Are you in love? Or in lust?
Anna Sansom explores the age-old lesbian dilemma: is she your friend or your lover?
Who can forget the scene in the film Kissing Jessica Stein (pictured)when Helen (the long-standing bisexual half of the couple) turns to her girlfriend Jessica (who has previously only had relationships with men) and says "Sweetie, we're not lovers, we're best friends." The response is a long, drawn out "noooooo" and all sorts of excuses about why there's not been much bedroom action of late. This isn't about lesbian bed death; these two women were probably only ever meant to be friends in the first place.
It's a not an uncommon minefield for us: you meet a woman whose looks you like, who has a personality that interests you, and who seems to like you too. Is she a potential new friend? Or a potential new lover?
And it's not just about meeting new people. The friend you've had for years suddenly (or gradually) becomes more and more prominent in your thoughts … and fantasies. The lover you've had for years gradually (or suddenly) is no longer desirable to you … even though you still love her.
Friend or lover? Lover or friend?
Here's a quick guide for how to tell her role in your lesbian life:
• Her appearance is inconsequential to you: although you may comment on her new haircut or cool outfit, you just accept that that's how she looks.
• You can hold hands if you want knowing there will be no tingles of sexual arousal, just a warm and comfortable glow.
• You share truths about who each of you really is: your vulnerabilities, your hopes and fears, your crushes.
• It's easy to spend time together: chatting, dancing, shopping, going to a gig. But it's also easy to part at the end - fully confident that you'll see each other again (no "will she or won't she call" drama here).
• You are friends, not lovers.
• You are totally focused on her looks and body.
• You want to have sex with her (for sure!) but are not so interested in having conversations.
• You love the fantasy element of your relationship with her: you are not really interested in getting to know the "real" her - you are far more interested in the version of her that you have constructed.
• You are happy to leave after sex: no need for cuddles or snuggles, curling up to watch a movie, or to talk about plans for grocery shopping the next day.
• You are lovers, not friends.
Of course there is a third category:
Relationship draws together all the best bits of friend and lover: you like her personality, enjoy her company, and can't wait to get her into bed.
• You want to share your body and your life with her: this means having mind-blowing sex and introducing her to your parents/friends/work mates.
• You love the way she looks now and know you will continue to do so even as you both age, lose and gain weight, and (inevitably) make some dodgy clothing choices.
• Talking about the grocery shopping is a part of your life together, so is talking about your sexual fantasies.
• You are willing to consider becoming a family: getting a cat, dog or goldfish, or maybe even having a child together.
Still not sure whether it's love or lust?
Lust is an important component for developing an intimate relationship: we need the physical urges to draw us into a sexual relationship with someone new. However, if that's all you feel for someone, it's unlikely you'll be able to sustain a longer-term, romantic relationship.
Whereas lust often decreases over time, love grows and deepens the more you get to know the object of your affections. You want to spend as much time as you can with her. You feel the love in your heart. You feel the lust in your loins.
If a relationship has love but no lust, it will be more like a friendship. If there is lust but no love, it is likely to be short-lived.
Of course, for any sort of relationship to develop (friend, lover or partner) there needs to be mutual willingness and desire. Unrequited lust can be just as painful as unrequited love.
Do you know what you want? Do you know what she wants? How about asking? It's so easy to get swept up in someone else's intense feelings but the danger is, if you don't check in with your own, you can end up six months, a year, or longer down the line, being told the same thing as Jessica Stein: "Sweetie, we're best friends, not lovers." Or maybe another variation on that theme: "I can't be 'just friends' with you, not when I want to bury my face between your thighs."
All this said, there is no definite or guarantee when it comes to any type of relationship. Feelings change. People change. Needs change. The best way to ride through all this uncertainty is to be honest, compassionate, and to talk to her about it. Just like Jessica Stein.