I’ve been single for a long time. I’ve been out of the closet for a comparatively short time. Which means I spent most of my adult life navigating hetero-centric dating norms, and they are, to put a fine point on it, awful.
Obviously, being inauthentic to myself was partially responsible for the misery, but as a woman who no longer dates men only, I find myself straddling two cultures. Dating within queer culture is so much more rewarding and profoundly less exhausting, and I can’t pin the reasons solely on attraction or sexuality. Without old-fashioned gender roles and established dynamics weighing down our interactions, dating is much more fulfilling through a queer lens. So, for straight people who are also tired of unfulfilling first dates and barely tolerable second ones, here are a few tips for queering your expectations.
Enjoy your partner as a person
This seems like a no-brainer, and in a perfect world it would be, but pop culture has spent the better part of a century depicting almost every straight couple who are past the point of initial infatuation as barely able to tolerate each other. Yes, people are often annoying, even (especially) the people we love. We all need alone time and healthy boundaries, but even after the honeymoon phase is over, you should like to hang out with your partner. Being with them should generally be better than not being with them.
Also, at every stage of a relationship, it helps to have some unremarkable dates. Go to average movies and eat unspectacular meals. Many times, when I thought I’d had a great time on a date, I realized in retrospect that I’d really loved the restaurant, the play, or the band, and was neutral on the guy himself.
Binaries are not your friend
Queer culture exposed me to the reality of the full spectrum of sexuality and gender. The more I explored and learned about the community and how I fit into it, I realized that binaries exist everywhere. They’re usually false, and they rarely help anyone. Human interaction is complex and nuanced, and categorizing all of our dating experiences and partnership goals in black-and-white terms sets us up for failure, misery, and REALLY bad dates.
I gave up on a lot of people I liked because I knew that we weren’t compatible in the long term, without understanding that someone who wasn’t a future husband might still be worth dating or befriending in the short term, simply because we offered each other uncomplicated fun in the moment.
You’re allowed to want companionship, love, and even sex without wanting long-term commitment or monogamy. The only thing you owe the people you date is your honesty and respect. Speaking of which…
You’re entitled to respect
I had some seriously problematic expectations for dating in my 20s. I didn’t think that my partners should prioritize my comfort or feelings unless we were seriously dating, and this expectation was borne out in reality. Worse, I also felt that I was not responsible for considering my partners so long as we were casual. I spent the better part of a decade pretending that I was fine with leaving the house in the early hours of dawn like a dirty secret because drinking coffee together before going to work might have forced us to acknowledge each other’s humanity.
I got accustomed to exhibiting this cold and curt behavior with men. But the first time I showed it to a woman, she called me out. I realized that I was treating my partners with less courtesy than I showed toward strangers on a crowded bus, and accepting the same. The queer community taught me not to conflate casual with dismissive: I still owed my partners a basic level of kindness and consideration, and deserved the same.
It’s not cloying or clingy to share your emotional state in the moment, and it’s important to check in with everyone you’re engaging with to make sure you’re respecting their boundaries and honoring their feelings.
Life doesn’t wait for romance
I bought into the idea that being single was a problem I should fix. The good things in life—family, friends, fulfilling work—were set-dressing for the play of my life, and Act I wouldn’t begin until I met him, the guy with whom I’d build a life. I didn’t conceptualize it like that at the time, but hindsight is 20/20. Not only was that unfair to anyone I was dating when I was younger (no-one could’ve possibly measured up to the soulmate I was seeking, especially on a first date), but treating the actual life I was living like a dress rehearsal as long as I was single did a number on my self-esteem. If your self-worth hinges on landing a romantic partner, how will you feel if that person doesn’t materialize?
Value what you have
Coming out taught me to value what I already had. For me, coming out to people I was dating wasn’t a high-stakes proposition—and if they reacted negatively, I would’ve walked away unscathed. I had very little stake in those relationships. But a negative reaction from my parents, sisters, or dearest friends would’ve devastated me to my core, and entirely reshaped how I saw myself and my relationships with them.
I had the happiest resolution any queer person can ask for: absolutely nothing changed in my relationships after coming out, except I was closer to my loved ones, and no longer bearing the weight of a double life. But the experience made me realize how much love I already had in my life, and how I’d been neglecting it in favor of some false ideal of partnership.
Absent a closet of your own, imagine your own personal worst-case scenario. Or your best. Who do you want to call? Who do you want supporting or celebrating with you? That’s where the love is in your life, and those are the relationships you need to cherish.