Bridging Two Dating Scenes
Bi people are in the unique position of being able to occupy two very different dating scenes — the straight and the queer. Being able to dip our toes into either pool certainly has its advantages, but it can also be a bit confusing. The ‘scenes’ themselves differ vastly from each other, and switching between each can be a jarring experience for the bi singleton. Standing on the bridge between these two worlds, we don’t need to pick a side and never cross the bridge again. In theory, we can walk freely across it whenever we like. It just so happens that the towns on either side have very different customs and cultures.
Continuing this analogy, let’s say that on one side of the bridge we have the straight dating scene. This town has millions of residents. For years, people have been talking about how good this town is. If you don’t live in this town, there’s something wrong with you. You’re an outcast. On the other side of the bridge is a much smaller town, one that has been oppressed for years and has only recently been able to declare their independence. Many people cannot accept that you like to visit both towns. Pick one or the other and settle down there for good. Crossing the bridge frequently is just a phase and you are greedy and indecisive for wanting both.
Many bi people I talk to say they find one dating scene easier to navigate than the other. Because being heterosexual is normalised, finding someone of the opposite gender means you’ll be less likely to face discrimination, especially if one’s family or community is socially conservative. The perception that people are ‘straight until proven gay’ can make finding someone of the same sex especially challenging. If you find yourself interested in someone, you not only have to do the usual courtship dance that defines modern romance, you also have the task of first determining whether that person is actually queer enough to consider dating you in the first place. Letting someone know you’re interested in them is hard enough, but not knowing whether they are interested in people of your gender identity is even more complicated.
A ‘straight dating scene’ doesn’t even exist in our society— it is widely accepted as the default. The majority of films, books, and other romance narratives show heterosexual relationships. There are still many countries that don’t recognise queer relationships legally. Therefore, a much more communal dating scene has arisen out of necessity. Bars, apps, and social events specifically made for queer people are all spaces in which finding a mate is less of a game of “Are They Queer or Just Friendly” and more closely resembles the ‘default’ setting that heterosexual people can enjoy.
The solidarity that comes with occupying queer spaces can make it a more appealing option for some bi people. Although the pool of potential mates is much smaller, there is a sense of unity and shared values that is not found out in the so-called normal world. If these bubbles become our preferred dating sphere, bi people are often labelled gay, and can come up against challenges if they want to try dating people of the opposite gender, such as a) being perceived as ‘too gay’ or b) being bewildered at the thought of the ‘outside world,’ where people have nothing in common. Often, one might choose to stay in queer dating bubbles while people mistakenly label them a gay, sometimes even adopting the label themselves, because it’s easier for potential queer mates to accept, and less socially abrasive than having to correct people every time.
On the other hand, some bi people— particularly bi femmes— find it easier to date people of the opposite gender. For all its solidarity that the queer dating scene has going for it, the trade off is it can seem pretty exclusive and hard to break into. Men who like women pervade society at every turn, and finding one is a whole lot easier than finding women who like women (especially bi women), or having to learn an entirely new dating ‘code of conduct.’
But I contend that it doesn’t have to be this way. As the only parties who walk freely between these two worlds, bi people will have a significant role to play in the overhaul of dating norms. Just as there is no reason to assume someone is queer (and is good practice to establish this prior to going on a flirting tirade, to save embarrassment of both parties), the same goes for assuming someone is straight. Perhaps if queer dating was more effectively integrated into dating culture instead of relegated to the likes of Grindr and gay bars, closeted bi people would feel more comfortable coming out. If one has the option of avoiding discrimination in life altogether, it is mighty tempting to do so. Continue as is, play into the status quo, and suppress what has the potential to be a significant part of your identity. One of the advantages of being bi is that, in theory, there are more potential opportunities for love and dating. But having to walk back and forth across the bridge can be pretty exhausting— hence, many people choose to take up residency on one side only.
The key to ending this fatigue lies in the normalisation of same-sex dating. It is not an attitude adjustment on an individual level that will fuel this normalisation, but rather, an overhaul of the entire system of dating that disadvantages minorities. Queer spaces are currently important so we can feel safe to date each other, validate each other’s struggles and find meaningful connections, but the very fact this ‘other’ exists points to the archaic assumptions around who you should date and choosing a side. Ultimately this segregation of dating worlds hurts everyone, making it harder to pursue love, especially if it doesn’t fit into a very narrow idea of how relationships should unfold. Total abolishment of the ‘default setting’ around love and dating will make it easier for everyone to find love and much more comfortable for bi people to cross that bridge freely.