I’ve been on a first date with a woman I met on a dating app and I'm feeling pretty good about it. There’s a definite spark and sexual energy, and the prospect of getting to know her better is filling me with excitement. So far, so good.
Then I get home to a message which pours a big bucket of cold water all over my elation: "I’d love to see you again...but just as friends."
This is how the story of my dating life has played out for the last four years. It’s not the message itself that’s alarming – I don’t think everyone should fall in love with me instantly. The alarming part is the sheer number of women I've dated with whom I've gone on to have meaningful friendships. I thought the old 'let's just be friends' letdown was code for 'I’m just not that into you and I'm going to disappear now' but in most cases, my dates then go on to pursue actual friendships with me. This might sound like the ultimate nail in my queer dating coffin but, surprisingly, from numerous cases of rejection, I’ve found support and validation.
The 'friend zone' is a term largely tied into heterosexual ideas of dating. At its best, it's a bit of a joke about a relationship not working out. At its worst, it's men feeling entitled to sexual or romantic relationships because that’s what society has taught them they are owed. At the heart of this perception of the friend zone is the notion that friendship is inferior. Thankfully, my experiences as a queer woman are different. I moved to London in 2019 for a job, with the ulterior motive of dating 'til I dropped. My small university city had no queer scene to speak of and an even smaller dating pool so my move to the big city was my time to (finally!) shine. I was hoping to find a place for myself in London’s queer community, I just didn't realise dating would lead me to my people.
Before we go any further, I’m not referring to queer platonic partnerships here and of course I'm not suggesting that queer women and non-binary people can’t 'just' be friends. I'm talking about people who are actively seeking dates and show more than a platonic interest in me but after a few dates want to proceed as friends. Every. Damn. Time. Would I rather be ghosted by them entirely? No. Are there some positive elements to it? Yes, definitely. Does this say something about my obsessive need to be friends with everyone, to the detriment of my relationship status? Maybe.
I’m also not talking about intimacy-infused friendships like Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Abby’s (Sarah Paulson) in Todd Haynes’ queer cinema masterpiece, Carol. I’m talking beers-in-the-pub, watching-films-two-feet-apart-on-the-sofa kind of friendship. Sexually distanced rather than socially distanced, shall we say? It’s an unrequited feeling which comes out of the blue when I believe things to be progressing romantically. We both love Carly Rae Jepsen! We shared a steamy drunken kiss! Our star signs are compatible! So why would you just want to be friends?
A message from my most recent date turned friend read: "I understand we met on Hinge and you probably weren’t on there to find friends." She hit the nail on the head there and yet here we are – friends.
When I approach dating expert and matchmaker Sarah Louise Ryan, she is optimistic about my situation. "I think it’s actually quite refreshing that there’s a real authentic follow-through with maintaining a friendship, it’s not just shared empty words like you might find elsewhere in modern dating."
As much as I would like some romantic relationships, I’m not totally mad about being friend zoned. A good first date doesn’t always equate to someone wanting to be in a relationship with you; we’re only human. I also respect these people being honest and communicating with me, and I’m flattered that they thought I was good enough company to stick around. I’m just mad that it happens with pretty much every person I date, which leaves me questioning my own approach to dating.
Is there something about me in particular that’s earning me a fast-track ticket to the friend zone? Relationship expert James Preece tells me that it’s all about setting an intention with someone and aligning with them from the start. "If you don’t show you are interested in that way, they’ll assume you aren’t. Then even if they do like you, they reject you first as a way to protect their own ego. It’s vital that you get them thinking about you in the right way through initial texts, chats and behaviour." That’s easier said than done, though – it’s uncomfortable bringing a serious energy right off the bat when you don’t know someone yet.
So perhaps I’m setting the table for friendship only with my approach to dating. But I'm not sure I want to change my approach entirely. Something Sarah said stuck with me: "If you hold on to relationships and dating scenarios that have passed, you are taking up too much energetic space in order to welcome the right person."
I understand what Sarah means but I’d be lying if I said this has ever held me back. If anything, it’s taught me lessons in boundaries, respect and the importance of authentic connection. It’s given me many wholesome nights at the pub, introduced me to new circles of queer people and reminded me that you can get just as much love from platonic relationships. Through these experiences, I’ve found the community I was searching for and have a stronger support network than ever.
Not everyone you meet is going to be right for you and friendship doesn’t have to be seen as a downgrade. I used to deem dates unsuccessful because they didn’t end up blossoming into love or a relationship but it turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a product of being a queer woman and part of a community where friendships are powerful, even if (like in my case) they’re formed from a place of rejection. Because rejection might hurt you but friendship doesn’t.