Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a pretty simple question. How do I nurture my own sense of romance?
A bit of background: I’m a twenty one year old queer girl. I was born in Mississippi, though I spent my teenage years in the north east. I’ve never dated a girl because of my own issues with repression. I’ve hooked up with girls, dated guys, and hooked up with guys. I’ve spent alot of time trying to be romantic guys, and have come to a place where I’m really happy with the friendship and sex I have with guys. (Yay!) I know thought that I want to be romantic with girls not guys, though, and I’m really confused on how to go forward with that. Let’s just say that all of the angst, self repression, disappointment, and forcing hetero romantic situations have left me a bit bitter. I’m not sure how to get what I want or even talk about what I want. I’m spent so much time being bitter and violent towards myself.
I’m basically just talking to girls I like and using the “you’re a person I’m a person maybe we could interact in awesome romantic people ways” rules to muddle through. Any advice on how to muddle productively? Do I basically just have to accept that I’m going back to being say where I was at fifteen with guys? On top of this I have the problem of not finding mainstream depictions of romance desirable- its all so based on magic and love fixing everything. Do you have recommendations for art that depict romance in a more nuanced and awesome way?
Hi Gallant Girl, Elodie Under Glass here. This question! This is the sweetest question! Gallant Girl, it is so nice to hear from you.
Unfortunately, after the Captain gave me this question, I sat on it for four months. I discussed it with my friends while drinking wine in the Netherlands: “Where does romance come from? Particularly the kind of romance that we practice.” I asked friends who review books and friends who write books and friends who read books: “What art depicts romance the way that we live it?” I asked queer friends, married friends, married queer friends, friends-with-kids, and people that just looked interesting. I started to lunge at people out of mailboxes: “HELP ME WITH THIS QUESTION ABOUT ROMANCE.“
“How about Malinda Lo?” people suggested, “She did a thing. Or that movie where Piper Perabo and Lena Headley hold hands.”
“True, they’re good enough in their way, I guess,” I’d reply, “But I want, like, queer Dorothy Sayers banter, I want Tipping The Velvet but with a happy ending, I want stuff that isn’t stereotypical: I want stuff that will cheer Gallant Girl up.”
People said “Catherynne Valente! The L Word! A television show with dogs in it!”
All of which are wonderful but none of which quite touched the thing I wanted to tell you: that you’re right, that you should stop worrying if you can, that you’re doing pretty well.
Romance is weird. I know that I have it, and I know when I’ve had it, and I know that I live it. Romance was in the fingers of the tangle-haired girl on the sea-island who trailed her fingers down the inside of my wrist. Romance was how I loved an asexual boy and brought him flowers, red roses because he took things so literally, red roses instead of the kisses that he didn’t like. Romance was in the people I loved over the internet, the way their words could crack my heart open even if I’d never touched their skin, the way their long-distance caring and love always reached me. I may be flawed and terrible, and I may have smashed hearts with my terrible mistakes, and I have made terrible decisions, but I know that I’ve touched romance. After nearly two years of the science experiment called “marriage” I know the romance in my husband noticing that I am sad and offering to take me to the hardware store. “Would you like to look at the paint chip displays? You love looking at the paint chips.” I’ll bundle that up and call it romance: that vulnerability, that caring. That language.
Romance is the language that partners use to communicate their care for each other. Get to that and you’ve gotten there. I can’t recommend you much non-heteronormative art that touches this, because the stuff you describe as “mainstream depictions of romance” are not really meant to do that. At its heart, most commercial romance is meant to enforce and encourage the status quo. That’s why magic solves everything, nobody has real conversations, and the only real emotional work consists of resolving a forced love triangle. Real-life romance pretty much involves talking honestly about food, female orgasms and/or poop. (Or food/male orgasms/vomiting, or other variations thereof.) Real-life romance is scary, dirty and radical.
What I can do instead for this part of the question is to recommend you some real-life stories. Like Shannon and Seema. Like Arin and Katie. Like me and Dr Glass. Like FunnyGrrl and her fella. Like the Awkward Army, who may even share their own love stories with you. We all live our lives and our romances at depths that sometimes art cannot plumb.
Now onto the hard part of the question: where to put your pantsfeelings.
Part One: Break Glass, Seek Help
I want to check in on you. Since we don’t know each other, I don’t know if you’re okay, and I don’t know if it’s a throwaway comment, but this part of your question worries me: I’m spent so much time being bitter and violent towards myself.
Feelings like that are CLEARLY above the paygrade of an internet advice blogger, so I will flag them up as a sign that you might want to speak to a professional. These feelings worry me, Gallant Girl; growing up queer isn’t fun or easy, and your queerness is nobody’s fault because your queerness is not a problem. I’m going to suggest starting with this page of resources for QUILTBAG folks in the Northeastern United States. (Resources for other states | Canada | UK | Global: Muslims | Global: Jews.) I cannot vouch for the content of all of these resources, but they may be a place to start. Queer support groups exist for a reason: because we shouldn’t feel bitter or violent towards ourselves. Nobody should. Talk to someone if you need to.
Because you have expressed some insecurity with where you are with this, I think it would really help for you to connect with other queerladies and general queerfolk. Get some friends. Get into some online communities (this is a particularly great one right here) and hit up sites like Meetup.com and Match. If you’re affiliated with a university, there will doubtlessly be a QUILTBAG social group. If you live in desolate bible-thumping terrain or in countries where homosexuality isn’t safe or legal, then create a safe online identity to find your people.
