You Need Help: Will I Ever Grow Out Of The Messy Questioning Phase?

Q:

Hello! I’m a 23-year-old woman who’s been questioning her sexuality for a few years now and I’m trying to figure out if I’m bi. I’ve had my dating app settings to all genders over the past year and I’m upfront in both my bio and on dates that I’m still questioning and mostly looking to casually date. I’ve gone on a few dates with non-binary folks but didn’t really click with anyone. Part of me wonders if I’m actually just straight; at the same time, every time I’ve decided I’m just hetero and attempted to only date men, I’ve eventually come to feel like I’m limiting myself and the full range of my sexuality. So, all of this is to say, did you figure out stuff later in life and if so, how did you get out of a messy questioning phase? And on the other hand, have you ever dated anyone who was unsure and turned out to be just straight? If so, what do you wish they had done differently to minimize the hurt they caused you?

A:

Hi! I want to tell you a story.

When I was 20, I kissed a girl for the first time. Or rather, she kissed me — we were sitting cross legged on a tiny dorm room bed in London, surrounded by friends and drinking red wine, flirting and flirting and flirting and flirting, and then one thing led to another and her lips were on my mouth and the entire room faded to black and all I could think was, oh my fucking god, I want to kiss this girl forever. Later that night she took me back to my room and fucked me on my own tiny dorm room bed. I fell in love with her, and she told our mutual friends that she was uninterested in being a tour guide for a confused straight girl and avoided me for the rest of the semester. I spent months pining for her, and at the same time, I wrote mean journal entries to myself every day, berating myself for being confused about my own sexuality, my own labels, my own desires. I had always thought I was straight and now I was fucked up in love with this girl and could not think about a single other human on the planet, but she was convinced I was straight and wasn’t that a fair point? There was no evidence to the contrary until her. I knew she had been lots of straight girls’ experiment, and many of them continued to identify as straight when they were done letting her kiss them. None of it was uncomplicated; it was fair for her to want to avoid me and whatever self-identity journey I was trying to go on, and it was fair for me to feel terrible that she wrote me off as a confused straight girl. Eventually I got over her and we became friendly. Eventually I fucked more girls and realized I was very queer. Eventually I forgave myself for not knowing every single thing there is to know about who and how I am at age 20. Eventually the girl and I processed everything and she apologized and I told her she didn’t need to but also I accepted her apology. Eventually I started writing for Autostraddle, essentially becoming a Professional Queer. Eventually I turned 33 (one week ago!) and woke up and realized I literally still learn new things about my own sexuality, my own labels, my own desires every single year I’m alive. I’m a different version of the girl who got kissed on that tiny dorm room bed in London, you know? I’m still me but I’m also changed. The messy questioning phase never ever ends. Thank goddess.

So what does all that mean for you? It means you don’t have to have anything figured out today, or tomorrow, or even ten years from now. It’s great if you’re bi and it’s okay if you’re not and you don’t have to decide today or actually ever. Casually dating is a great way to figure out what you like and what you don’t like, and I don’t just mean when it comes to sexuality and gender — casual dates allow you to learn which coffee shops are the easiest places to chat for an hour with a stranger, if you enjoy karaoke, when you find it appropriate to introduce someone new to your close friends, what your attachment style is like and if you want to work on it, all about different kinds of sex you may or may not already know about and may or may not realize you love or hate or feel extremely neutral toward… the list goes on and on. I don’t mean to be condescending, but since you specifically positioned your question as “did you figure out stuff later in life” it feels fair to remind you that 23 is so young! You have so many more years ahead of you to figure out so many things about yourself. There’s no rush. It will never stop being messy. That’s a good thing.

