#737: “How do I explore bisexuality from inside a committed relationship with a man?”

Dear Captain,

I think I’m bisexual. The problem is I’m not sure and I’m interested in finding out, but I’m in a committed yet rocky relationship with a man in the gay-unfriendly Midwest. I made an online dating account today to seek out other queer women in my area. There are like 5 of them. I feel simultaneously guilty about making the account, disappointed that my alternative prospects are so few, and frustrated about my relationship but not sure I should end it.

One problem is that I’m uncertain about my sexuality. When I was 12 I decided I was gay. I came out to my (male) best friend in middle school and later my mom. But later I had sexual feelings for boys. In college I have fucked men happily and continue to have satisfying but infrequent sex with my partner. I thought I was straight, though I’ve always had the occasional sexy dream about a woman. But I’ve had a lot in the last couple of years. It’s actually weird how often it happens. I never had this many dreams about men.

Now I think about women more. I fantasize about a romance of my own. However, I’m still afraid my attraction isn’t real. It really sucked to think I was gay for years only to have to admit I was attracted to men after all. I’m also afraid to break up with my boyfriend of four years, who shares an apartment with me, only to change my mind (although I’ve drafted a totally separate letter to you before about whether I should keep trying to save the relationship…). If I were in an urban area, I might be able to try out a chaste date or two to see if flirting with real women is something I’m into. But I’m not, and I don’t foresee being in a gay-friendlier city until I move away for a new job — probably with my boyfriend.

On problems with my boyfriend, a quick summary: lots of walking on eggshells on both sides. We both amplify the other’s anxiety. Just yesterday we fought about this and I told him if nothing changes, we need to break up when I get a job after grad school next year. For the record, he knows I’m bi but we are not in an open relationship. We tried counseling and the therapist was a bad match. I think Carolyn Hax would ask if I’m sacrificing too much to keep the peace and generally I would say yes. But things have also improved in the last few months. It seems clear that I should break up with him, but how do I kick him out when I’m not sure about any of this?

– Am I Even Fucking Gay???

Dear Am I Even Gay:

Your next relationship(s…) might be with men and might be with women. The one you’re in sounds to me like it has run its course, and you don’t have to have a definitive answer to the question of your sexuality to end it. You can say “Boyfriend, I care very much about you, and I appreciate how hard you’ve been working to make things better between us, but I have come to the end of wanting to work on our relationship and I think we should end things.

Of course, if your relationship with your boyfriend is making you happy and you want to make a life with him, I am confident that nothing I can say could convince you to leave. And I can’t lie: Breakups where nobody did anything really wrong and you really care for the other person feel awful for a while. You cry, you divide up the books, you worry about money (and feel guilty for making them have to worry about money), you have a crappy six months of missing them and wondering if you’ve made a big mistake, certain songs and films become unbearable (and yet you play them on repeat), and the world around you is suddenly filled with more happy couples than you ever knew existed, holding hands and sipping hot chocolate and grooming each other like monkeys every goddamn place you look.

Then one day it gets better. The loneliness turns into solitude. You forgive your ex for not being what you needed, and you forgive yourself for both leaving and for how long you stayed. You reach out to people who have been important to you, family, old friends, former mentors, and realize that you are surrounded by many kinds of love. You start saying yes to new things, that concert, that art show, that volunteer gig, that cup of coffee, that academic presentation, that new friendship, that sweet cat or dog at the animal shelter, that new scene. You fall back in love with yourself and with your life.

While you’re figuring out your next steps, I think it would be good for you to find some other LGBTQ people to connect with socially. The Midwest is a big place, and while Fox News blares from lots of channels in lots of diners and lots of people stay quiet rather than starting political arguments, there are pockets of support. Does your school have a LGBTQ group? Can you google “LGBTQ groups/ services” near you? What is the coolest coffee shop or art space on campus or in your town? You’re not cruising for dates right now, especially if you are still in a monogamous relationship with your boyfriend, but go and look for new acquaintances and friends. Look for a breathing space and for common cause. If you’re attracted to both men and women, you can identify as bisexual no matter what your relationships look like and no matter what your experiences have been.

In addition to looking for queer-identified spaces and groups, I think it would be good for you to find some social outlets that are just yours. Join a sports team or club, or volunteer somewhere, socialize with your fellow grad students (including ones outside your immediate program of study). Go to some things alone. Encourage your boyfriend to do the same thing, if he doesn’t already. It’s easy when you are a couple (especially when you’re absorbed by the problems of being in a couple) to get wrapped up in each other and let the rest of the world recede.

Winter Is Coming, and it’s very tempting to know that you’ll have some safe, warm, sexy arms to land in before cutting the cord, or at least have some more dating prospects than you do right now. But as long as the space marked “relationship” has this high-maintenance houseplant clinging to life in it, nothing else can bloom there. I can’t help but wondering: Who will you be when you are no longer walking on eggshells around the problem of this particular man? What will you desire? What adventure are your dreams and your dating-site investigations trying to send you on? Only you can decide whether to accept. If I’m allowed to Gandalf at you for a moment, I just want to say: You don’t have to know everything about who you are and how it will all turn out in order to begin.


Thank you, kind Pledge Drive donors! You’re gonna make me cry in a good way, especially with your kind words. Today’s spontaneous Internet Thank Yous include my giant cache of online resources for learning about filmmaking, a video of pug puppies with tiny feet drifting off to sleep, and a reminder that The Bad Advisor is hilarious.

113 thoughts on “#737: “How do I explore bisexuality from inside a committed relationship with a man?”

  1. I’m sorry LW, but your relationship sounds cooked. There’s no bad guy, there’s no Darth Vader. But it sounds like neither of you are happy–and yet you contemplate carting him off to your job after grad school finishes. Break up with him, be kind with him as you sort through the awfulness of breaking up and moving, listen to a ton of Cowboy Junkies, totally kill your last year of grad school, and launch your life.

  2. Oh, bless you, You’re (Totally) Fucking Gay. That sounds really hard. But let me assure you that you don’t sound particularly monosexual, and that the bisexual or pansexual labels are absolutely available for you to try on and see if they fit. And let me be the first to assure you that those labels are YOURS, and that you claim them regardless of whatever genital arrangement your current partner(s) sport in their lovely private pants. You can be bisexual and be with one cishet man for your entire life if you want to, and that’s fine – and you can write that on a card to keep in your wallet if you like. Your sexuality is not determined by your partner.

    And because your sexuality isn’t determined by your partner, it sounds like these really are two separate situations, where situation A is “am I even gay” (my answer: PROBABLY) and situation B is “I’m kind of bored with my dude.” They don’t have to be conflated. And you don’t have to use your bisexuality as leverage to leave. If you want to leave, it would probably be better to break up with him because you want to leave (reason: “I want to leave”) than to force a dramatic, teary breakup because you’ve finally gotten to Romance Level 4 with a lady from the internet and she’s asked you to move in.

    (And by the way – it is a common experience for bisexual people to find that their attraction to various genders varies, fades, returns and strengthens across time, situation and person. Don’t worry if you feel, like, 80% straight and 20% gay and you’re worrying about those stats. You might be around the corner from finding a truly stunning lady who makes you feel 100% Ladyfeelings and it just hits you like a truck… and then in five years you may find that you’re actually really feeling boys again… or maybe just this one boy in particular… or suddenly you’re startlingly and unexpectedly into lumberjacks, where previously you preferred fairy princes… and so on.)

    1. “And because your sexuality isn’t determined by your partner, it sounds like these really are two separate situations, where situation A is “am I even gay” and situation B is “I’m kind of bored with my dude.” They don’t have to be conflated. And you don’t have to use your bisexuality as leverage to leave. If you want to leave, it would probably be better to break up with him because you want to leave (reason: “I want to leave”) than to force a dramatic, teary breakup because you’ve finally gotten to Romance Level 4 with a lady from the internet and she’s asked you to move in.”

      Took the words right off my fingers.

      The advantage of breaking up now is you get a year on your own to figure out what it is you want, and whether that means “move to a gay friendly city” is certainly a factor.

    2. Oh yes yes to your last paragraph. I’ve dated men and women. More men than women – I’d call myself a Kinsey 2. And sometimes I’m in the mood for Grrr Men! and sometimes in the mood for Teh Ladies. “Bisexual” doesn’t mean you have to like and date both genders exactly 50/50 equally.

    3. Very, very good answer. So much so that I won’t start my own. 🙂

      My TLDR is that I’m a bisexual lady, and I figured that out right at the same time I was falling in love with the man I would eventually marry. The good news is that he’s always been very supportive of me and allowed me to explore it in my own ways; if I decided I wanted a girlfriend as well I think he would be okay with that.

      But the thing is, my relationship with him – Is This a Good Relationship? – was a discrete question from Am I Attracted to Women? In the LW’s case, regardless of whether she is attracted to women or wants to date them, I agree that she does not sound happy and that this relationship has run its course.

      1. Oh god, can I send you internet hugs for the correct use of the correct version of discrete? Using discreet when you mean discrete and vice versa is like my personal interwebs pet peeve.

