Being in a long-term committed relationship takes a lot of hard work. So much so that over 50,000 marriage and family therapists in the U.S. make their living helping couples work on the hard stuff or dissolve their partnerships when necessary. While we are all intimately aware of the struggles straight couples face due to the overwhelming representation of their relationships on television, we have rarely seen the same intimate examination of lesbian, gay, and queer couples (except on Logo). That’s starting to change.
We’re finally getting mainstream portrayals of LGQ couples who aren’t solely struggling with homophobia or coming out. Of course, coming out stories are important, but LGBQ+ viewers need other stories, too. We need to see lesbian, gay, and queer couples navigating all the relationship issues that come with being in a relationship. Sure, some of those issues will naturally vary when considering queer couples versus straight ones—being in a relationship that some parts of society are just barely warming up to (and others are wholly antagonistic toward) is different from being in a relationship that society valorizes over and over. Regardless of to what degree their experiences are formed by their sexualities, however, it is refreshing to see lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer folks in relationships navigate everything from toothpaste cap level annoyances to irreconcilable differences level deal breakers.
Here are five women loving women couples from television who have issues that don’t have to do directly with their sexual identity, though in some cases, understandably, how the issue affects the couples is deeply impacted by anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. Women of color are woefully underrepresented on this list (and in general on TV, especially when queer), which is something we hope can be remedied to some degree in shows like Black Lightening and Queen Sugar which boast badass queer women of color, but whose relationships have yet to take a large role on screen.
Valencia and Beth, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Up until the most recent season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Valencia Perez was the sexual rival of Rebecca Bunch. The two had vied for the affections of Josh Chan, Valencia’s then boyfriend and Rebecca’s former camp boyfriend. Things took an uncomfortable turn when Rebecca found herself slightly obsessed with Valencia—she even kissed her before Valencia told her to back off. Thankfully, the show did away with the rivalry and attraction between the two women relatively early on and allowed them their friendship to develop more authentically.
In season three, the show jumps eight months forward and we catch up with all our favorite characters in their new adventures. Valencia, we find, has fully launched her party planning business and the woman who was one of her first clients, Beth, is now her girlfriend. Beth laughs at Valencia’s jokes, a defining feature of their relationship, but more importantly, Beth pushes Valencia to be realistic in their now shared business—the main reason the two have conflict.
Valencia wants to book A-list clients, but Beth wants her to take her small town and the clients there seriously. When Valencia nearly ruins a teenager’s birthday party by trying to make it too fancy, Beth reminds her not to be ashamed of her roots. They share a tense moment before Valencia realizes Beth is correct and softens. It’s a small conflict, but damn, it’s beautiful to see the two interact, disagree, and work through it, and it’s wonderful to see Valencia valued for who she is, even while being told she’s approaching something wrong.
Alex and Maggie, Supergirl
Alex Danvers met her friend turned girlfriend turned fiancée Maggie Sawyer on the job. Alex, the tough as nails D.E.O. agent and sister to Supergirl herself, swooned when she met Maggie, the equally tough detective. Alex’s attraction to her is what eventually helped her come out of the closet, but at first Maggie didn’t want to be someone’s coming out girlfriend.
Unlike many depictions of queer female romance, Alex and Maggie’s relationship is relatively low on melodrama and tragedy. They get to be just two women trying to figure out their love. The two fall fast and hard in love and when faced with the end of the world, they decide to get engaged. Like many couples who fall fast and hard, Alex and Maggie had a lot of learning to do after they had already made a big commitment to one another.
When Alex and Maggie realize they have irreconcilable desires—Alex wants children; Maggie is adamantly opposed—they break up. The breakup deeply upset many fans, but the way it was managed was truly unique. Whatever fights occur between the two predominantly take place off-screen and instead viewers get to see a mature, grown-up breakup, with all the pain and mixed feelings and lingering desire. It’s hard not to be disappointed when ships you love break up, but Sanvers has unfortunately come to an end. Here’s hoping next season will allow Alex to better explore her identity and find someone who wants the same things.
Sara and Ava, Legends of Tomorrow
Over in another corner of the Arrowverse, Sara Lance and her darling Ava Sharpe have more than their fair share of issues—not the least of which is the fact that Ava is a clone from the year 2231 and Sara is a bonafide time-traveling assassin-cum-superhero.
Before they start dating, Sara and Ava clash over their different perspectives on how best to enforce time’s continuity. Ava thinks Sara and her team are brash, but it turns out that brashness is part of what attracts Ava to Sara.
After a bit of rocky coming together, Ava and Sara debate the girlfriend title. Sara mentions a former friend who she slept with, John Constantine, and Ava finds herself jealous and possessive of her lover. When Sara is (literally) possessed by the death totem and nearly kills all of her friends, Ava is forced to team up with Constantine. At first this chagrins Ava, but she won’t be deterred in looking out for the woman she loves, and in reality, her team up with Constantine helps Ava appreciate Sara even more.
The two end up splitting because Sara fears her connection to death and what it might mean for those around her, but at the end of the season when Sara and her team have to face the Big Bad, a time-traveling demon of course, Sara tells Ava that she still loves her.
I can’t wait to see what these gorgeous powerhouses have in store in the future, but it’s good to know they’re still working it out.
Cheryl and Toni, Riverdale
Cheryl Blossom is the definition of mean girl in season one of Riverdale, but she’s a complicated mean girl whose brother’s death and the mystery surrounding it dominate the show’s narrative for that season.
In season two, we meet the cute, clever badass Toni Topaz, a Southside Serpent who is open about being bisexual. Toni and the rest of the Serpents are sent to Riverdale High when their school is closed and that’s when these spunky teenagers meet.
At first, Cheryl and Toni seem like an unlikely couple. Cheryl has only expressed an attraction for another woman in an unhealthy obsession with Josie (of Pussycats fame). Toni is in a gang and Cheryl is a stereotypical poor little rich girl. Or so we think. It turns out Cheryl has been trying to come out and been forced back into the closet since she was very young.
Honestly, a lot of the narrative about Cheryl and Toni is about their sexuality—from Cheryl coming out to Cheryl being sent to a conversion camp. However, I’d say that the bulk of the issues within their relationship, which have only been shown on screen in small snippets, have to do with Cheryl’s mental health, which is obviously tied to her experiences with heterosexism, and the tension around their friends accepting the two as a couple, not because they are two women, but because a lot of the teens at Riverdale High just straight up dislike Cheryl. Toward the end of season two, we start to see Cheryl really come into her own as an agent in her life, and all signs seem to indicate it’s only upward from here for this adorable couple.
Cameron and Rhea, Take My Wife
In Take My Wife stand-up comics Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher build a life together on and off the stage. Perhaps the most intimate portrayal on this list, the show is truly unique. (I recently caught up with Cameron about the show for Bella Books Blog. Check out the interview.)
It’s hard to outline what exact issues Cameron and Rhea experience in their relationship that don’t solely have to do with being queer because every single episode is jam-packed with all that comes with being in love with another human. But, that’s what makes the show so great!
In the first season, we see Cameron and Rhea navigate the difficulties of different work schedules, having diverse class backgrounds, one partner earning more than the other, learning how to communicate, and deciding to make the leap to get married. In season two, our fearless couple have to figure out long-distance romance, touring together, sharing material without overlapping, planning a damn wedding, and issues with their families of origin.
Conflict and relationship issues are the fabric of a show that simultaneously balances being sweet with tackling tough topics like sexism and homophobia. Their network may have shut down operations, but you can stream both seasons from a number of providers or on the Starz platforms.