The introduction of Tinder in 2012 revolutionised the way people thought about online dating. You only need to look at the proliferation of dating terms over the past 11 years to see the impact.
But dating-specific platforms, while useful, are only one part of the online love puzzle. And falling in love with someone you met online, without actually intending to do so, seems to be a particularly queer phenomenon. It spawned a whole genre of YouTube in the 2000s and early 2010s where lesbian YouTubers like Whitney and Megan (who met on Myspace in 2006) and Kaelyn and Lucy (who met over email in 2010) documented their long-distance relationships. It hid in anecdotes I’d heard from my own internet friends, like Mel, who met her wife on a forum in 2007. It is woven into my own life, too: in 2013 I met my wife through Tumblr when she lived over 500 miles away.
When I started working on this story and looking for stories like mine, I heard from queer people who met in all sorts of places: Facebook groups for Diva magazine, Etsy shops, Twitch communities, TikTok DMs, forums, and Instagram. They had a vast array of interests they bonded over like crafting, spirituality, video editing, CW TV shows, and matching tattoos. The through line was always one of unexpected, intimate connection.
As the following love stories show, the internet has long been a space for queer people to forge communities and find connections. Unlike dating apps, these spaces are not clearly outlined — they emerge in unexpected ways through all sorts of platforms and are rarely romantically inclined.
Queer people falling in love in these spaces is a happy accident, an instance of serendipity that is made more special not only by how easily these people fit together but by how unlikely this union would otherwise have been.
Dating apps have their place but when the internet continues to play an integral part in community formation and connection, it’s kind of beautiful that love emerges in those spaces and that we can grow love in spaces that were never designed for it. If you’re looking for queer joy, you can’t find a better place to start.
Corey, 32, (he/they) met Donette, 32, (she/her) on Facebook in 2020
Donette: I met Corey while I was still dating somebody else and my relationship wasn't going well. We practice the same traditional African religion and we had a ton of mutuals with people that were in my spiritual house. That's how I ended up reaching out.
Corey: I was also in a relationship but we just were not compatible. Donette and I didn't start talking to each other with the intention to run away. Instead, it was like, “Okay, I like this person. I like her a lot... Oh shit, I miss her... Oh my god. I think I love her.”
I actually almost denied her friend request because I didn't know her. The somewhat messy backstory is that in our religious community, people belong to what we call Ilès, which is your more intimate group of spiritual teachers and God siblings. She was in the house that I had left. And so when I saw who we had in common, I didn’t entirely want to accept because I don't deal with some of those people anymore. But then I thought, “What the hell.”
Donette: This was June 2020 and we planned to meet up in October. By August, it was like, “Can you get here sooner?”. So I ended up cancelling my flights and driving 20 hours to see him for the first time.
Corey: I had started transitioning in July so I was coming out of that old relationship into this newness, and I was afraid that I was not going to find my person. So it's just funny that she came into my life when she did.
I had started transitioning in July so I was coming out of that old relationship into this newness, and I was afraid that I was not going to find my person. So it's just funny that she came into my life when she did.
I had considered transitioning for many years and just didn't do it out of fear. I was worried that if I didn't look cis passable and was somewhere in between, it would be really weird trying to date. And then I found somebody who accepted me as I am, and as she'd never been with anyone trans it was a learning thing for her too. Being with someone who fully sees me as a person who is both is a very joyful experience.
Donette: Meeting the way we did allowed me to see what they talk about, who they talk to, and what their conversations are like. It also helps to identify people that are in my religion because that's important for me and my last partner was not in my religion. It made me much more comfortable.
Corey: I'm sure part of it was because we were already in relationships and trying to be faithful people, but meeting in this way also forced us to start as friends. It was just a really organic conversation. I remember the first time that we video chatted, I wasn't self-conscious about what I looked like.
Donette: Like Corey said, I had never dated anyone trans. In one of our first conversations, he said “I’m bigender” and I didn’t really know what that meant. And so immediately Corey put me in a position of having to learn, which is one of my favourite things in the world. Now we’re married and have a dog together.
It's like a separate part of my identity snapped into place when I met Corey, and that continues the longer that we're together.
In dating him, he taught me a lot about celebrating queerness. I don't think I was ever in a celebratory place before. I didn't start dating anybody that wasn't a cis male 'til I was 26 and I didn't make a big deal out of it. But we’ve built our life around queer joy, celebrating one another, celebrating our community. And it's exciting. It’s like a separate part of my identity snapped into place when I met Corey, and that continues the longer that we're together.
Liz, 31 (she/her) met Gem, 38 (she/her) on Twitch in 2020
Gem: I considered myself solo polyamorous when we met and had no designs on finding a partner. But because I’m immunocompromised, I was always at home and Twitch became my everyday drop-in community centre for the pandemic. I ended up falling into a queer community on Twitch in May of 2020 where I made a lot of friends, most of whom lived abroad.
The community I’m in got raided one day and Liz joined but it wasn’t until she posted a selfie in the community’s Discord channel that I was like, “Oh, boy.” It was this (very welcoming) largely gay male/masc community so part of that reaction was because Liz is gorgeous, and part of it was that I was really excited to have another friend and another woman in this space. That was November 2020. I was not expecting to blow up my whole life and move overseas to be with someone I met on Twitch.
Liz: While I identify as pansexual now, I was in a long-term relationship with a man when we first started chatting. I was feeling very isolated. I had bought a Nintendo Switch and Animal Crossing and my then-partner suggested I look up Animal Crossing streams on Twitch. I enjoyed Twitch so much that I started streaming myself, which takes us into raiding that community one day and initially making friends with Gems.