        1. Me too. I see that so often and my head explodes every time. I have to keep a mop by the computer at this point.

    4. Oh crap. I, uh, know this isn’t about me, but the LW’s description of herself fits me perfectly , except for 2 differences:

      A) I’m not in the Midwest.
      B) I’m in a stable 10 year relationship with a man I love, whom I married 2 years ago.

      I mean, I enjoy heterosexual sex when I’m in the mood for it, which is rare, but I thought there were other reasons for that. Meanwhile, I’ve developed very strong feelings for women 3 times in the last 10 years, without so much as a crush on a man (aside from my husband).

      Crap! Am I gay? Ugh, hell with it, I love my husband and sex really isn’t that important to me. I’m staying married.

      1. You might be gay. You might be bisexual. You might be something else entirely.

        What matters is how you feel about your husband and your marriage, and as long as you two are on the same page about that, the way you define your sexuality doesn’t matter.

    5. Chiming in as a bisexual woman married to a cis man, and have generally dated men – my sexuality is completely separate from my relationship with my husband. He happens to hit my buttons in just the right way – but being with him doesn’t mean I am not attracted to women.
      In the same way, being attracted to women (and other men, and people who’s gender I don’t know or who might not have a gender) doesn’t mean I should leave my husband. It doesn’t mean I should stay with him. I stay because we are happy together and the relationship works.
      Dear LW, I agree with the other commenters who have said you have two issues in front of you, adn should consider them separately.

    6. It has taken me a very long time to accept that I am in fact bisexual enough to call myself bi – just because I’ve not had a serious relationship with a woman doesn’t mean I don’t want to (see also note to self stop crushing on straight ladies and go meet some gay ones). Anyway, what elodieunderglass said LW – you have two different problems – “do I want to break up with my boyfriend” and “am I bi?”. I suspect the answer to both of those questions is yes – your relationship with your dude sounds more tiring than good from the way you write, and if that’s the case trust me you’ll be happier without it (eventually). You can work out the lady-feelings thing in your own time. 🙂

  3. LW, I get that you’re conflicted and trying to figure things out, but am I understanding you correctly that you’re in a not-open relationship and also looking for dates on the side? I’d like to suggest you resolve things with your partner before you start dating other people, for your sake and his.

    1. Yes. This. I understand the loneliness aversion that makes us want a new romance lined up before ending a relationship, but it is SUCH A BAD IDEA. You will break his heart, as well as yours. Don’t let things get septic.

    2. Yes! To quote someone on polyamory dot com, please be an honorable Jedi in this situation! It sounds as if your boyfriend may not / no longer be a good fit for you. In that case, the right thing to do is to part amicably, not to use him as a security blanket while you pursue other options. He has feelings, too, and I would wager that however chaste the dates you’re seeking, if he found out, he’d be pretty hurt.

      1. It would also be the honorable thing to do for the ladies you’d like to potentially date for you to either be free and single, or in an open relationship. IME, people don’t want to get invested in a relationship with someone only to find out later on down the road that they were the Other Person who was an interloper in a closed relationship. That just leaves everyone feeling shitty.
        So, LW, if you want to explore relationships with other people who are not your current boyfriend, you need to tell him. That may mean that you and the boyfriend need to say goodbye; that may mean you need to negotiate opening your current relationship. But it definitely means that you should not date other people while you are a member of a two-person closed relationship.

        1. Oh yes, oh YES! It’s bad on everyone involved, not just the current SO and yourself but my goodness, if I were dating someone and found out that they were dating me *before* the old relationship was dead?? I’d find it pretty damn hard to ever put faith in our relationship ever again. After all, they ‘shopped around’ behind the back of their old SO to find a ‘replacement’ for them, so what’s to stop them from doing the same to me?

      2. Agree with all that. But let me also add that last years of grad school are HELL (and designed to be, nothing personal :-)). And they’re absolutely not good for the person trying to make things better for you, enduring all that angst while being necessarily neglected. Living together makes it even worse, as it’s hard to impossible for the partner to keep up any sort of sane social life for themselves.

        So be kind, put the guy out before he endures that for your sake, thinking that it’ll all get better when you’re degreed. You already know it won’t, totally apart from which gender you may end up with eventually. Just do the right thing, leave him be, give him a chance sort things out for himself before feeling so much pain and then get dragged across the country before getting dumped.

        That said, I was in your situation once. No sane lesbian will take up with a woman still living with a man, as we’ve all been experimented on by confused girls trying to figure out whether they’re gay at all. Do yourself a favor and experiment from a clean-slate position..

  4. LW, you don’t have to know where (or to whom) you want to go next for you to end things with something that is clearly no longer right for you. There is the option of allowing yourself a grace period in between major lifestyle decisions. Perhaps breaking up, however sad and hard it will be, and just being by yourself for a time will give you some clarity and take some pressure off as you ponder your sexuality. Wishing you the best!

  5. To answer your question bluntly, LW, the only way to explore bisexuality (assuming that involves actual people of the same gender as you, not just private soul-searching) from inside a commited relationship (assuming that means monogamous) is to be unfaithful (physically or emotionally or both) to your partner. If you don’t want to do that, you will have to limit your exploration to considering your sexual/romantic feelings for women in general, not starting something with a particular woman, though I don’t know how far that will take you. Alternatively, you can break up with your partner and explore in any and every way you feel like. Or, I suppose, you could try an open relationship, if that’s something you and your partner might agree on.

    1. Ways to explore one’s sexuality in a monogamous relationship:
      * Read books/watch films about characters or by authors with the orientation in question
      * FANFICTION. Reading, writing, or discussing, fandom is a world where there’s a LOT of room for exploration and discovery.
      * Make friends & community connections with others who share your (potential) orientation
      * Journaling about your feelings & desires
      * Talk to close friends (queer or not) about your feelings
      * Attend queer events, workshops, discussion groups, etc in your area

      I’m sure I could think up more pretty easily! Yes, most monogamous relationships do, by default, limit physical exploration of potential sexual/romantic feelings, but I don’t think that’s so limiting that people can’t explore and sort out feelings without that experience. I have a lot of young people in my volunteer work ask similar questions from within monogamous relationships and I bristle when anyone gets the idea, either internally or externally, that there’s no way they can determine their orientation without direct experience. Sure, it can help confirm or refine feelings…but does anyone tell little girls they can’t know they’re really crushing on a boy before they kiss him?
      I know you aren’t specifically saying it isn’t possible, but I wanted to throw this out there – people absolutely can come to a pretty good understanding of their own sexuality without direct experience.

      1. I think I not only didn’t say it was impossible, I specifically said it was possible, if the OP wanted to limit herself to the kind of “academic” exploring you describe.

        However, what the OP has done so far is fantasize about a romance and create a dating profile. And she talks of going on “chaste” dates with women. Maybe it’s because she can’t think of anything else to do, but she isn’t thinking about general exploration here.

        1. It’s not really so academic though. Bisexuality is a social identity, not just a sexual one, and exploring sexual fantasies on ones own isn’t as sterile as you make it sound. Identifying with queerness changes your relationship to society in real ways, even if you’re not having sex or relationships that others would code as queer, and you can experience what it’s like to be bisexual without sexual interactions of any particular kind

      2. +1 fanfiction!

        I also want to throw out there that it’s not a good thing to make out with someone just to see if you are in fact attracted to people of their gender — don’t use people as the means to an end. Not only would Immaneul Kant be pissed at you, it’s just sort of slimy.

        1. I disagree. It’s not OK to kiss someone under false pretenses, or to lead someone to think you can provide something you can’t, but if it’s just a random kiss in a club or a one-night-stand, you don’t owe anyone your life history.

          If you never want to be someone’s experiment, don’t kiss people unless you’re sure what their motives and investment are. But don’t tell everyone else they’re never allowed to experiment.

        2. But you’re not using them only as a means to an end if you’re also attracted to them personally and really want to kiss them. Nobody’s suggesting to just go out and kiss any woman. Wouldn’t work for the reason alone that probably no one’s attracted to every single woman out there.

        3. I’m missing something here: why would you make out with anyone you don’t desire? And if you desire someone, clearly you desire a person of their gender.

          I’ve never really understood desiring an entire gender or sex

          1. To speak from my own bi-insecurity (thankfully mostly belonging to past-me):

            I don’t often start out from a place of desire with real people. (Fantasy people are a different story.) So when I want to kiss someone, it’s not so much a pants-feeling, so much as a…hmmm… I am hoping for pantsfeelings? And sometimes when the kiss happens, the pantsfeelings follow, sometimes not. So it’s entirely possible that, if I’d never kissed a lady-person, that I could have discovered that kissing lady-persons never leads to wanting to do that more. That lady-persons are like watermelon–they look so yummy and juicy and cold and then I eat one and remember that they don’t do anything for me.

            I think that lots of people have thought “___ sounds good/yummy/fun” and then tried it and discovered that they didn’t like it as much as they thought they would. And maybe sex is a totally different beast, but I think it’s easy to worry that wanting something isn’t the same as liking it.

          2. Ah. Thanks for explaining that.

            I’ve done things that I thought would be fun but which completely didn’t work in reality, but I hadn’t connected that to trying people I wasn’t sure about.

          3. I dunno, maybe gender/attraction doesn’t really work the same way as liking watermelon or skiing? But I think that a lot of people are told “you don’t know until you try,” about their sexualities, and so the idea gets absorbed.

