A few summers ago, I had my first one-night stand—or rather, I tried to. In July 2015, I agreed to meet a woman I’d matched with on Tinder. It seemed clear we wouldn’t have a lasting relationship: I called Montreal home, while Kim lived more than 2,000 kilometres away in Winnipeg. She was passing through the city on vacation, and we wouldn’t have much time to get to know each other since she was flying out less than 24 hours later. It was a high summer, split a corner-store bottle of wine in the park, kiss-in-the-dark kind of night: exciting, but fleeting.
The day after she left though, we texted each other. Then we texted some more. Then we just kept texting. For years. When Kim dealt with homophobia at work, I listened and commiserated. When the long-term relationship I eventually got into ended, she did the same. A couple years after we first met, she visited again, as a friend. We cooked dinner and attended lectures in the evenings after work. In a slightly embarrassing turn, my dad even followed her on Instagram.
I’ve come to know Kim as a smart, compassionate and strong-willed friend—someone I’m thankful to still care for, even from a few provinces away. Our continued contact isn’t entirely surprising: I’ve been lucky enough to stay close with a number of people I’ve been linked to romantically. Over the years, they’ve formed a network of bright, fierce and supportive queer folks who have propped me up, made me laugh and pushed me to be better.
Queer folks’ tendencies to remain close with former partners has been well-documented, if informally: Google “Why do lesbians stay friends with their exes?” and you’ll get pages of results in return. But, to my knowledge, no one has bothered to officially study the frequency with which our romantic pairings morph into friendships, so absent of any reliable numbers, you’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s a thing.
Straight men you dated for years: *Dissapears from friendship once they no longer want to sleep with you*
Queer women you went on 3 dates with: *sends you a Christmas card for the next 45 years, compliments you on every haircut you ever get, exchanges mutual support for decades*
— Megan Jones (@MegjonesA) January 5, 2018
Like any stereotype, the phenomenon isn’t universally true: our partnerships aren’t immune to neglect or betrayal or violence or conflict. Sometimes relationships can’t be repaired. And sometimes we simply rather they weren’t.
The transition to friendship can also take time and work—negotiation, self-reflection, tearful conversations. And so, when we find ways to remain in one another’s lives, it feels particularly fulfilling. We’re there because we really want to be.
This type of transformation can happen to any fractured partnership, queer or otherwise. But there are, I think, certain factors that continue to draw queer people together, long after romance has run its course.
There’s an undeniable practicality to staying on decent terms. Queer circles can feel about three inches wide, and with fewer and fewer LGBTQ+ spaces in existence, it’s pretty easy to constantly end up in the same rooms with the same people (try going out dancing on any given Friday without running into your ex). But it’s more than that. We often need each other to navigate a unique set of experiences. Some of our highest highs, and lowest lows, are felt together.
When coming out to my father didn’t initially go as well as I’d hoped, a former partner offered comfort and advice in a way my straight friends just couldn’t. The morning after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, I was stuck on a crowded bus from Toronto to Montreal when I first read the news. Sobbing, I messaged my ex, Erica. We grieved together as the horrific details emerged.
In happier times I’ve met my dates-turned-friends on sweaty dance floors and vibrant rallies and cozy gatherings where they’ve made me feel seen and welcome—like I belonged. It can be easy to feel cast out as a queer person, and to some degree or another, many of us still choose our families. Over the course of our relationships, our partners inevitably get woven into those networks, joining our hard-won communities. Being part of something together—whether as lovers or as friends—lends us an undeniable sense of support.
For me, love bends far more easily than it breaks. To fall out of love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean we must unknow them. My exes have witnessed my vulnerable moments, and some of my worst behaviour, and stuck around anyway. We’ve fought for each other, demanded more of each other, and, at the end, have managed to do the most important thing of all: celebrate each other.
At the beginning of February, I met with my friend, Lena, at a bar in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood for drinks. When a month or so of casual dating had failed to develop further a few years back, we’d agreed to stay in touch as pals, and our friendship had grown since. At the end of the night, as she leaned over to hug me goodbye, Lena told me, for the first time, that she loved me. I said it back, and meant it.
It was never a feeling we’d got to as partners, but as friends, it felt like home.
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