an organization intent on educating people about healthy relationships, “intensity is not the same as romance. Romance is making someone feel loved and desired, and it’s a mutual bond between those two people. Intensity can be intimidating, all-consuming, or obsessive.”
When a relationship becomes obsessive, it is inherently unstable and frequently causes intense emotional highs and lows. This can result in powerful surges of dopamine during the highs and extreme cravings for more during the lows, making it difficult to break free.
But, “when you confront your emotional response to drama and the purpose it serves in your life, you can reject it.” Simply put, toxicity does not have to exist in queer relationships just because our hormones are racing at the speed of light. [Shout out to Xtina.]
It is possible to look forward to being with your partner without allowing them to become your sole focus. It is possible to embrace the butterflies in your stomach without constantly thinking about your significant other.
In an unhealthy relationship everything revolves entirely around your partner’s needs. In a healthy one, your partner encourages you to build a life independently of them. The intimacy cultivated in affirming romantic dynamics always “goes beyond the self.”
A prime example of genuine love can be seen in Gentleman Jack, an HBO period piece that follows the life of the lesbian BAMF, Anne Lister. *spoilers* In the show, Miss Lister falls madly in love with Ann Walker. Unfortunately, Miss Walker struggles with serious mental problems and eventually considers moving to Scotland for treatment. Miss Lister, who desperately wants her love interest to move into her home, actually encourages Miss Walker to move to another country. Miss Lister cares more about the actual well being of her partner than her own selfish interests. She recognizes that moving to another country may benefit Miss Walker, and encourages her to seek the help she needs.
As queer women, it’s easy to fear that we’re destined to become stereotypes. [I’ve been guilty of it more times than I care to admit.] However, with a little bit of awareness, self reflection and restraint, we can overcome this toxic cycle.
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” ― Thomas Merton