      3. Yes, seconding the reading and films and everything else.

        LW, I took the Captain’s advice to read, listen, and watch stories by women, POC, LGBT people, and people who are all of the above. After about six to twelve months of a steady media diet like that, I discovered that a hole inside me was being filled up that I hadn’t even realized was still there or that deep. Somehow reading stories (mostly SF/F) featuring characters who had love with women, men, and any other gender (and no gender) healed internalized biphobia.

        It also helped to make friends with other bi women, many of whom were dating men (statistically that happens a lot because the pool of men interested in women is much larger than the pool of women into women).

        At the time I started that project I knew I identified as bisexual (nearly 20 years now) and was in a monogamous marriage to a cis man, my only ever relationship. I thought my bisexuality was going to be unexercised (hard to find the right word, but that seems close) until someday I’d be an elderly widowed lady in the retirement community surrounded by women. My life’s taken a different direction and it looks like my time to date women will arrive sometime in the next 18 months, but even if we’d stayed together, that exploration would still have been worth it. Let me know if you want titles of some of the works I read.

        Everything the Captain says about breakups is so far true, three-plus months in, although I dove right in to connecting with friends and keeping busy and started meeting new people for old hobbies early in month three. Life doesn’t feel normal yet, but I do feel like myself more often than not and each day I am a little more used to life on my own.

        Sometimes I wish it hadn’t taken my husband deciding to end the marriage for me to make the effort to reach out and deliberately connect to the queer community. Whichever way your relationship goes, you may find it worth it to make those connections.

        All the best to you. One specific note: FWIW, as far as I remember all of the women in Dear John, I Love Jane who cheated on their male partners with women regretted it and wished they had ended their relationships first.

          1. YMMV. Here are just a few of the fiction works I read with LGBT characters:

            Birthday of the World, the Le Guin, Urusula K.
            Flaming Iguanas Lopez, Erika
            Bad Dyke Moon, Allison
            Sister Mine Hopkinson, Nalo
            The Tiptree Award collections
            Afterparty Gregory, Daryl (disliked the protagonist, but it felt normalizing to listen to a lesbian main character)

            Haven’t reread Trouble and Her Friends in years, but I do remember liking it.

            I’ve lost track of the movies and TV shows.

        1. LW700 I am so glad to read an update from you and hear that you’re doing well. I think your advice is spot on as well.

    2. I think there’s room to explore your own feelings without cheating, if you do decide to stay with your partner. You can definitely nurse very private crushes on people other than your partner, and that’s indicative of your desires. Just don’t be a creep.

      I have major side-eye for people who say “YOU ARE ONLY BI IF YOU HAVE HAD SEX WITH PERSON OF X GENDER AND Y GENDER”

      1. Oh, even then you get, “But you’ve slept with more women than men, right? So really you’re a lesbian?”

        1. Or, “You’ve slept with more men than women , so you’re really just pretending to be bisexual because it’s a turn-on to men.” My gold-star lesbian friends meanwhile, get, “But how do you know you don’t like men if you haven’t triiiiiiiiiiiied?”

          I hate this culture’s obsession with labeling sexuality. More, I hate that it seems to spring from the practice of stealthing courtship as friend-sharking. It would be really nice if people would stop trying to present themselves as not sexually interested, then getting rage-y when their friendship “investment” does not pan out. It would be nice if people’s inner lustbeasts let them take, “No, working on a relationship with this other person,” or “Sorry, fifteen years old, come back in another fifteen,” or even “My gut tells me that sexing with you would create more negativ as an answer. But I guess that would be unrealistic. Still, would be nice.

      2. I second (or third or whatever) your side-eye.
        I was with my college boyfriend when I started to realize that I was probably bisexual. I started having little intense giddy feelings for other women–primarily those who were actually lesbians– flitting around inside of me. With some trepidation, I told my boyfriend about this. He laughed, and said I couldn’t really be bisexual, because I hadn’t ever done anything sexual/romantic with a girl. (Although I had–a friend of his had “made” me kiss his girlfriend, in front of him, about a year before…she wasn’t my type but it was an interesting experience.)
        So he continued to discount my actual sexuality…except when it came time for HIS fantasies, and then he was all about asking me to invite my friends (the ones he thought were cute, that is) for threesomes (which I never did).

        With my husband, things are different: possibly because he is also bisexual, possibly because in the years between these major relationships, I had opportunities to actually have sexual experiences with women, possibly because he’s just not an asshole. He knows I get little crushes on other ladies, sometimes. When we watch TV and movies we talk openly about the men and women that we find attractive.

    3. Wow, I’m really bothered by “explore bisexuality (assuming that involves actual people of the same gender as you, not just private soul-searching)”. Why are you making that assumption, exactly? Sexuality is part of one’s sexual identity. You can explore it just fine with no one else involved in any way at all, and it’s not “academic” to do so.

      If you mean “the only way to have sex with both men and women is to have sex with both men and women”, then say that. But don’t redefine the concept of self-exploration–a really important part of understanding sexual identity for anyone of any orientation–as being all about rubbing bits on someone else’s bits, and then equate it with cheating. Words mean things, and your assumptions are very far from universal.

      1. Yes, words mean things, The reason I didn’t say “the only way to have sex with both men and women is to have sex with both men and women” is because that is not what I meant. I wasn’t going for a blanket definition of exploration here, just trying to understand what the LW means by the word and express an opinion based on that. To spell it out:

        The LW fantasizes about a romance with a woman, has set up a dating profile and thinks a good way to explore is to go on dates with women. So, it seems obvious to me that when she is talking about exploration, she is thinking about trying to connect with actual women romantically, not general self-exploration of her sexuality. I don’t think one can “explore” in the first way ethically, unless the partner knows about it. (And the mention of “chaste” dates gives me the impression that the LW thinks it’s not cheating unless/untill physical stuff happens, a view I completely disagree with).

        But I wasn’t sure she really did mean that, so I added the “assuming” caveat. What I was trying to say is “If by exploring your bisexuality you mean trying to explore romantic feelings for specific women you will try to connect to, I don’t think you can do that without being unfaithful”.

        And I think I tried at least to clarify that’s not the only way to explore, with the very next sentence.

  6. LW, when you’re in a homophobic environment, admitting to same-sex feelings feels *so* high stakes. Changing your mind is so high stakes. The fear that you could risk all that and *be wrong* is terrifying, and it feels like you would have done something wrong and hurt people and claimed something you’re not “entitled” to. This is homophobia, though. In a less homophobic environment, thinking you might like women, and doing something about it, and finding out that you are right or wrong, would not be that big a deal. It is OK to break up with your boyfriend, date and kiss a woman and then go, “hm, actually not for me.” It is OK to break up with your boyfriend, come out as bi, and then meet the man you’re going to marry the next day and still never get around to that who kissing-girls thing. None of these things mean that you were wrong to think you were bi, or wrong to act on it.

    There is really only one way to find out whether you like kissing girls, and that’s to kiss a girl. Chances are, by the time you get to that point, you’re pretty sure that you’re not going to *hate* it. But literally all of us had to take that scary first step some-time.

    Having said all that, biphobia is a real thing in lesbian communities. Some women will have a go at you and say you need to “make up your mind”, or will roll their eyes if you come out as queer and then end up dating a man anyway, or won’t want to get off with you if you tell them that they’re the first woman you’ve kissed. This is a form of internalised homophobia, that says that there is only One True Pure Way to be a queer woman. But there are lots of people who won’t care, or who will have been there themselves, so I recommend honestly and removing anyone who gives you hassle from your life. Their internalised homophobia is not your problem to deal with.

    This is all separate from the boyfriend problem, though. It’s over. You don’t have to have a whole plan and certainty for what happens next to finish it.

    1. ^^^All of this!!

      I did have some negative experiences with lesbian-identified women who were judgmental toward bi-identified women, particularly if they could accuse bi women of “experimenting” or being “curious.” That always drove me nuts — how is anyone supposed to find out ANYTHING about love and sex without curiosity and experimentation?

      (The thing is — first hetero kisses/fumblings/experiences aren’t judged as being “hetero-curious,” they’re seen as “normal.” Some queer women know that they are solely woman-oriented from the moment they were born, and *that is totally valid.* But judging someone else because they don’t have that level of certainty — that’s some bullshit right there.)

      Their internalised homophobia is not your problem to deal with.

      Exactly this. I think there may be a bit less of this attitude now than 15-20 years ago, although I know it still happens in some circles. If you feel like a group/event/etc. is unfriendly to you, move on and find one that is better-suited to your needs.

      1. My first relationship with a woman, back in 2001, was pretty much ruined by her constant conviction that I was going to leave her for a man. She was very definitely 6 on the Kinsey scale, from a pretty homophobic part of her country, where you didn’t bother being a lesbian unless you were very definitely sure there was no way you could just settle down with a man, whereas I came from somewhere a lot more accepting. So I could see *why* she had that conviction, but man, it was tiring and sad and it exhausted us both.

      2. I’ve only really had bad experiences with that kind of thing when I’ve dated older women. So I do think it’s gotten better with new generations but the lesbians of 15-20 years ago(or more), many still are just waiting for you to pick a side and thinking bisexuallity is a myth or excuse to sleep around. It sucks so much to fall for someone who thinks of you that way. One woman I was in love with explained it with “I know what I’m talking about, I’ve seen so many women claim they’re bisexual and then they marry men and are never to be seen again in the lgbt community”. Well maybe they didn’t feel welcome anymore..