Part Two: Muddle Productively! The Basics of Healthy Flirting
So you want to flirt with girls! This is great! Here is the flirting disclaimer!
Flirting is lovely when all parties feel comfortable and safe. Flirting is basically doing a sassy walk up to somebody and going “PANTSFEELINGS?” and having them sassily respond “PANTSFEELINGS!” and then you pretend that you’re communicating about something else while really you’re going “Ha-HA! We are such attractive people.”* People do not always do this, nor are they obligated to. Flirting is not for everyone. Not everyone is good at it. This is okay. It is pretty complicated social stuff, and if you look at it dispassionately, it’s kind of odd behavior! It’s all about social cues and playfulness. Flirting is not the beginning of negotiations for sex, although many people think of it that way. Flirting also happens platonically between friends all the time, although the expressions may be limited or expanded by culture.
* Note: Your experience of flirting may vary. See store for details.
As a sort of small female Captain Jack Harkness, I personally get lots of energy and pleasure from comfortably flirting with people in social situations – and the converse is that there are lots of people who find flirting to be exhausting, annoying, inappropriate and uncomfortable! If you are one of those people, then maybe don’t flirt, or only flirt when you feel comfortable (lots of people enjoy flirting online, for example, but dislike it in real life.) If you are flirting with one of those people: STOP. Do not practice flirting when either person demonstrates anxiety, discomfort, dislike, uncomfortable body language, or boredom.
Do not flirt if your flirting will cause you or another person to become unsafe. Although we are all doing our best to work on this, there are many situations and spaces where it is inappropriate or dangerous to express sexual/romantic interest – especially when you are expressing explicit interest in someone of the same gender. In general, do not flirt in sketchy environments (nobody loves the smell of elevators at four in the morning) or professional environments (nobody loves sexual harassment) or when there is a power imbalance that may make the other person unsafe or uncomfortable. Do not flirt if flirting gives you social anxiety. Your pantsfeelings can wait until you are in a better place! You don’t have to stand there awkwardly and receive deliveries of other people’s pantsfeelings! Flirting is supposed to be fun. If it isn’t, walk away.
This might seem hard or complicated. That’s because it is! Flirting is high-level social stuff. Do what is comfortable for you. And you know what? “You’re a person I’m a person maybe we could interact in awesome romantic people ways” IS HOW YOU FLIRT. You are so good at flirting already, Gallant Girl. SO GOOD.
Part Three: Flirting While Queer
Now, with all of this flirting in mind, it is totally okay to flirt – and it is perfectly fine for ladies to flirt with ladies! Note, though, that the women you flirt with may not be interested in doing the Pantsfeelings-Dance with another lady. Since our cultures are generally uncomfortable with queerness, flirting that may be appropriate with your straight gentlemen friends may not appeal to your queer/questioning/????/straight lady friends. As always, when rejected, the proper response is to graciously accept rejection. If you do not know a lady’s orientation, but you think that she might like to flirt with you, err on the side of clear communication. Because it is still difficult or dangerous to be queer, in many cases you may prefer to flirt in a safe space. It can be inappropriate to flirt in situations where Straight!Flirting is generally acceptable – for example, a heterosexual meet-cute might involve a barista and a customer getting together, but in the queer version, the barista may not want to out themselves in front of their manager.
Flirting while queer is very much like flirting while straight, with these differences about safe spaces and societal narratives. The thing that remains constant is you, Gallant Girl, putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable, daring to shine and look for love. That’s the brave, scary part. The part about the safe spaces can be navigated if you check in with your empathy and your experiences. Don’t practice the kind of flirting that would make you, yourself, uncomfortable if you were on the receiving side of it.
I know that you know all of this already. Which is why you’re already good at flirting (SO GOOD!). A good script for flirting while queer, therefore, is “You’re a person I’m a person maybe we could interact in awesome romantic people ways.”
Part Four: HOW TO ROMANCE
There is nothing wrong with “going back to where you were when you were fifteen with guys.” That’s a great place to start! After all, it’s gotten you to a place where you wanted to go. A few years later, you are happy and comfortable with the relationships you have with guys.
Perhaps a good thing for you would be to stop worrying about Romance. Perhaps, for you, it’s better to think about what you want and what kind of person you’d like to share yourself with. You were kind of circling around these feelings when you wrote this letter: I’m not sure how to get what I want or even talk about what I want. The first step here is to romance yourself.
Romance is the language that partners use to communicate their care for each other. I’ll say it again before I tell you that the best way to learn that language is to start teaching yourself. When you find the romance that you want, and I deeply believe that you will, you will have to communicate in the language of care, want, need, give. The best way to practice this language is with a mirror and a bit of love for yourself. It hurts to speak this language at first, but you’ve really got to start.
Remember how I said that real-life romance was dirty, scary and radical? Well, so are parts of you. Learn to get along with them. Try to love your dirty radical bad self. Love will come from that vulnerability connecting with someone else’s. It will make the whole thing easier.
Here is the blessing that ended our own unromantic romantic commitment ceremony, a poem by Elizabeth Loesser:
May you be blessed on your brave search for the truth.
May your soul lead you to pools and rivers and oceans of wine.
May you drink and be intoxicated by love;
May you swim and be strengthened by life;
May you grow bolder and kinder;
May you be grateful.
I wish you the best of luck, Gallant Girl. I think you’re sooo romantic.
Awkward Army, if you can share your own love stories and art recommendations, they would be warmly welcomed here.