Looking for Love in the World’s Smallest Pond
I often heard the phrase “there are plenty of fish in the sea” after a rejection or the end of a relationship, but as a young queer woman living in a small town in Canada, I did not have an endless sea to explore. Rather, my search for love continued in the world’s smallest pond.
Of course, dating experiences greatly differ between locations. A queer person from bustling New York City may offer a different perspective than another in a rural Texas, who may deliver an entirely different perspective than yet another abroad. Dating apps and the internet have made the search for companionship somewhat easier and more convenient for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but not necessarily safer or richer. Many folks in the queer community find dating apps challenging as they tend to support hookup culture and impromptu relationships. There is nothing wrong with casual, consensual romance, but undoubtedly when all the avenues on the search for a long-term commitment lead to dead ends, frustration tends to boil.
Furthermore, challenges heighten for folks who live in small communities. Using Tinder in my hometown was an endless cycle of the same eight women with the occasional long-haired, bee- holding, fish-hoisting man (you know, in case I changed my mind). Each person's dating history and experiences are unique, decorated with struggles, obstacles, successes, happiness, and pain. That said, relationship similarities offer solidarity to every individual on the quest for love, especially since love is inexplicably unpredictable.
Love's unpredictability offers a kind of comradery that transverses age, race, orientation, gender, and everything in between. However, for the LGBTQ+ community, unpredictability can lead to relationship complacency; I’ve experienced it not once or twice but multiple times. People in the LGBTQ+ community experience violence, discrimination, and die by suicide at much higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts. Family or community disownment, socio-economic disadvantages, and inequality afflict LGBTQ+ people every day. Talking about the trauma created by simply existing is never easy. If people find someone who understands and cares in such a fundamental way, a strong connection forms. A partner's acceptance of the complex history and personal flaws reassures people. The predictability that a long-term partner, no matter how incompatible, brings, especially to sufferers of depression and anxiety, creates an allure and solace. Undoubtedly, a routine also provides comfort, stability, and security, but not necessarily sustainable love. Complacency ultimately keeps LGBTQ+ people in unsuitable relationships.
Love wears many coats. Love for a supportive friend is beautiful but different from the love for a partner. Of course, your partner is a friend, you can love them in different ways, but the commitment to a partner extends further for many people. You can love someone without being in love with them, which is a stark difference. People also often mistake love for lust, which eventually loses novelty. We may try to reignite the relationship's initial intense emotions, but physical attraction requires emotional supplementation to create a well-balanced partnership. We may try to force substance, but it rarely lasts long-term. When a relationship ends, not only do you lose a partner, someone you trust and do love in some way, but a confidant, supporter, and friend. Many folks in the LGBTQ+ community find trusting others at the same depth as a partner difficult; so, we choose complacency to ease our fears. What if this is as good as it gets? Can I handle being lonely? What can I afford to lose emotionally?
Your partner may not necessarily be a bad partner or a mean person, but relationship fulfillment and happiness depend on compatibility. Most of my previous partners were lovely women, or at least just as lost and confused as a young queer adult, but their loveliness does not equate to suitability. My first out relationship began freshman year at university. Both of us had lots of personal exploring to do, which we shared. We came out to our families and friends together, talked about marriage, and discussed the future. The problem? Our relationship equated to chalk and cheese. Picture a small, quiet, nerdy introvert grappling with a loud, explosive, reckless extrovert. She wanted to stay in and watch movies; I desired to scour the bar scene. She read in groups at the library; I rattled iron at the gym. She obsessed over cats; I am allergic. We tried to blend, tried to invest in each other's hobbies, and desperately tried to glissade between both friend groups, but I eventually realized I could not force happiness.
Do not mistake me, trying new things and supporting your partner's interests is essential, but having nearly no common interests and constantly forcing each other to participate in activities you both do not particularly enjoy is an entirely different matter. It was hard. At the six-month mark, I began to conceptualize what my emotions meant. I thought that stagnation and uncertainty just happened after the first stages of a relationship, but always expected a fierce rekindling. As our relationship lingered for nearly two years, her unhappiness also became apparent, but we did not talk about it because what was the discussion? The terribleness of our relationship? My heterosexual friends asked over and over, “Why are you still dating?” and my response sometimes would be, “What if this is it?” They would retort, “Girl, there's plenty of fish in the sea!” Yeah, I have heard something like that before.
The breakup was amicable. We had different views on how to test our relationship, mine spending time apart and hers spending more time together, but we decided to take a break which eventually became a breakup. It was frightening but relieving for both of us, her parting words friendly and uplifting, “You’ll always be my awesome first girlfriend.” We still talk occasionally. It was sad and difficult at first, but I knew it was right. Friends and family who always saw the blatant differences in us continued to question the relationship's logic. I could not explain it to them well, just that I did love her and we wanted to try, but it just did not work. Retrospectively, the hope we had until the very end that circumstances and personalities could change enough justified the unhappy time spent together. Which, at the moment, felt easier and less painful than recovering from a loss and starting anew, especially when starting new meant unlocking internal gates again that my partner already had the key. Shortly after, my fears evaporated; overall, the end of it did not hurt as much as I anticipated.
If the relationship is inexpedient, end it amicably to maintain the friendship, if possible. Trust people whom you love in different ways (friends, family, your favorite barista) with your trauma and emotions so you do not feel as lonely and lost without the support of a partner. Finding good friends can sometimes be as difficult as finding "the one," but long-distance friendships tend to be more sustainable, anyway, so extend your search. If you want to work on your relationship because you love your partner and want the partnership to flourish, ensure you understand why it is worth the struggle and that your efforts gear toward true happiness, not continued complacency.
In reality, the dating pool for people in our community is much smaller. Perhaps we queer folks believe that when someone has “enough” compatibility, the relationship is enough. However, if someone is not a good spiritual, mental, and emotional match for you, a sustainable relationship cannot exist. Take my word, my well-seasoned word that incompatible companionship is not the answer to our small pond issue. Patience, personal growth, and time are indispensable. That, and continued societal progress so that our murky pond eventually grows into a lucid lake, are better paths to romantic happiness.
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