    2. I don’t think it necessarily comes from internalised homophobia. Well, ok, the first two responses do and are very unhelpful, but the third… Many queer women have a fear of being hurt by experimental straight women and not wanting to be someone’s “phase”. Some, particularly those who came out early, have had bad, sometimes repeated experiences of being the one queer chick everyone knows. Which is not to say that this is an excuse for treating someone badly, but I think it’s a reasonable deal breaker to say that “confused about my sexual orientation or looking to experiment” may not be what you’re looking for. I, personally, would be wary of getting involved with a woman who’s figuring out her sexuality. I’d consider her fine as a friend and a human being, but I wouldn’t want to get physical. That isn’t because of biphobia – I’m bi myself. I just don’t want to be an experiment.

      1. Sure… but there’s a difference between “experimenting” and “bi with no previous same-gender partners.”

          1. Ooh, I forgot that post existed – thanks for giving me the chance to enjoy it all over again!

        1. Yeah that’s fair. I also want to make it clear that there’s a huge difference between “you haven’t figured this out yet so you suck” (not ok) and “you haven’t figured this out so I’m not going to get personally involved with you in a sexytimes way” (ok.) Also this only applies to people who actually haven’t figured their orientation out, not every bisexual person in the world.

          1. Yes, this. I’m a lesbian partnered with a bi woman, and I would be cool with dating a woman who was certain she was bi, or a woman who was certain she was a lesbian, or a woman who was certain that her sexual orientation included attraction to women and not sure about anything beyond that.

            I’m not interested in dating anyone who isn’t sure they’re attracted to women at all. I think women have every right to take as long as they need to figure that out, and to date other women while still figuring that out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! But I only want to kiss women who are sure that they’re attracted to women, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having that preference either.

          2. Yeah I think the difference here is in how you address it. Lots of bi or experimenting/curious women face open hostility and bs hate/questions from queer women regardless of if it’s someone they’re dating or not. That is not ok and might be biphobic. On the flipside, lots of queer people may not be into dating people who just came out for whatever reason and that is ok, but maybe you don’t need to explicitly run around stating that, you can just not call that person for a 2nd date or whatever.

        2. Yes, but LW says she’s not even sure if she’s interested in women, and the commenter up above is recommending kissing/dating girls to see if she likes it?

          It’s not untrue that that’s one way to find out if that’s what she’s into, but it’s also not untrue that lots of women, both lesbian and bi, aren’t interested in trying to pursue a flirtation or relationship with someone who might not even be interested in women at all, and that that isn’t biphobic. People have the right to their boundaries and “I, personally, don’t want to be someone’s experiment” is a legitimate and real boundary.

          1. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Nobody’s saying “kiss people who aren’t interested in kissing you, because their desires and boundaries are invalid.” And heck, the quality of kissing is sufficiently important to me that I’ve broken up with people after the first makeout because kissing them just. wasn’t. enjoyable. (My first girlfriend was a trombonist; I’m a little spoiled.)

            “You don’t really know if you’re going to like being with someone until you’ve tried it” is completely uncontroversial advice… unless you might be bi. But “upon collecting further data, it looks like I’m just not that into people who kiss like they have dead trout stapled to their face” and “upon collecting further data, it looks like I’m just not that into people who are women” are also equally valid boundaries.

            So I’m pretty over the idea that categorically ruling out dating inexperienced bi women (or, hey! bi women at all, because we get this no matter how long we’ve been out!) is a reasonable way of making sure your partner stays interested in you forever and ever amen. I’m super over the idea that someone who might ID as bi has to promise in advance that they’re going to enjoy being with everyone they start pursuing, or else risk losing any hope of a supportive community amidst accusations of being a deluded straight girl. Because honestly? The only folks who can’t try out new desires without drawing down social opprobrium from our beloved queer community… are people who are, or might be, bi.

          2. Quite. Trying something to see if you like it is pretty much the definition of experimentation, whereas everybody starts out inexperienced. Gay women not wanting to be used as a human Kinsey litmus test are not biphobic, we’re just people with desires and feelings, who don’t want to be seen as a fun (but scary) carnival ride.

            Growing up in an area with 0 outwardly gay women did a number on me. I’m not even going to list the frankly fucking bizarre experiences of being hit on, of being treated like a novelty item, or used for shock value. All I wanted was women who were attracted to other women, sexually and romantically. That they be gay, rather than bi, was not a factor, as long as there was sincerity, honesty and mutual respect. Nobody deserves to be someone else’s experiment or phase, unless that’s their kink, or they’re fully aware of the intentions and motivations of the other. Ethics and sincerity trumps labels.

            LW – Talk with your BF. Cheating is cheating, no matter what gender any potential illicit date may be. Wanting to go on dates with women, while in a couple, is not monogamy. Would you seek out men for sneaky dates? Are you OK with the idea of your boyfriend being signed up to match.com and looking for people to date right now?

            It might very well be time to call it quits, cut your losses, if you aren’t satisfied.

          3. Since I’ve seen this argument play out before:

            Can we agree that there is a thing that some (mostly straight) women do, on dates with lesbians or bisexual women, of treating their dates as Experiences or Exotic Vacations or some other othering, heteronormative box-checking, where the “date” is less about “let’s get to know each other and find out if there’s an attraction” and more about “Look at me, being all bi-curious and dating a woman, wow, aren’t I having an experience?” And sometimes they write really creepy op-eds about it later, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish–

            AND that this has led to a certain amount of backlash in lesbian and other queer communities, where women who genuinely don’t know about their sexualities and want to date someone to figure out if they hit it off get lumped in with women who want The Lesbian Experience like they’re going on a safari. And experienced queer women say things like “I don’t want to date anyone who doesn’t know they want to date women,” when they mostly mean, “I don’t want to date someone who uses me like an object or a means to personal growth instead of talking to me like a person.”

            Like, I think both of these are real phenomena, and people get really hurt by both of them. I personally think the solution should be cutting bad dates short, but I know that’s really tricky and feels rude, even when the other person on the date is the one bringing the rudeness.

          4. Yup, both of the things you say are undoubtedly true. Can we also agree that this is a red herring in this case, as (whatever label she uses, for whatever period of time), the one thing LW is clearly *not* is a thrill-seeking straight girl playing tourist in a gay bar. And the way we chase people out of our community is exactly by treating folks like her as if they are.

      2. Yes, sorry, you’re quite right: I think not wanting to get off with someone who is brand new to lesbianism is totally legitimate, just like any other preference, and I meant to treat that separately from the thing of people actually having a go at you. That’s what I meant by “I recommennd honesty”: let people know where you are on the “I am not totally sure I am into girls but I think I probably am and you’re really pretty” scale, so they can make their own decisions.

        Of course, if it’s a club and you’re just getting off with someone without having a conversation first, then I don’t think you owe them a, “Before our lips touch, I must inform you that…!” or anything. But if it’s a situation where you’re chatting first, then don’t pretend you’re somewhere you’re not!

  7. I don’t know where you are in the Midwest, but the dating-site stuff may be giving you the wrong impression as to how many other queer people are in your area. I grew up in Minneapolis, spent a decent amount of time in La Crosse, visited Madison and Chicago — there are quite a few places to meet LBGTetc. . . . but you may be in one of the remoter regions that still qualifies as “Midwest,” and it may mean a long drive to find an explicitly-friendly coffeehouse, university group, etc. I hear you on that.

    If you’re in college now, and I’m assuming you’re a traditional-age-ish student, you very likely have a lot more opportunities than I did, growing up as a maybe-straight-but-confused-about-my-attraction-to-ladies teenager in the late 80s/early 90s. (For one thing, THE INTERNET!!) I did eventually figure out, once I moved to a conservative-but-more-metropolitan area, that I was and am bisexual. It helped a lot to find a few queer-friendly spaces just to hang out and talk and meet people — less for dating than for being around my “own kind.”

    My relationship solution wound up being polyamory (not that I “have to” have male and female partners at all times!) I figured out that monogamy doesn’t work well for me, and I’m happier having 7+ year committed polyamorous relationships with people I love, versus trying to make one relationship work out, even if my needs and desires aren’t getting met. (This isn’t just about sexual attraction — I love my romantic relationship with my girlfriend because it’s OURS and it’s special and it’s different from my romantic relationships with my two male partners.)

    That may not be for you, which is perfectly cool. Most people are monogamous, as it turns out! It’s okay to explore openness for a while to see if it works for you (as long as you’re being up-front about it), and it’s also okay to decide that you want to see what a monogamous relationship with a woman might be like. And, of course, women are individuals — so any one relationship that you have with a *specific* woman isn’t going to be “how relationships always are with women.”

    I do think you’ll be happiest if you have a candid talk with your current partner before moving further toward contact with anyone through dating sites, or being explicitly “out to meet someone.” Whatever happens between you, if you handle it with honesty and integrity, and resist the temptation to cheat or sneak because you’re not sure what you want, I think you’ll be better-off in the long run.

    Best wishes, and I hope that all of this works out happily for you!

