When my long-term lesbian relationship came to an end in 2022, one of the first things I did was re-download Hinge and change my settings to include men. Disrupting the algorithm – which had mostly seen me swiping through women and non-binary people throughout the years – the app threw a whole mix of boys my way. For someone whose last experience of dating men involved trying to set up a throuple date with two bi guys in a long-term open relationship, it was a bit of a culture shock. So many messages, so many well-meaning straight boys whose approach to relationships is so different from my own.
Now, despite resuming my search, on and off over a months-long process of trial and error, I’ve only swiped right on a measly two male contenders. And while I haven’t quite mustered the enthusiasm to meet up with them, I have seriously considered it. This is a major development for me and goes against many years of brushing off my occasional attraction to straight men, often on the grounds that I don’t want a dynamic that feels even slightly like stereotypical heterosexuality. With time, I’m realising my old attitudes are more than likely a result of my own internalised biphobia: a fear that if I engage with cis-het men on any level, it invalidates my queer identity. Ultimately this type of thinking isn't productive and leads to tarnishing all cis-het men with the same brush.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that heterosexuality in its most mainstream format isn’t just about who you’re dating – it’s a lifestyle. Weirdly, my most recent failed queer relationship taught me this. I had felt stuck, resentful and bursting with unmet needs, and I realised that my complaints were often the exact same as those I had heard from straight women in dissatisfying long-term relationships. It was affirming, actually. It was the first time in a life filled with queer dating and poly sagas that my struggles with a partner could be listened to and understood by people outside niche queer circles.
However, rather than making it clear I should break this relationship off and not look back, the messaging I got was that this is just how real relationships are. I started accepting the sadness of a relationship that feels one-sided and reasoning that, well, relationships mean sacrifice and sometimes that sacrifice is your happiness. It got to the point where my TikTok and Instagram algorithms were constantly serving me content about "how to tell if he’s pulling away" and "how to lean into your feminine energy" or parodic videos of the "bare minimum boyfriend". And I hate to say it but I ate it up.
Was I internalising stereotypical hetero values and living by them in my heteronormative queer relationship? Yes, I believe I was. What can I say? The allure of a relationship that, if you squint, fits into age-old traditions of what love and family look like is strong. And raging against the institution of marriage and compulsory cis-het monogamy becomes lonely as you get older and everyone begins to fit into seemingly perfect, matchy couples. But while it turns out that playing at heterosexuality wasn’t for me, that doesn’t automatically mean that dating straight men isn’t, either. Ultimately, straight women are coming to similar conclusions to me, whether that's Miley Cyrus releasing Flowers or a Shakira diss track. It feels like women who date men are realising that the institution of heterosexuality is making many people miserable and reassessing their own scepticisms about dating men.
The heterosexuality discourse is at its peak, so much so that it's been picked up and dissected by journalists like Moya Lothian-McLean in The Guardian and Eloise Hendy in The Independent. Both of these writers essentially argue that performatively despairing about heterosexuality calcifies rather than challenges the uneven power dynamics at play between men and women in relationships, and assumes that cis-het men are incapable of change.
In queer circles, we talk about the differences between sexual attraction and romantic attraction and how these don’t always line up in expected ways. Ultimately I’m learning to accept that this is the case for me and to embrace the nuances of my sexuality. Part of dating and experimenting for me is realising that, even if my romantic interest lies mostly in women and queer people who have lifestyles similar to mine, that doesn’t preclude me from casually dating straight guys. After all, some of our best dating experiences can come from the hours spent with people we’re attracted to but won’t ever develop feelings for.
Despite it all, I’m pretty confident – and even slightly excited – about opening up the door to dating hetero men. My New Year’s Resolution this year was, simply, to have more fun. The way to do that in my love life? To put any thoughts of a serious relationship on hold. This means no more U-Hauling, no more trauma-bonding, no more efforts to repair a relationship that no one wants to save but me.
I can say all this because, ironically, my interactions with straight men will never be heterosexual culture. My feelings for these boys, as I make clear to them, just don’t run that deep. My great romantic dreams will always be with women and queer people. That means that the heartbreak, the pain and all the times I cling onto a failing relationship out of love will be reserved for these people, too.
So while I wait to be ready again for my next big love, I’m happy to pass the time with a straight boy who’ll take me for a craft beer and hold my hand. No plans for the future, no delusions of any great connection; just warmth, comfort and a little bit of joy in my life. Maybe it’s about realising that, regardless of your orientation, there are some people who just aren’t meant for you long-term – but you can enjoy the ride while it lasts.