I'm a girl, and I've just realized I like girls. Now how do I date them?
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.
Dear Miss Info,
I am a twenty-seven-year-old girl, and I recently realized that I am more than 50% and less than 200% gay. Since I figured this out, I've been on a handful of dates with women, and I've been enjoying myself. But here's my question: when you're dating a man, as much as I hate to think about it, your roles are pretty ingrained. He opens doors, you let him. He pays for dinners, you let him. He tries to fuck you, eventually you let him. (Ugh, can't you tell I'm done with men?) But when dating another woman, those social expectations are gone. So what's the etiquette? Who pays for whom? Who talks to whom at a bar? Who proposes dates? And also, if you're hitting it off with a cute girl, how do you know if you're flirting (i.e. she's queer and interested), or just chatting (i.e. she's straight and just a great conversationalist)?
Thanks so much. It's kind of embarrassing.
— Like Riding a Bike
Dear Like Riding a Bike,
Congratulations on your newfound shades of gray! (I accidentally typed "shades of gay." I almost like that better.) I really wish there were a rite of passage for this, like a quinceañera for people having sexual-orientation epiphanies. "You're not going to dread sex anymore! I got you a piñata shaped like a donkey!"
But until someone decides to pioneer that tradition (cough, cough, readers), you'll have to settle for a cocktail of my enthusiasm and your own sense of relief. Though I would put myself on the Queer Spectrum somewhere between "what happens in Portland stays in Portland" and "…as a three-dollar bill," I am by no means an expert — and this is a question about social trends that are bigger than any one woman can explain.
So I enlisted help. I sent your question to a handful of dear friends; three gay-identified men and two bi-identified women (both of whom are dating girls) responded. At length. It turns out this is a subject they all have strong opinions on! You are by no means alone in your overthinking and confusion, LRaB. Anna starts us off:
"I've pondered this very question myself, and it's quite a stumper. This question is all the best and the worst parts of girl-on-girl dating. Once the thrill of 'conventions out the window! woo!' wears off, it's like, wait, what the fuck do I do? When a dude is into you, it's pretty obvious. Subtlety is not a dude strong point. But girls are so much more mysterious, and that's the thrilling and infuriating thing about lady-squared style dating."
Take note, LRaB: Anna is a pro, and even she acknowledges that same-sex dating can be confusing and hazy. Let that set the tone here: there are no stone tablets sent down from on high. In kissing girls, it's every woman for herself. But within that, we can refine some things. As for the nuts and bolts, Brian explains:
"On a date, one of you can offer, or you can take turns, or you can just split it. At a bar, approach if you want, or just sit there if you'd rather be approached. And whoever gets to the door first can open it. It's only when one tries to fit a gay relationship into a straight mold that it feels confusing."
I bolded that last line, 'cause I think he nails it. You know the dynamics of straight dating ("straighting"?) and assume the queer rules must be similar. Not so. Back to Anna:
"[Generally speaking,] all rules are out the window. Who pays for dinner? Girl One, if she feels like it; Girl Two, if she feels like it. The best part is that one night, Girl One can feel chivalrous while Girl Two gets to feel all girly and adored, and the next night, it can be the other way around. Getting to wear both hats is more than fun, it's freaking intoxicating. Who feels totally one way all the time anyway? (Okay, fine, some people. Yawn.)"
So the moral of all of that? You've got to make it up as you go along. Each of my respondents said this in one form or another: "terrifying" and "freeing" are two sides of the same coin. Look at the ambiguity as a gift rather than a burden, and enjoy the experiences it affords you.
As for your last question, which is by far the thorniest: how do you tell if that hot girl is totally gay for you, or just being nice? Finding out is going to take some, er, balls. Ella contributes this:
"Being a feminine-looking woman with my [Southern] social mannerisms has meant that I've had to sort of 'out' myself to a girl I'm pursuing — for example, mentioning a past relationship with a girl, or trying to find the least-awkward way to point-blank say or indicate that I like them."
"What's the worst that could happen? You say, 'So, you're really beautiful. I'd love to go on a date some time.' And she does what? Stammers, says, 'Hey, I'm not into girls.' Oh no! End of the world!"
The thing is, when "lady-squared" dating is concerned, there is more gray area, and it's just going to take more confidence on your part. Judging from your letter, you were socialized to be passive and let the dude take the lead — and you ultimately found that unfulfilling. So why replicate that in your queer life? Just as you're agonizing about the sexuality of the cute girl on the train, she may as well be agonizing about your sexuality. You know how you overcome that? Lady up and ask her.
Elliott concluded his email with this:
"All said and done, going dutch doesn't mean you won't french later. (You can steal this. Very proud.) It's all a matter of attraction. It won't matter what the right person does, because it will just be right."
Well put, El. So, Like Riding a Bike, don't get too caught up in who suggests the art-house film or who holds the doors. Treat her like a peer, like an equal, and like a gem, and you're doing it right. And, ultimately, shouldn't that be the goal for everyone — gay, straight, or other?
PS: This is a grossly abbreviated version of their letters, all of which are beautiful. For further gay reading, Like Riding a Bike, the responses are posted in their entirety on rubyspurflower.tumblr.com.