  8. Hi LW, I want to second advice above that no matter the sex of the other partners you’re considering, if you’re not in an open relationship, put that on pause until you can pursue those other avenues without lying (by omission or overtly).

    My best friend is dealing with a version of this, where he’s allowing questions about whom he might be sexually attracted to, to distract himself from a different question: Should I stay in this particular relationship? I think the Captain’s advice is on the money for both questions, but given the specifics you described I think you need to answer one question before you can really even delve into the other and right now you’re going in the wrong order. After watching bf go through this, I can see how tempting it is to let the sort-of-unanswerable questions (Who else am I attracted to? What does it mean?) be used as a way to delay answering the more specific one, as if that is information you need first before you can decide about a specific relationship. But I think it’s just that–a delay tactic, a way to avoid making a tough decision about a Good-Enough relationship. Part of you may be hoping that if you decide you’re not attracted to women then you’ll stop feeling so conflicted about the boyfriend but I think that’s very unlikely.

    If you were creating dating profiles to look for other men, you would know that’s a red flag. I don’t think it really matters that you’re creating profiles to look for women instead. Since this is not an open relationship, the mere fact you’re looking for other partners suggests a basic dissatisfaction that isn’t likely to go away regardless of what you discover about your sexuality.

    I will offer you the same advice I gave my friend: If I were your partner, I would not want you to stay with me only because you were unsure if your attraction to others warranted leaving. Your boyfriend (and you) deserves someone who is with him actively, who chooses him, rather than a partner who is with him passively, staying because you aren’t choosing other options. Staying by default. Loving your boyfriend may mean, in this case, freeing him so that he has the chance to be with someone who will choose him with enthusiasm.

    1. Agreed. I kind of get the feeling she’s hoping she’ll meet Ms. Right and it will solve the whole issue for her, but that isn’t fair to her current partner (nor, frankly. to herself or Ms. Right either).

      1. Yep. Secret dates outside of a closed, committed relationship!= monogamy. Doesn’t matter what the sexuality or gender those dates are. I’d be saying the same if LW’s boyfriend was looking for side action with other women, or with men.

    2. Right on. I know this type of thinking from a time when I was getting close to ending a relationship (and really should have done so earlier): The logic goes something like “I should only break up with him if I’m bi, but I don’t know for sure if I’m bi, so I can’t break up with him – need to figure out if I’m bi first”. It doesn’t really make sense because there ARE other reasons to break up, but if you’re stuck in that situation the brain can sort of become focused on this one thing that must be figured out in order to start changing something.

      I also think there’s a general phenomenon of lots of identity stuff coming up when a relationship is going badly (for me it was sexual orientation, monogamy versus polyamory).

  9. I think you are investing a lot in the word “bisexual.” You’re describing having sexual feelings toward women. So there’s something there, whatever you want to call it. Maybe it would be easier to think of this as a lot of smaller, non-forever-binding choices and not one big “figuring out my sexual orientation” choice. You can break up with your boyfriend, or not. You can try dating women, or not. You can keep dating women, or not. And if people ask you about your sexual orientation – particularly people you don’t want to date – you don’t have to answer.

  10. Much love to you, Letter Writer.

    I spent 8 years in a monogamous relationship with a man. Like you, I wondered if I was “really gay,” since all I had done was fantasize about women. I worried that my attraction wouldn’t be strong enough for me to have a “real relationship” with a “really gay” woman. But, in my experience, dating women made me feel “really gay.” When you fall in love with anybody, there’s an initial attraction, but you could never DREAM about all the things you will do with that person or feel for that person. Same thing when you have an inkling that you *might* be attracted to women. You never know until you try. I’ve been so surprised at all the different kinds of humans I’ve been attracted to since I broke up with the monogamous ex-boyfriend.

    And, yeah, you might not be as attracted to women as you are to men! But even if that’s so, you still get to call yourself bisexual if you want. You are still a member of our community and we still think you are awesome. If I were having a bisexual potluck brunch I would still invite you to it.

    Many of us have a problem coming out as bisexual until we’ve had experiences with members of two genders. Like you, I was focused on dating a woman (while I was still in relationship with the man). And yeah, I GET IT. But there are LEVELS to this. You’re on Level 4 Monogamous Relationship in the heterosexual world, and you might have to start over a bit and feel like a younger, less-together human for a while. I personally embrace the fact that I often feel like an awkward teenage boy around girls! I had to start from scratch with awkward first kisses and new friends…get ready for the vulnerability, and the growth that comes with it.

    The thing that has sustained me over the past three years of being out has been my queer friends. It took me several years to become friends with these people – for a long time they were just queer acquaintances! (Levels!) Queer groups might not exist in your area. Or, if they do, they might be biphobic. Are you willing to drive a few hours, once a month, to a queer book club that meets in the next big city over? For me, the Internet of Gays was SO IMPORTANT when I was closeted, and it still is, but the face-to-face time, with consensual hugs and snacks, is really sustaining to my spirit.

    1. I heartily agree with this post and also I would very much like to attend this Bisexual Potluck Brunch.

    2. My general mindset, starting around age 14 or so:

      “hmm, girls are pretty. but I think I like boys, too, I’ve definitely had crushes on them.”
      “hmm, I like reading YA lesbian and queer novels, but I haven’t really had any crushes on girls yet…”
      “hmm, I’m dating a boy and I really like kissing him, I’m probably straight”
      “hmm, well, if I ever have a crush on a girl then I’ll know I’m bi, right?”
      fast forward to age 22, “hmm, that girl has really long legs and she’s really pretty and … hey wow I think I have a crush on her, I guess I AM bi!”

    3. “Many of us have a problem coming out as bisexual until we’ve had experiences with members of two genders.”

      Expanding on this. Looking at my own experience, I think it’s especially hard to acknowledge bi-ness from your position, LW, where the gender you have had experiences with is the heteronormative one. (Even though it seems to be way more common! Possibly because it is generally easier to stumble into a hetero relatonship in a world that expects hetero relationships and has scripts for how they should start? COULD IT BE?) My wife and I are both sort of “gay for each other”, to differing degrees, and bi has not been too hard a label to claim from there (though people still assume that we’re lesbians a lot). But “we could have passed as straight, except our family turned out to be queer, so we don’t” is an easier claim somehow than “I am queer, but my family passes as straight”. Even though these scenarios would be two sides to the same coin in a world where passing privilege wasn’t a thing.

      I believe you’re most likely some variety of bi, LW. Maybe I’m wrong and none of the bi labels will wind up fitting you. Or maybe you are right now but that part of your sexuality might change later. But like Mayati says downthread, the label is yours if you want it. It really and truly is. When I say I’m bi, nobody asks me if I ever tried out a chaste date or two with a man, to see if flirting with a real man was something that I was into. (Actually, I lie, exactly one person has asked me whether I’d ever dated before my wife in a context that could have implied that; but I think that person had actually picked up on my demisexualness and was more wanting reassurance about their late-blooming, possibly demi-or-ace teenager being normal and OK. Anyway, I didn’t, but I am no less bi than my more-experienced wife.) It is true you are likely to get more pushback than I do, but that doesn’t mean that it would be wrong to go ahead and take the label with the info you have now.

  11. Oh wow! This is very similar to what I was going through a few months ago. My relationship with my male partner of almost four years was not quite as fraught, but I did still have that little ghost whispering “go!” in my ear (http://therumpus.net/2011/06/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-77-the-truth-that-lives-there/) and fought desperately not to, because I loved him so dearly. He really was (and thankfully still is) my best friend and the thought of losing him was terrifying.
    We tried having an open relationship. That may work for some people, but it did not work for us. The beginning of the breakup was ugly and rough, much more so that it needed to be since I did take the easy way out, staying with a new female partner whom I had only been dating for a few weeks at that point. In my grief over the relationship that had just ended, I delved into the new one much too quickly and ended up coming to my senses two months later that there were a LOT of things that were highly incompatible about us. After she had met my family, after she started making a lot of big plans with me…I broke up with her in about the messiest way possible and I regret mightily the way that it went- I still think, despite our incompatiblities as romantic partners, we could have been good friends. But now, justifiably, she wants nothing to do with me and I feel awful for breaking both her heart, and my other partner’s as well.
    All of this is to say- if I could do this all over, I wish I had just broken up with my male partner cleanly at the start, rather than have him watch me drift away from him slowly as I fell in love with someone else, who was not right for me anyway. I wish I had taken some time to be single and figure things out in my mind and figure out who I was apart from him, or her, or anyone else. As I am doing right now.
    It’s been rough since both of those breakups, but things are feeling much better now and I am so relieved to have the space to be with myself for a while and treat myself well. I haven’t come to any answers yet about what comes next but I’m at peace with that and enjoying building up the other aspects of my life. The Capitain is right- it is hard at the start, but it really does get better. And I am certain that you and your current partner will have much fonder feelings looking back if you make the break clean.
    Good luck, LW. It will all turn out ok! I believe in you.

