feature image stock photo from The Gender Spectrum Collection
It’s hard to know how to do queer dating right, especially when you don’t have any examples to follow or gay peers to compare notes with. There are so many classic lesbian pitfalls to fall into, and it would be so much easier if someone could give you a map of the ground they’ve already covered for you to learn from! Friend, that someone is us; we’ve been there and done that and some of us have even been able to go to therapy about it, and here’s our hard-earned advice about the most important keys to queer dating and relationships.
Have a spiel… have more than one if you need. Be open to the other person having or building a spiel too!
Having a whole spiel about where I’m at and what I want has made dating less complicated; there are less assumptions and more space to see what would work for both of us and how we can get our needs met. For example, I’ll say I’m poly and partnered, not looking for a serious thing or looking for friends with benefits. If each person knows what the other is and isn’t capable of or interested in, I’d hope there’s less space to hurt or confuse each other.
My second spiel is about how people are attracted to what they project onto others. I’m really wary of consistently being looked at as this fantasy, personality-free, need-free mystery. If we both agree to play out fantasies that’s a whole different topic. The second spiel addresses expectations from a different angle and tries to minimize the possibility of love-bombing from both sides, ‘cause that vibe ain’t healthy.
Dani Janae, Writer
The more attractive you find yourself, the more attracted people will be to you. This isn’t just physically speaking, but if you believe in and celebrate your successes, other people are more drawn to you. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the “fake it till you make it” model, instead, really sit down and think about the things you have to offer in any and all relationships. Put some energy into growing those things, and watch the babes swarm to you like flies to honey.
Heather Hogan, Senior Writer
It’s so hard to give blanket advice to queer people about dating because we date in so many different ways, for so many different reasons, hoping for so many different outcomes that have never been modeled for us IRL or in pop culture — but I think one universally crucial piece of advice for all relationships is don’t be with someone who doesn’t fight fairly, really know how to apologize, and fully accept an apology and offer forgiveness. I don’t just mean people who fight unfairly by hurting you on purpose; I also mean people who don’t fight in ways that are intellectually honest, that fight just to get their way rather than to come to a compromise that benefits and satisfies you both, that attack you as a person rather than addressing your behaviors that are troubling them, that refuse to understand the way your formative experiences have shaped your responses in times of stress, or even people who won’t fight at all. Humans are complicated! Desire is such a tangle! We’re all wounded deeply! Real intimacy requires conflict.
Jehan Roberson, Writer
This is less dating and more relationships, but I remember reading somewhere that all of the anxieties, fears, hopes, and contradictions that you have swirling around inside of you are also going on with the other person. Essentially it’s about recognizing another as real.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Writer
Never stop going on dates. This sounds obvious, but it isn’t. No matter how long you’ve been together, keep going on dates. Every couples therapist will tell you that it’s impossible to recreate the excitement and heightened feelings of the beginning of a relationship, and I believe that’s true. Going on romantic dates with your partner (it can be anything, but it should be planned ahead, thoughtful, just like the dates you plan early in a relationship) is not going to magically take you back to that time, but it will still tap into some of those feelings of falling in love. In a long term relationship, it’s easy to settle into routines, and while it’s definitely important to spend time with people outside of your relationship, intentional one-on-one time that is fun and romantic can do so much for a relationship.
And it also doubles as a way to identify problems within a relationship. If you find yourself not wanting to spend one-on-one time with a partner or not wanting to go on dates with them anymore, what does that mean? Having this approach to a long term relationship can help you figure out when something is off.
Also, I’m a huge advocate of couples therapy, but it’s expensive as hell, so it’s not an option for everyone. But if you’re thinking about it and can afford it, yes, do it.
Malic White, Writer
Maintain your identity outside of your relationship. That’s the “you” that your partner fell in love with, and it’s the “you” that had the swagger and self-assurance to enter into a relationship in the first place.
Rachel Kincaid, Managing Editor
Resist the urge to curate the easiest version of yourself early on — the longer you let that curated version of yourself stand in, the harder it will get to be more authentic. Be the most messy, Too Much or intractable version of yourself right away; set boundaries, say no to things, don’t make yourself available when you don’t want to be or pretend to be okay with less than what you want. It won’t magically iron itself out! If you’re making yourself small or settling now, the inertia to continue to do so will only get stronger. If the Messy (TM) version of yourself makes someone run, good! Better for you that they do it now, so you know.
