Natalie Gilbert (she/her)
College dating is on a whole other level in comparison to dating in highschool, particularly when you’re queer. In highschool, as with many non-heterosexual identifying teens, my sexuality and understanding my sexual preferences eluded me to a large extent. In high school, I had exclusively dated guys, but dating as a whole didn’t really appeal to me in the way it would most teens. This was mostly due to the fact that I just wasn’t really interested in men, but I also wasn’t aware that there was any other option than the standard hetronormative one.
So I continued dating men despite knowing that it wouldn’t go anywhere. This was probably because I had tried to convince myself that that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Right would come along and then magically everything would just make sense like it had for all my non-queer friends, but of course this thinking just made me miserable. It even got to the point where after multiple botched attempts at dating men I had even briefly concluded that I may be asexual or aromantic because of my lack of interest, but this wasn’t the case. I had bounced between labels that didn’t quite fit me and all the bad dating experiences had really begun weighing on my psyche. I felt particularly frustrated when well-meaning individuals would ask me why I wasn’t dating anyone, or whether any of the boys in my class “caught my attention.” Looking back at this time in my life now as a fully out, woman-loving-sapphic, it mostly makes me want to laugh. I mean, I was so incredibly clueless, but at the same time it also makes me a little sad. I know growing up I had felt like maybe there was something wrong with me, and it makes me wish that I had more resources to better understand what I was going through.
The transition to dating life in college definitely involved a learning curve. Up until that point I had for the most part remained in the closet. So when I began college and realized that I can actually be an ‘out lesbian’ it was kind of a problem, because I had no idea how to be an “out lesbian.” Looking back I can’t believe how lost I was. I remember thinking, How does one spot a lesbian in the wild? Where does one meet other queers? How to I signal to others that, yes, I too am a lesbian? Even though I had no clue what I was doing, I knew that I wanted to try dating again, and I figured that there was no time like the present to get started. So I found myself some queer friends who also acted as my mentors and were willing to put up with all my annoying questions. After a few parties and even a few embarrassing dates, I eventually found a girl who I was interested in, and to my surprise she was actually interested in me as well. She was so overwhelming pretty and funny, we could talk for hours about nothing at all, and we were interested in the same things. And she was also queer, so that definitely helped! For some time, I felt like she may be open to being more than friends, but then again I was pretty shy and it took me a while to make the first move. But after multiple times of purposely bumping into each other and just hanging out as ‘friends’ I finally mustered up the courage to ask her on a proper date, and to my surprise she said yes.
Our first date was at a noodle bar for dinner and we ended up having an amazing time. We laughed when the waiter kept on asking us why we didn’t want separate checks, or implying that we were just friends. It wasn’t awkward at all. After that, things progressed pretty smoothly, and we ended up dating for a couple of months. It was an extremely fun time, and we both learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We didn’t really mind when people looked at us differently, and she didn’t mind holding my hand in public or letting others know I was her girlfriend and not just a friend. It didn’t really bother her when we got strange looks, or people yelled at us as we walked down the street. When I came out to my friends and family she was there to tell me everything was going to be okay, and she was right. Mostly, she just made me feel validated and encouraged me to explore my identity, and I really hope she can say the same about our relationship. When we dated it didn’t matter that we were two girls in love, but rather that we were just two people in love. After a few months we decided to break things off because we were just in two different places in our life, and wanted different things in the future, which was a completely valid reason to end things. Even today, we continue to be really good friends. My first dating experience came a little late in terms of most, but it also involved me discovering a part of my identity and becoming comfortable with that identity, and I don’t regret any moment of it.
My advice to you on this Valentine’s Day, and any other day for that matter, is to find someone who validates you and makes you feel like you are worth being around. Find someone who lets you know you are loved, and is willing to support you when you’re at your best and worst, and then be that for your partner as well. This person could be anyone and doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic partner. Also even though it may be difficult, don’t allow others’ perceptions of yourself or your relationships get in the way of what you want. Ultimately you have to define your relationships for yourself, and you won’t be happy if you allow things like internalized homophobia, fear, or others’ opinions to get in your way. Through my first real relationship I learned a lot about how I view my queer identity, and how it should be a source of pride and not something to be ashamed about.