  12. Hi LW! I wanted to chime in because I’m in a similar situation — I just figured out I’m bi, a little older than most people figure that sort of thing out. Some of the things that I did to help me find the right community:
    -feminist volunteer work or organizations: even if people there aren’t queer, they are usually well-versed in diverse sexuality and gender so they’ll be welcoming an may be able to give you more leads.
    -Friend-dating: You can totally use OKCupid to make friends of all genders and orientations, or at least explore queer spaces near you. Don’t be upset that there seem to be so few profiles, there are many people — especially outside of major urban areas — that don’t use online dating. Maybe also try MeetUp?
    -roller derby. Most cities have leagues and they’re full of queer and queer-friendly folk 🙂

  13. Beware the temptation of holding on to your straight cover story (look I’m in a long term relationship with a man!) while exploring your non-straight options. There’s safety in the plausible deniability of having A Man on hand while you explore with women and I understand the real danger that can come with being not-straight. But using someone as your beard without having their permission is pretty awful.

    I know you haven’t said you’re doing this, I just wanted to point out that it’s a possibility and a pretty tempting one, but ultimately unkind to everyone involved. To your unwitting beard, to yourself as you juggle identities and get meshed in lies, and to the people you are exploring with (it’s not fun being someone’s “oh by we’re just really close FRIENDS” person)

  14. Hi LW. ❤ I think your letter really gets at two questions:

    1) What's up with my sexuality?
    2) Should I break up with my partner?

    And of course neither the captain nor anyone else can answer those *for* you, but separating them out in your mind might help. You can stay with your partner and be bi. You can break things off and be straight (or bi, or gay, or anything else on the wide spectrum of sexualities, for that matter).

    The feelings and desires you've had for both genders are real, regardless of whether you've acted on them. I really, truly super empathize with this whole thing – it's what I've been handling of late, too. I'm in my early 30s and have only ever dated/slept with dudes, and have always felt kind of … guilty? or non-entitled? to claiming bisexual as a label. "However, I’m still afraid my attraction isn’t real" is almost word-for-word something I've said to my therapist this summer. But not having acted on the attraction doesn't mean the attraction isn't real. It feels weird, like, NO, I MUST PROVE MYSELF, but it really is okay to identify however feels right for you no matter what your actual sexual experiences are. (And I'd count having sexy dreams and fantasies about a lady as its own kind of sexual experience, now that I think about it…)

    As for your boyfriend – you asked how you can maybe break up with him when you're not sure about all the sexuality stuff, and the reason to separate out these two questions is because you *aren't* maybe breaking up with him because of your sexuality – you're maybe breaking up with him because you don't seem happy in the relationship. You've said you need it to change a lot, or else it'll end. You've been thinking about ending it enough to have drafted another whole letter. You've thought about experimenting with other people outside the bounds of your relationship, and you don't sound super jazzed at the idea of moving together, post-school.

    So maybe instead of framing the question as "Should I break up with him so I can possibly date women?" look at it as, "If I break up with him, will I be happier?" Signs in your letter seem to point to yes – I suspect you would be sad but also breathe a tiny sigh of relief. But again, only you know that for sure.

    Best of luck. ❤

    1. Oh man, “I must be making it up/I must prove myself/I’m not entitled to this” is SUCH A COMMON THOUGHT among bisexuals. In and of itself it’s a pretty good sign that yep, you’re quite likely to be bi!

      1. Yup. I realised a while back that I’d stopped thinking of/referring to myself as bi and started calling myself straight. I didn’t even notice I’d started doing that, but I had been getting pretty sick of having to explain that yes, I married a man; yes, I’ve only ever dated men; no, that doesn’t mean I’ve never been attracted to women or never will be or that I’m not bi. It was just easier. (I’m kind of demisexual too, so it doesn’t really matter that much to me.)

        LW, if it ultimately feels right to call yourself bisexual (and yes, it might take some time to get used to it and figure things out) then you are bisexual. You don’t actually have to date anyone to feel or identify that way and if you feel differently at any other point in your life then it’s still valid and you weren’t wrong about yourself. But on the other hand, you don’t actually have to slap a label on your sexuality if you don’t want to or aren’t ready. Once you’re ready to get out there and date again (assuming your current relationship doesn’t work out) then it really doesn’t matter whether the first person who takes your fancy is a man, a woman or neither. The box you tick on equal opportunities forms doesn’t have to be affected by that.

        But hey, you say it’s something you want to explore. So, if/when you do become single, go for it! Other commenters have suggested some great ways to do that. But what I’m saying is that you don’t have to worry about what to call yourself as you explore. You’re attracted to whomever you are attracted to. Don’t need to worry if you are Doing Bi Properly. You do you, and only you can do that!

        Just want to add: coming out of a long-term relationship is HARD, and I realise I may have come across a bit flippant about it. Sending Jedi hugs because even if you want out, it’s a sucky place to be in.

        1. “If you’re attracted to both men and women, you can identify as bisexual no matter what your relationships look like and no matter what your experiences have been.”

          Thank you for this, Captain, and all the bi-identified ladies with male partners in the comments. 🙂 I’ve been in a relationship with a man for almost 10 years now (I’ve never dated anyone else), and over the past 2-3 years I’ve started to realize I’m attracted to some women as well. I’m not planning on leaving my relationship, because I’m very happy in it, nor do I wish to open it up (I’m pretty monogamous at heart). But I’ve been totally open with my partner and have kissed some queer lady crushes of mine (with everyone’s full knowledge of the situation and permission, of course). I’ve struggled with what to call myself and only come up with “sort of bi, mostly demisexual, eh, whatever.” Which isn’t very pithy, but I’ve had a hard time figuring out whether I “count” as bi or not.

          All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m glad there are other people who aren’t quite sure where they fit in sexuality-wise.

          LW, as people have said, I think the “Do I stay with my boyfriend?” conversation has to take place independently of the “Am I gay/bi/pan/etc.?” conversation. If you are unhappy with him, you should break up regardless of who else you might be attracted to. I don’t even think you necessarily need to tell him you’re attracted to women if you don’t feel comfortable with it, just that the relationship isn’t working for you if that’s the case. If you’re happy and the relationship is worth it otherwise, that would be the time to have the conversation about what you want. Is it staying with him monogamously and keeping your attraction to women in fantasies? Is it an open relationship? Would he be okay with that? If not, would you rather stay with him or break up to try dating women? There are no right answers here, just what’s right for you. (But yeah, don’t look around for dates with other women WHILE you’re with him if he doesn’t know about it. That’s not cool.)

  15. Contrary to stereotypes, the Midwest is not a wasteland of heteronormativity. Gay people are everywhere. Maybe you haven’t found them yet because you’ve been in straight circles, but if you’re in a city (and even if you’re in a small city or a town), and especially in a college town, there are most definitely gay people around. I find online dating sites to not accurately represent the local population — go to potlucks, activist meetings, coffee shops and you’ll probably find queer ladies in real life.

    1. This. I spent ten years living in a town of under 10,000 people, the biggest thing for 45 miles in any direction, in the rural Midwest. There was a small but active LGBT community, drawing from our town and some of the nearby ones (places where they were coming to our town for groceries anyway, so it wasn’t a hardship to come there to socialize). The same was true of the small town in the South where I grew up, the small city (about 100K people) I lived in when I was a young adult, and the small Midwestern town my wife and I just bought a house in (though we don’t live there yet).

      I am not saying any of those places was a queer paradise. They weren’t. (They had other things going for them, from my perspective.) But neither are either of the two fairly gay-friendly cities I have lived in, one in the US and one in Canada.

    2. Also, a culture with a lot of homophobia doesn’t mean that queer people magically don’t exist there or are genuinely more rare (although generally many homophobic people in that culture will claim just that).

      It mainly means they tend to hide a lot more. And it may take more effort, and more trust-building, to find them.

      (OK, granted, some of them probably moved somewhere frendlier when they were able to, but there are so many things that often tie people to their hometown even when it isn’t ideal).

  16. LW, you don’t ever have to have had an experience with someone of another gender to ‘count’ as bisexual. You’re attracted as you’re attracted, and that’s all that ‘counts.’ Who you’re with at the time doesn’t change your sexual orientation. (I’m a bisexual woman married to a transgender woman who has presented male for many years for many reasons, and so we’ve come across as a heterosexually-paired couple to many people–and yet I’m still bisexual.)

    I’m also in the Midwest, and it can be very daunting to find accepting communities. If you can, look for a Meetup.com group near you that’s LGBTQIA-friendly, or find out if there’s an LGBTQIA center somewhere near you. If those aren’t options, it may be possible to connect in online groups, as well. Find some like-minded people to hang out with, some safer places to be yourself.

    Boyfriend problem seems like a separate thing. And it does sound like it’s probably over, all on it’s own, without having to weigh in with your sexuality.

  17. First thing before starting to fool around is to decide whether or not you are going to stay in this relationship. Staying, then you’re in and unless it is an open relationship, nothing to do. Leaving? Leave, then explore. If this is the course then things may become clearer once you get past the first hurdle of the relationship issue. First things first.

  18. It might help to treat the relationship you are in right now and the matter of your sexual/romantic identity as two separate things. Because, really, they are.

    Also, it’s okay to not be sure where your preferences lie, precisely. Attraction is a complex thing. It’s why we’ve started separating out sexual and romantic attraction – so you can have a heteromantic bisexual, a grey-aromantic gay person, a demisexual panromantic, and everything in between. Our attraction to other people can be a little fluid, or a lot fluid, and many of us never quite tie things down specifically.