I was not expecting to blow up my whole life and move to the UK with someone I met on Twitch.
Gem: One night we ended up chatting about sexuality. Liz was saying things like, “I've never been with anyone but a cis man so how can I be anything other than straight?” and I was like, “No, no, that's not how it works. How it works is who you are, irrespective of what you do.”
Liz: That turned my whole world upside down. I started learning about queerness and Gem gave me the term pansexuality, which was one that I resonated with. And the rest is history.
Gem: Less than a month after I told her I loved her, she moved out into her own place but I was still stuck in my own country — the borders were still closed. We went 193 days from the day we started dating online 'til we touched in person at an international airport. I flew across the ocean in the middle of a pandemic with an engagement ring for a woman I'd never touched. I made my residence permanent in April of this year and we’re getting legally married tomorrow.
Liz: These online spaces where you can be yourself, with no bells and whistles, are so valuable. On dating apps or sites, you try to be your best self, which isn't always necessarily your true self. So if you're in spaces that aren't designed for that purpose and you are feeling safe enough to be authentically yourself, I guess it's something that gives you more opportunity to see someone and to fall in love with them. That’s what happened to us. And so we celebrate our joy as much as possible.
I started learning about queerness and Gem gave me the term pansexuality, which was one that I resonated with. And the rest is history.
Gem: It's not so much that our communities are queer. It's that in these queer communities, so many people have discovered that they were queer. When they were surrounded by all this diversity and celebration of love, so many realised that society had led them to believe something about themselves that wasn’t true.
We often talk about how everything in the world has been created to make us feel bad about who we are. For me, I'm fat. I'm femme. I'm gay. I'm disabled. I'm not supposed to be happy. So every time we’re happy together, especially in these spaces, it’s like the moment you see a flower wiggling out between two cobblestones. We are this act of existence where everything has been done to tramp it out.
Andie, 25 (she/they) met Lindsey, 30 (she/her) on TikTok in 2021
Lindsey: I wasn't actively scrolling TikTok to find a partner at all but when I saw Andie, I was like, “Oh, that's my type.” It was a video where she was jokingly saying, “I want a cute girlfriend,” her brother says that she doesn't need one, and she's like, "I don’t NEED one, but I want a cute girlfriend.” She was literally saying that.
Andie: I was very single. All my closest friends were in serious relationships and I think that definitely had an influence. But I was also in a space where I felt ready to find a partner.
Lindsey: We didn’t just follow each other and then go on a date the next day. We probably liked each other's videos back and forth for a couple of months. We didn't even DM on TikTok. At the time Andie had over 50,000 followers and I had less than 1,000, so I didn't even know that she would see my videos or follow me back.
Andie: But I did see her, I loved her videos. She followed me back on Instagram and one night, I kept looking at her pics and thinking, “Oh, she's so cute.” So I decided to be bold for once and DMed her, asking her out. With queer dating, especially with two women, a lot of people are scared that as a lesbian they’ll be read as predatory. Or that it’s easier to be just friends. But I was proud that I was very upfront.
Lindsey: We both live in the same city so we planned to meet up a couple of days later. I was so nervous — Andie is a little more accustomed to meeting friends from the internet but I have never met up with someone from social media in real life. But because we met on TikTok, I had already seen so many different aspects of her life that I liked and was attracted to. Seeing someone in video form both being creative and in their everyday life was really important for me. I was nervous but it was like I was already comfortable with her.
Because we met on TikTok, I had already seen so many different aspects of her life that I liked and was attracted to.
Before the pandemic or on Instagram, you wouldn’t really see people posting in that intimate, open way. And I think I liked those aspects of Andie because I could see myself grabbing coffee with her before we even met. If we left that first date and she just wanted to stay friends that would have been totally fine because I liked being around her. But luckily, we went on a second date and a third and a fourth and here we are.
Andie: We wouldn’t have actually met on dating apps because of our settings. We live in the same city but our suburbs were outside of our distance settings and I wouldn’t have come up for Lindsey anyway because of my age. We didn’t even know until our first date that we weren’t the same age. But we hit it off.
Lindsey: It was such a perfect storm: I was living on my own for the first time in a pandemic and was isolated socially. But I found a queer community on TikTok. I remember the first time when I put a rainbow in my bio, it was like a really big deal for me, and all the friends I made there were queer. I never had that before. And now through Andie, I actually have a real-life queer community too.
Your sexuality and gender identity is really vulnerable and being able to connect to something so vulnerable without having to declare yourself immediately is really powerful.
Andie: I first started questioning my sexuality in high school, and a really big part of my coming-out journey was your classic lesbian YouTubers, especially ElloSteph, who’s also Jewish. Finding that intersection of that community was awesome when I was in high school. So one of the big reasons that I started making TikToks, especially queer TikToks, was I saw how much that helped me feel comfortable. Those YouTubers made me so excited to get older and find my community and I realised that I wanted to be able to do that for other people. The internet is still a great place for that. You can retain some aspects of anonymity if you want to, and I think that provides a level of comfort for people. Your sexuality and gender identity are really vulnerable and being able to connect to something so vulnerable without having to declare yourself immediately is really powerful.
Lindsey: Now we like to bring that into the real world — going around the city while holding hands and being in love is our favourite thing. We love finding and creating spaces where we can be ourselves, and Andie makes me feel like myself.