What Happened When I Tried Online Dating

10/26/2017

During my first semester of grad school, a few friends convinced me to join some dating apps. Online dating had never seemed like my kind of thing, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to get a serious relationship out of it. But in the spirit of trying new things, I gave it a shot.

One of the first things I noticed was that some apps would only allow me to select one gender to match with. As SB Swartz points out, this kind of limitation is bi erasure, plain and simple. Forcing bi folks to choose between “interested in men” or “interested in women” is just another way of making us conform to straight and gay categories, not to mention the fact that it leaves non-binary people out entirely. For me, trying to make that choice felt like trying to break myself in half, and brought up a lot of internalized biphobia and self-doubt – If I choose this gender over that gender, what does that say about my orientation?

For a while, I tried selecting one gender or another on different apps and using that as a way to broaden my options. At first, I didn’t state that I was bi on my profiles. I figured that if I ended up meeting someone, I would come out to them when it felt right. And in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I was living at the time), I perhaps naively thought that most people would accept bisexuality without any issues.

On one of these dating apps, I connected with a guy who seemed cool. We had been messaging back and forth for a few days, and he asked if I wanted to meet up for dinner. I said yes. As I got ready for the date, I had all the feelings you might expect – anxiety, excitement, curiosity. But when I parked at the restaurant, I got a text: “I’m really sorry, but I’m not feeling well. I can’t make it.”

Of course, I felt hurt. The text read like a cheap excuse, not a legitimate apology. Immediately, I wondered what it was that made him cancel. Maybe he had found my Facebook page or another social media account, and learned something about me that he didn’t like. Was it the fact that I was openly bi that turned him off or scared him away? Later that night, I told my friends about the situation, and they suggested alternative scenarios. Maybe he truly wasn’t feeling well. Maybe he was too nervous about going on a date. Maybe something else came up, and he just wasn’t very good at communicating about it. I recognized that any of those scenarios could be the truth, but a voice in the back of my mind insisted that my bisexuality was the reason that he canceled. A few days later, I asked him if he wanted to reschedule. He never responded.

I decided from that point on, I would be open about my bisexuality on my profiles. I was able to find a few apps that allowed me to select bi as my orientation (or at the very least, select multiple genders to match with). Unfortunately, the obstacles did not end there. The same kind of biphobia I experienced in my everyday life seemed to be strangely amplified in the online dating world. I would often come across other women’s profiles that prioritized biphobia above all else – things like “100% gay women only” were sometimes the first or second line. It hurt to know that to them, I could only ever be “half gay,” and therefore not good enough.

Sometimes I would get a message from a woman, only to scroll down and see her true intention – she wanted me to have a threesome with her and her boyfriend. Other times, it was a man who would message me, asking if I’d ever had a threesome before, or what it was like to have sex with women. Regardless of the gender of the person messaging me, I felt violated and objectified. I was either an accessory to a couple’s sex life, or the personification of a male fantasy, and in either case, I was reduced to a stereotype about bisexuality. Eventually I devoted a section of my profile to my feelings about threesomes: “I have nothing against people who like them, but it’s just not something I’m looking for, so please don’t message me about it.” Even then, the threesome requests kept coming. I’m still not sure if the people sending the messages simply didn’t read my profile, or if they were actively disregarding my feelings in the hope that I would change my mind.

In the world of online dating, people of all genders and orientations have a variety of experiences, some of them negative. Unsolicited pictures, threesome requests, and ghosting can happen to anyone. But for me, dating apps emphasize the ways in which biphobia and misogyny intersect. Bi women’s boundaries are so often ignored, in part due to how hypsersexualized we are in the media, and I was reminded of that fact every time I got a lewd message without even so much as a “hello.” I can’t be sure how much of my negative interactions had to do with listing my bisexuality on my profile, but it’s definitely something I wonder about.

As of now, I’m on a break from dating apps, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever download them again. I’m not against them in general, and I don’t believe that connections made “organically” have any more value or authenticity than connections made online. But maybe online dating isn’t for me, and maybe that’s okay. I’ll just have to keep looking out for romantic interests – of any gender – offline.

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson is an intersectional feminist, cat lady, and bisexual activist. Her writing has been featured in Bi Women Quarterly, Selfish Magazine, The Minetta Review, the Journal of Bisexuality, and more. She is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at Mills College.