On the flip side, accept that people are what they’re showing you, and resist the urge to dream that they might change or some elements might be temporary or in flux. Sometimes people do change (or become single, or start therapy, or quit drinking, etc etc) but a lot of the time they don’t — or when they do it doesn’t engender the dramatic transformation you were hoping for. Make sure you’re listening to what people actually tell you and show you about who they are, what they want, and what they can be for you, and ask yourself whether you want to be here if you knew this was how things will always be — because they may very well be!
Rachel Lewis, Writer
Never prioritize someone else’s feelings over your own. I think that especially in relationships between women, we can be too aware of each other’s pain and trauma – not that I think we should ignore this pain, but I think it results in us walking on eggshells and being too careful when, really, what we need to do is TALK about the hard things, big or small. I’ve definitely done this thing where I’ll spend so much time thinking about someone else’s feelings and their experience with dating me that I’m not thinking about my own feelings or how the experience is going for me, which does a disservice to all involved.
Renea Baek Goddard, Writer
Fall for the person, not the fantasy. I’ve seen too many baby gays sabotage themselves because they’re in love with the idea of being in love. As fun as it might be to U-Haul it with someone, ask yourself: does this feel right? Do you really want this person, or do you want a picturesque lesbian love story?
If it does feel right: great! Go ahead and move your cats into their apartment, share your Netflix password with them, start a garden together, whatever. As a former serial U-Hauler, I’d be damned if I ever tell someone not to act on a genuine connection. I know what it’s like to fall head-over-heels in gay love after two or three dates, and I promise you: you won’t feel any hesitation. And you’ll stubbornly ignore any advice urging you to change your mind. Sure, it might be short-lived or it might even end in heartbreak, but I rarely ever regret relationships that formed organically and with genuine passion.
But what if it doesn’t feel right? What if you are hesitating? First of all, it’s okay to admit that. As someone who made the mistake of jumping from girlfriend to girlfriend with no time experiencing single life, I can say that sometimes it’s a better idea to wait. You don’t have to rush or force things. Let it happen naturally. Dating someone you’re genuinely into and embracing all their flaws and rough edges is even better than a fantasy.
Reneice Charles, Writer
I did far more damage to myself in the years that I attempted to avoid honesty and vulnerability while dating than offering that openness has ever caused. Learning that I deserve to feel safe being my whole self while dating really changed things for me in the best way.
Shelli Nicole, Writer
This sounds really easy but it can be really hard for some people – be transparent and autonomous about everything from the start. I’m not telling you to reveal your traumas, issues and more on the first date but at least be clear about who you are and pieces of you from the start.
It can be scary to be yourself when you’re finally one on one with the barista you thought you’d never have a chance with, but you have to be. Letting people who you are interested in see who you are from the very start will make it easier to see if you can really turn into something good together (if that’s what you want).
It’s also fair for you to demand those same two things from the other person. Ask questions in between flirting, share about yourself when you’re holding hands, talk about some deeper things in between finding out their latest Netflix binge, get a little real during pillow talk – that’s all ok. You have to be open if you want someone to really get to know who you are and accept you for exactly that and to help you grow – and vice versa.
Relationships aren’t easy but they also don’t have to be extreme and hard, you can do this and if you do that – it will be worth it.
Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor
I recently gave this unsolicited advice to a close friend who’s navigating dating a couple for the first time, but the minute it fell out of my mouth I realized how bad I am at actually taking it myself: don’t consider your own needs less important than the needs of your partner. I have a tendency to work overtime to take care of my partner, often at my own expense, and there’s a twisted part of me that believes that that’s what love is.
Honestly, maybe it is! I’m terrible at relationships! But I will say that I am always able to see clearly when a friend is doing something detrimental to their own wellbeing in a relationship, and how they should be setting boundaries in order to take care of themselves. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to do it myself.
Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor
1. If you like someone, ask them out!
2. Be very careful about your habits and the dynamics you set up at the beginning of the relationship, because those things stick and it’s *very* difficult to break bad habits or establish a new dynamic once one has been set. (I personally have found it to be almost impossible though I do believe with enough work on both people’s parts you could overcome harmful habits/dynamics… but why not just avoid them in the first place?)
3. It’s way easier to break up if you don’t live together or share any pets.