The other part of your question is really kind and considerate: how does this journey of the self you will be on for the rest of your days impact the people you want to date, fuck, and be in relationship with? That’s an excellent question that we should all be asking ourselves when we embark on new romantic adventures, no matter how casual or serious, but again, I want to give you permission to not center your uncertainty about your sexuality so much. That’s just one aspect about what’s going on for you. It sounds like you’re already being clear and upfront with your dates, and that’s really all you can do. It’s possible you will encounter people who don’t want to date you because you’re still figuring things out about yourself; it’s possible you will encounter people who are shitty and biphobic and won’t want to date you even if you’re 100% certain that you’re bi. Those people are not for you. That is okay. If you date a queer person or many queer people and ultimately decide you’re straight, that might be hurtful to them, but as long as you are clear and kind (which it sounds like you know how to do), that is simply part of dating, part of existing, part of life. Relationships and situationships don’t work out every day for millions of reasons. You figuring out your identity is one thing that may cause a relationship to end, but other things like differing sex drives, opposing politics, or simply no chemistry could just as likely be the culprit. I want to invite you to let yourself off the hook. You’re not responsible for making sure all your dates work out — that’s something you and your dates work on together. I know I keep saying it but that’s because it’s so true: as long as you’re honest, upfront, kind, and communicative, there is nothing more anyone can ask of you.

I have a feeling you were probably hoping for a more concrete answer, and I apologize that I went a slightly more existential route. I really do want to empathize with the inner turmoil and shame you can feel when you’re unsure of your own sexuality and desires, because I felt it too. No one was harder on me than I was when it came to trying to figure out my sexuality, and in retrospect, I wish I had been so much more gentle. Have I figured this stuff out later in life? I mean, I know I’m a dyke. But I learn new things about myself and my desires every day. I feel as though I am always becoming, and that thrills me. One of my older dyke friends who is in her seventies likes to tell me she finally stopped being naive at 65; that was when she really figured life out, she says. Can you imagine! According to her math, you have almost four decades ahead of you before you have to have anything figured out! What a gift. What a relief.

Go easy on yourself. Be honest with the people you date, fuck, love, befriend, exist with, etc. Accept the messy questioning phase. It’s the whole point of being alive.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Vanessa

Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. She used to be hot and fun but now she’s mostly hot and sad. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 360 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. This is wonderful advice! I would also say that it’s important to leave room for yourself to take breaks from dating if you’re not enjoying it or feeling too pressured to figure things out. Especially as a grey-ace/grey-aro, the rareness of my attraction made things feel so overwhelming and such a struggle to understand. It took me a very long time to begin figuring out my sexuality, and I’m still learning more all the time at age 31! I think the important thing is to be honest and focus on whether you’re enjoying yourself.

    • Beautiful advice. I’m 25 and until a few years ago I identified as a lesbian. I never thought I’d be interested in men, well turns out I’m pretty bi. Did it shake up my identity? Yes. Especially after coming out as a lesbian, I was worried people would think my love for women was a “phase ” and that I turned straight suddenly, since biphobia is very real and patriarchy makes people think bisexual women’s sexuality revolves around men. I am here to tell you it’s awesome to be queer and it’s awesome to be bi and explore your sexuality: it’s like a big candy store, everything is new and there might be lots of candy you don’t actually like but it’s cool to figure that out and have fun along the way! I have also often been a “straight girl’s experiment ” (e.g. a woman full-on making out with me only to seconds later tell me she’s straight and going back to her boyfriend in front of me) and of course I would advice you to simply be emotionally responsible and honest about your emotional availability to make your potential sexual partners feel like an active part of the experience and not just an object to try out and invalidate as if queer female sexuality was a game (like that woman did, which made me feel shitty but I also understood. I actually sometimes enjoy being someone’s initiating queer experience)

    • Hard same. I’ve come out as like everything over the years because my experiences of attraction are so rare and/or confusing. But the relatively more clear instances have only appeared when I’ve least expected, not when I’m desperately trying to date or force myself to feel certain ways. And still even as I start to get some more answers, idk how I could ever possibly quantify my sexuality into a label, even something vague.

  2. Your post was a helpful reminder for me, who’s gay and knows it but is in a whole different phase of questioning my dating relationships: it’s totally normal to not necessarily click with everyone you go on a date with. It’s normal to not click with most people you go on a date with! You’re not going to be attracted to every other person of a certain gender if you’re gay, bi, pan, or queer – and of the ones you’re attracted to, there are probably many you wouldn’t want to date. That’s all part of casual dating, too. It sounds like you’re being open-minded with yourself and honest with others, and that’s all you need to do.

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