    Personally, I used to identify as bi, but these days waver between calling myself pansexual and just straight-up refusing to pick a specific identity by calling myself queer. Part of that is because I’m in the process of working out my own gender identity, which I’ve been coming to realise is not as straight-forward as I assumed, and part of it is because, well, I’m similar to you in some ways.

    I’m attracted to all manner of people, but all of my relationships have been with men. I’ve made out with a few women, slept with one or two, but that was a long time ago. I’ve been with my partner (a guy) for almost 13 years and we’re getting married, so it’s not looking likely that I’ll ever have a relationship with a woman. That doesn’t make me any less queer. A gay ace person is no less gay than a gay allo person. And monogamy does not define sexuality – a monogamous bi person is still bi even if they meet their lifelong partner at the age of 14 and never have any other relationships. It’s about what you feel, not the person you feel.

    So please try not to feel under pressure to figure this out at any kind of speed. I absolutely agree with the Captain that making some friends in queer spaces – just friends, just people to get to know and not to pursue romantically – might be really good for you. If there aren’t IRL spaces around you, rest assured there’s loads of us on the internet!

  19. LW, I’m coming at this dilemma from a different perspective—my partner and I are queer (she is a visibly genderqueer female-assigned person and I am FTM and mostly gay). We’re very happy in our very queer male-female relationship, and the queerbubble major west coast city we live in has been a wonderful place to find other queers, but we’re looking at moving back to her family home in the suburbs of major midwestern city for financial reasons. We really should just up and do it before we dig ourselves too deep a hole to get out of, but we’re scared when we move we won’t find any other LGBTQ folks who will want to be friends with us, or come alllllll the waaaaaaay out to the sticks to hang out with us instead of migrating from bar to bar in the major midwestern city.

    Your letter actually gives us hope that we’ll find queer community when we do manage to up and move. So thank you—and remember when you do reach out and make that profile on the lonely dusty cobwebby information protohighway, the life you save might be someone else’s.

  20. LW, I also figured I might be gay at like 14, then realized I got crushes on boys, so I must be straight…and then when I was 22, I realized that I was bi when I got a pretty undeniable crush on a girl. And that was after I’d already kissed a girl who I wasn’t into — it’s entirely possible that you can “experiment” and not know.* The only way to know your orientation is to know yourself well enough to feel comfortable saying you are _____. The labels bisexual and pansexual are laden with a lot of stereotypes, not least of which is the trope of “oh, she isn’t really bi/queer, she’s just eXpErImEnTiNg.” So you may be struggling more with the pressures around finding a label than with understanding your own orientation, because it sounds pretty damn clear to me that you are attracted to at least two genders, and therefore you’re bi. If you want that label, that is.

    I didn’t really date much of anyone for a long time, and now I’m in a monogamous relationship with a cis man. And since I’m cis and femme, people assume I’m straight. So I have to work a little harder than someone more visibly queer to feel like I’m not back in the closet or ignoring a part of who I am. For me, this means being vocal about LGBTQ issues, being in queer spaces online and IRL, and finding trusted friends who support me. It does not mean I need to sleep with both men and women to be sexually satisfied, any more than I’d need to sleep with people of different races because I’m attracted to people of all races. If you find differently, you might be polyamorous, and you can explore that with strong communication and enthusiastic consent with your partners.

    You might really like this thread: http://www.autostraddle.com/we-see-you-an-open-thread-for-bisexual-women-dating-men-300258/ Autostraddle is a queer women/genderqueer centric site that actually has a lot of bi involvement and leadership.

    *Funny how nobody “experiments” with straightness, right? Dating is all experimenting with the sort of people you like and the sort of person you are — gender may or may not be a part of that for everyone. But the term “experimenting” sure seems to be used a lot to delegitimize non-monosexuality. I WONDER WHY.

    1. “Dating is all experimenting with the sort of people you like and the sort of person you are — gender may or may not be a part of that for everyone. But the term “experimenting” sure seems to be used a lot to delegitimize non-monosexuality. I WONDER WHY.”



        Except, of course, for that time that someone I used to know when we were kids a. came out as gay to a select few when she was a teen, then b. had a very young, fairly brief hetero marriage, followed by c. a divorce and proceeding to date (so far as I know, we’re not in touch much anymore) exclusively women. Is she a lesbian who “experimented” with heterosexuality? There are people who assure me that this is the case. But they appear to be able to produce no supporting evidence for thinking this. You know, evidence like, “She told me how she IDs.”


    2. >>>*Funny how nobody “experiments” with straightness, right? Dating is all experimenting with the sort of people you like and the sort of person you are — gender may or may not be a part of that for everyone. But the term “experimenting” sure seems to be used a lot to delegitimize non-monosexuality. I WONDER WHY.

      Similarly, it seems to be really hard to tell people you’re “just to get attention”! ALSO MYSTERIOUS!

      1. Aaargh, my witty sarcasm would work better if I hadn’t missed out the word “straight”.

    3. Re “experiments” with bisexuality – I always inwardly wince when people speak of “exploring their bi- side” or “bi experimentation” etc.

      Because the gay people I’ve known (of whatever gender) spoke of “trying straight” or the like. It’s as though people fear homosexuality so much that having same-sex sex can’t even be called that.

      I know this is sort of a derail.

  21. LW, I want to add one thought for if/when you are looking at dating new people (of any gender).

    I am a bi-identified woman and I also have gone through years of soul-searching and thought experiments, and a few kissing experiments, trying to pin down the parameters of my sexuality. Every time I thought I had a handle on it, it would slip away again, and eventually I gave up and basically identified myself as “I don’t fucking know, and it’s very annoying”. Several years after that, I decided “bisexual” fit well enough 🙂

    When I was in university, I used to go to a queer and questioning drop-in group run through the counselling centre (which was awesome, btw), and one time I was agonizing over how I could ever date anyone at all if I were not sure of my sexuality, because if I weren’t totally sure that I was (or could be) attracted to a person, then I was afraid I would be dating them under false pretenses. Or something. I was really, seriously concerned about this.

    The counsellor leading the session reminded me that dating is, BY DEFINITION, basically a test for people to find out if they are compatible with, interested in, and attracted to each other. There is no implicit requirement that you be attracted to a person you go on a date with. The purpose of the date is to find that out!

    As others have said above, regardless of your sexuality, there will always be people you are attracted to and people you are not attracted to. Going on a date, kissing a person, and even having sex with a person are all valid ways to explore your sexual compatibility with that person. You almost certainly will run into bi-phobia within queer communities, and it feels terrible, and sometimes it can make you feel like you DON’T have the right to try to find out if you are attracted to another woman.

    The thing is, you do have that right. We all have that right. We all exercise that right all the time – including lesbians who have never questioned their attraction to women as a group. If it comes up, try asking a few if they have ever met a woman they did NOT feel attracted to – or a woman they were uncertain about being attracted to. If any have not, I’m pretty sure they are outliers and you should ask more people.

    To respond to people who do not want to feel that you are “experimenting on” them, I think it can help to change the conversation to be more personal than general. As in, you aren’t using them to find out if you’re attracted “to women” – you want to confirm that you are attracted to THIS woman. Also just being clear about where you are both at emotionally and how you see your relationship will hopefully answer any concerns this other hypothetical woman may have. Also anyone who is bi-phobic is not cool enough to date you anyway.

    Good luck!!!

  22. “And I can’t lie: Breakups where nobody did anything really wrong and you really care for the other person feel awful for a while. You cry… you have a crappy six months of missing them and wondering if you’ve made a big mistake, certain songs and films become unbearable (and yet you play them on repeat), and the world around you is suddenly filled with more happy couples than you ever knew existed, holding hands and sipping hot chocolate and grooming each other like monkeys every goddamn place you look.

    Then one day it gets better. The loneliness turns into solitude. You forgive your ex for not being what you needed, and you forgive yourself for both leaving and for how long you stayed. You reach out to people who have been important to you, family, old friends, former mentors, and realize that you are surrounded by many kinds of love. You start saying yes to new things, that concert, that art show, that volunteer gig, that cup of coffee, that academic presentation, that new friendship, that sweet cat or dog at the animal shelter, that new scene. You fall back in love with yourself and with your life.”

    Eep. I’m gonna go cry in a corner for a bit.

    Month two. Sigh.

  23. LW, faab genderqueer person who lived as a bisexual woman for many years fairly happily weighing in here. I agree with the Captain’s advice. Figure out your current relationship independently of figuring out your sexuality. Two quick things…

    Consider sending those queer women in your area “Oh hey, you look awesome, let’s be friends!”* messages. I live in MS where it feels like there are no trans spectrum people. I went on okay cupid, though, and found a few trans people in my area. I sent them all messages, one of them wrote me back, and we happened to be quite compatible as friends. I’ve spent very little time talking to him about being trans, but when I hang out with him I’m reminded I am not alone in my queerness.

    In case no one has given you this spiel, its possible to like women and men but like one more than the other. Also, have you heard of the concepts of androphilia and gynophilia? Androphilia is where you like masculinity and gynophilia is where you like feminity, then you get androgynophilia where you like androgyny. For example, I’m androgynophilic and I lean heavily towards androphilia, while I’m still gynophilic sometimes. In practice this means I like androgynous people in general, like androgynous people who are mainly masculine most of all, and yet am still really attracted to femininity sometimes.

