I came out at 27, which is later than most. This is to say that I’m quite familiar with the struggles of understanding and coming to terms with your sexual orientation. Hell, I’ve been out for three years and I’m still confused — and that’s totally fine. It’s actually quite common.
I wished there were resources to navigate this all-consuming uncertainty, particularly when it came to dating. But because they didn’t exist, and because my school’s sex ed ignored the existence of queer people, I suppressed my same-sex desires for many years, living the ignorant life I thought I was “supposed” to.
Hiding your authentic self is not an advisable solution to a well-rounded dating life, whether or not you consider yourself queer. And although an understanding of yourself and your desires won’t come instantly, when they do, it is so worth it.
Use dating to help figure things out.
All of us are on a path of self-discovery at any given point in our lives, and yours just so happens to include a fork in the road regarding your sexuality. That’s more than OK; date around and see what feels right.
“No one knows everything about themselves, and we learn through experience,” Rachel Harlich, MSW, an LGBTQ+-identifying and trained therapist and social worker, says. “When you’re dating, do your best to be honest with yourself and others. You may get hurt and hurt others, but stay open to learning. As Maya Angelou beautifully said, ‘When you know better, do better.’”
Determine the timeline that makes sense for you.
“You never owe anyone anything,” Claire AH, queer CEO of Friend of a Friend Matching, assures, saying there is no official timeline for when to disclose your sexuality to someone you’re dating. “If you’re more casual or it’s early days, it’s probably not a big deal. If you’re further along and/or making big declarations, it becomes more pertinent information.”
Before you breach the conversation, consider whether or not your potential sexuality shift would still include dating this person. This distinction drives two very different conversions. “For example, if you think you might be pansexual, they wouldn’t be discounted as a partner,” AH says. “If you’re dating a guy and you think you might only like women, that’s another story.”
“Do your best to be mindful about the other person’s feelings, but know that you don’t owe anyone immediate clarity about everything in your life.”
There are many complicated feelings to sort through when navigating shifts in your sexuality, so don’t be too hard on yourself. “You can only do your best and try to be clear if/when you feel comfortable doing so,” AH says. “Take your time. We feel pressure to make quick decisions, but this is something that might require a lot of thought over time.”
Allow yourself to evolve.
If the way you’re dating is fulfilling and feels authentic, keep it up. As I mentioned earlier, nothing helps us better understand ourselves than experience. But if you feel like you’re only dating someone to spare their feelings, don’t. You’re doing more harm than good, and the inevitable breakup will hurt both of you that much more.
If you’re no longer attracted to the person you’re dating, be honest and let them know that your feelings have changed. You don’t have to mention anything about your sexuality — everybody can feel this way, regardless of their sexual orientation. If you want to keep things casual so that you are free to date people of different genders, do that. If you want to take things slow because you want to figure out your sexuality, that’s perfectly valid, too.
“Do your best to be mindful about the other person’s feelings, but know that you don’t owe anyone immediate clarity about everything in your life,” AH says.
Make your romantic life an LGBTQ+ positive space.
If you start talking to someone who you suspect might be surprised by your sexuality, you can better understand how they may receive the potential news by openly discussing the subject from day one, even in the abstract. “This might start on the first date or even on your dating profile,” AH says. “Talk about queer representation by way of TV, movies, podcasts, books, music, and celebrities. You’ll be able to set the stage for future discussions if you foster a respectful dialogue from the get-go.”
Don’t waste your time feeling guilty because of other people’s ignorance.
If you’re feeling bold, you can outright tell the person who you’re considering dating that you’re questioning. “You might get into some really interesting conversations. It’ll weed out anyone who is going to be a jerk about it, and you might find that they’re in the same boat,” AH says. “A lot of people aren’t completely static in their sexuality.”
Shrug off any negativity or guilt.
When I dated as I struggled with my sexual identity, I always felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. Until I figured out that I am –– and am able to –– be romantically attracted to all genders, I felt as though I was somehow leading the woman I was dating on if it turned out I was actually gay.
As I learned, this is a very common phenomenon, especially for those struggling with internalized heterosexism or biphobia, both of which are learned concepts that stem from a heteronormative society that chooses to view sexuality as binary and everything else as “other.”
What you’re feeling is completely natural, so don’t waste your time feeling guilty because of other people’s ignorance. “Particularly for pansexual, polysexual, and bisexual individuals, there is a misbelief in our society that these individuals’ sexualities are less genuine and a cover for monosexual (a romantic or sexual attraction to members of one sex or gender only) identities,” Harlich says. “Sexuality can be fluid and attractions may change with time.”
Some individuals may also be attracted to people of different genders romantically and not sexually (and vice versa). Just because we don’t hear about these concepts as often doesn’t make them less valid. “The range of human sexual and romantic experiences is much more varied and nuanced than we typically acknowledge,” Harlich says.
If dating around doesn’t feel right, do you and reflect a little.
If your sexual uncertainty makes you uneasy about dating, that’s perfectly reasonable, and you should take some time for yourself. Don’t rush into anything that doesn’t feel natural — self-reflection can be incredibly beneficial to your dating life.
As you continue to navigate and better comprehend your feelings, you will emerge a more confident dater. “Navigating your sexuality shouldn’t be done entirely in relation to another person,” AH says. “You don’t have to date if you don’t want to, so carve out some alone time to reflect and be kind to yourself.”