    How does this play out in my life? I prefer to be in a relationship with someone masculine, and mostly date men. Most of the people that catch my eye are either somewhat to very masculine women or slightly feminine men. I’m attracted to all sorts of people, though, and flirt accordingly.

    Good luck and many, many jedi hugs as you figure this all out.

    *My current best friend sent me a message on okay cupid that said something like “You seem like an awesome person, and I’m an awesome person too. I think we should test the hypothesis that two awesome people hanging out together is fun by getting coffee together.” It was the best okay cupid message I ever got 🙂

  24. If behaviour was what mattered, then anyone who was inexperienced or celibate, even if involuntarily, would have to call themselves asexual. Anyone who hadn’t had sex wouldn’t be able to call themselves straight OR gay.

    But that’s silly, of course, because being celibate or a virgin is a completely different thing than being asexual. And many teenagers could tell you very very very well that they are straight, or gay, years before they ever so much as kiss someone.

    You don’t need to do anything to ‘prove’ your attraction.
    Although, it sounds a bit like it’s not just that, that you’re afraid of breaking up with your boyfriend, meeting other people, and realising that the experience isn’t as awesome as you thought it would be and regretting breaking up with your boyfriend. But that part isn’t fundamentally a gender or orientation question – it’s a very common question people of any orientation have to ask themselves when they consider ending relationships. ‘This relationship isn’t entirely good but neither is it terrible and I think I prefer it to being single: will I actually find a better relationship or will I just end up even worse off?’ is a fairly universal dilemma.

  25. Dear LW, the folks have already given you some pretty good advice, so I just wanted to emphasize a couple of things:

    1) Words and labels.

    Orientation changes over time for a lot of people. If you like boys on Monday and girls on Tuesday and both on Wednesday and can’t stand the thought of anyone touching you on Thursday, that’s totally allowed. Don’t worry about whether you “qualify” for specific identity labels. Go with what feels right for you right now, and remember it’s always okay to take on new labels later. Lots of folks get good mileage out of blanket terms like “pansexual” and “queer”, so maybe look into those and see whether they feel right to you.

    Even when orientation stays the same, labels can still change. Several years ago, a friend of mine told me quite earnestly that she was straight. “Of course I fantasize about sex with other women,” she added, “but all women do that.” A couple years later she was happily calling herself bisexual. She’s the same person she was before; she just changed the label she used for herself, as she began to see her desires in a different light. This is 100% okay. If you want to call yourself a straight woman who fantasizes about other women, you can do that. If you want to call yourself a queer woman, you can do that. If you want to try them both on for a while and see which fits better, you can do that.

    My orientation baseline has stayed pretty consistent since I’ve been aware of having an orientation–there have been fluctuations, but for the most part I’m 98% interested in queer people of all genders, and about 2% interested in the very rare straight guy who somehow pushes my buttons. However, we don’t have a word for that in English. So I’ve tried on lots of different words over the years, and eventually settled on “queer” to at least imply my fondness for totally queering up sexyfuntimes with other queer people. Language isn’t always suited to precisely describing who you are. It’s completely fine, and often quite necessary, to spend some time getting to know various words and phrases and see whether their connotations feel comfortable.

    2) Qualifications and “proof”.

    Sexuality is between you and your desires. It’s literally your orientation–who you point yourself toward. Whether you let yourself off the leash to pursue them is a separate question, and whether they’re interested in you is a separate question from that.

    Sometimes you may only figure things out about yourself in retrospect. When I was a 13-year-old girl, I declared that I was going to consider myself “bisexual by default” until I’d tried kissing both boys and girls and knew whether I liked it. Years later, after kissing lots of boys and girls and liking it a whole bunch, I looked back and realized that seven-year-old me had had a GIANT CRUSH on Princess Glimmer from She-Ra. I had genuinely been a queer kid. I had no idea. Like my friend who thought all women fantasize about other women, I guess I just thought that all little girls liked to caress their Barbie dolls. (And their Princess Glimmer dolls. It’s a wonder I didn’t wear the poor thing down to a shred of plastic.)

    I never actually needed to kiss anyone to be queer. The queerness was inside me all along! But I didn’t know that when I was 13; I thought I had to prove it somehow, to myself or to other people.

    A quarter-century later, I know that I don’t, and didn’t, have to prove anything, and neither do you. You are who you say you are. That big Q in LGBTQAI stands for “questioning” as well as “queer”–you’re welcome under the rainbow umbrella just the way you are, uncertainties and all. If later on you wander out from under it, that’s cool too. But you don’t have to ask permission or take a test to be here.

  26. It’s like reading a memoir!

    I stayed in a unhappy relationship with a guy for three years because I couldn’t make myself break up with him. The sad part was that he was happy in the relationship, but it was at my expense. He would try to control me – he didn’t like it that I was bisexual or that I was a feminist or that I was Neopagan (I’m an ex-Neopagan now). He wanted me to be just like him. I ended up not talking to him about what I was interested in, but he would find out and get upset at me.

    1. Oof, that sounds awful and I am happy for you that you are free now! *jedi hugs* if you’d like them.

  27. Dear LW:

    The Captain and the Army have said what I’d say, and probably better — and yet I still want to address something, namely “how can I explore (ethically)?”

    If you want to remain with your boyfriend while you explore an interest in women, tell him just that. E.g. “Boyfriend, I have found myself fantasizing about women, a lot. I want to explore that. I still want be with you though, and I’d like to talk with you about how (or if) we can make that happen.”

    Mind you, if you don’t want to be with him, then break up with him. But leave out the part about looking for women.

    This is coming from a monogamous bisexual woman.

  28. Oh LW *Feathery jedi hugs*

    I identify as bisexual, and your description of having sexy feelings for men at some points and having sexy feelings for women at others sounds a lot like my experience. It’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with you.
    You don’t have to pick a label, but if you do your description sounds very much like bisexual is accurate.

    I don’t have much to add to the relationship advice you’ve already been given, just support and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.


  29. What’s clear is you’re not straight. And to echo everyone else, you have two different issues. All I’d add is that if you date a woman in the future to find out whether or not you’re lesbian, bi, or any other label, have the courtesy to tell her that is your motive. It is the height of straight privilege for straight-identified women to use queer women as “experiments.”

  30. No specific advice for the LW that hasn’t been said, but just chiming in to say hello to all my fellow bisexual women who are dating/married to cis men!

    I forget how many of us there are.

    I know I’m bisexual, and have for a few years now, and I am happy with my man, but there is the bit of me that won’t stop wondering “what if…. I dated a woman?”

    I have had sexy-fun times with other bi and lesbian ladies, and have had a couple of massive crushes on other women and I have dallied with polyamory within the context of my current, 3+ years relationship to my guy.

    And so even though people in the street etc would see us as a straight couple, I am still bisexual as all get out.

    Because bisexual straight passing privilege is not actually a thing.

  31. I just wanted to give LW a little heart squeeze. As the Captain said, choosing to break up with someone you care for (where there is nothing objectively awful about the relationship) is hard. Loneliness is a terrible feeling that can even be scary. But being in a relationship where you hafta walk on eggshells is actually worse. This is SO hard to believe, and I don’t know if you’ve been single as an adult, but there is a freedom to that desperation and at some point, you will find your heart goes from unbelievable hurting, to numb, to suddenly filled with a sense of FLIGHT. And in there discovery, creativity, and the real STUFF of life.
    I wish you clear skies and tailwinds. You just gotta break up and be your unique self – alone.

  32. LW, I don’t know what you should do, but I will say: it was so much easier to figure out my sexuality when I detached it from “and should I hang onto this struggling relationship because of that?” Anything you can do to detach these two questions – level with your partner, stop having this partner, or just be really comfortable and clear on that within your own head, that your attractions right now are not a referendum on your relationship – will make you feel much better, I think.

  33. I couldn’t decide whether I only thought I was a lesbian to give me an excuse to leave my marriage or whether me being a lesbian was why my marriage had got so awful but eventually I decided I didn’t have to spend any more time trying to work that out, either way my marriage was awful and I wanted to leave it.

    3 months. Half the time I’m curled up in a heap wondering what the hell I’ve done (we have kids) and the other half I’m dancing round the kitchen at the thought I’ve never got to suck anyone’s dick again ever (which kind of decides that one), but I’ve got the space now to sort my own head out and that’s much easier when you’re not walking on eggshells around someone else.

  34. If everyone could stop implying that a bisexual woman dating a trans man is somehow more bisexual (or has less reason to worry about being really bisexual) than a bisexual woman dating a cis man that would be absolutely fabulous.
    Because there’s a lot of posts in this thread where women are noting specifically that they’re dating cis men and that this makes them feel worried about how bisexual they are, which implies that the cis part is important for that and that trans men somehow count less as men for the purposes of sexuality.

    1. +1. I’ve been limiting my quibbles in this comment section, because I don’t want to be That Commenter Who Drives By and Pokes Holes In Other Comments, but that’s been bothering the stuffing out of me. (I hate when people don’t treat me as queer until they find out my husband is trans… sorry, no. All of the no.)

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