Is she bi? Am I?
What if she’s straight and she doesn’t wanna be friends with me anymore because she feels like I’m hitting on her and it makes her uncomfortable?
A SWEETIE PIE:
I am a single bisexual woman in her late 20s who has only dated men. I’m not necessarily “in the closet”, but I don’t exactly broadcast my sexuality. My closest friends and my sisters know, and that’s about it. I’ve tried to date women on tinder but no one’s ever responded to me, and there’s not so many in the first place compared to the sheer volume of straight men.
There’s this woman at my work who I’ve been becoming friends with. She’s quirky and cool and clever and I feel like she dresses kind of “bi”—not that I know what that is, but it’s just my feeling. She’s only ever mentioned dating guys, but so have I, so that’s not really a great indicator, is it?
I love talking to her and I feel like we get on really well, and maybe we’re kind of vibing? But I don’t know. I’m terrible at knowing when someone’s into me—it seems like when I think they are, they’re not, and when I think they’re not, they are. And to compound things, I’m extremely shy anyway, so it’s hard for me to be forward.
I feel like you’re going to say, “Just use your words!” But when I think about telling her I’m bi, I feel so scared. Like what if she’s straight and she doesn’t wanna be friends with me anymore because she feels like I’m hitting on her and it makes her uncomfortable? What if she tells other people about it? Most people at my work seem to be quite liberal - at least, we all hate Brexit - but there’s no “out” queer people so like what if it turns out everyone’s homophobic?
Also what if it turns out I just THINK I’m bi but I’m actually not, so if I do manage to start dating her maybe I’ll ruin everything when I realise I’m just straight! Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to date a coworker at all?? But like most couples meet at work right? I don’t like going to bars or anything so there’s not really any other way for me to meet people. What should I do?
Hi hi hi!!!! This is one of those situations that feels like unmitigated agony when you’re in it, but from the outside seems to have simple solutions. That is not to say that any of this will be easy or comfortable—it might end up being awkward as all hell—but I think it’s worth it.
As a note before I get into the next part of my advice, homophobia is very real and can be very dangerous. You do not need to put yourself into any dangerous situation (please don’t!!!) to prove that you are bi or for the sake of being more out. I’m sure you know this, I’m just trying to put it as a more general reminder for all. Only you can judge if you think you should come out to people, if you think it’s “safe enough.” I do not want any of what I say next to dismiss how hard it can be to come out, or the risks people face when they do.
That said, I would encourage you to take the risk with this person and open up about your sexuality (at an appropriate time!!!!). I think it’s highly unlikely that she’s going to stop being your friend because you’re bi. I don’t think you need to come out to the whole office if you don’t want to or aren’t ready, but I also think that most people are going to be very cool with this and not think it’s a very big deal at all. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic— I do live in a large city— but I also have lived in rural, conservative America and even there many people are pretty cool with bisexuality, or at least they pretend to be in public. (I cannot guarantee that they won’t say inappropriate or micro-aggressive things about sexuality, but in general, I think most people at work are going to continue to be kind to you). This is OF COURSE my prediction based on never having met anyone in your office and only knowing their Brexit stance. Again, be safe and do what feels right. But you have a right to be out if you want to be. You absolutely deserve to be both as safe and as open as anyone else.
If you’re concerned about the way anyone is treating you at work, please go to your Human Resources department (if you feel safe doing so).
Now, onto what I think you should do about this woman that you work with!!! I don’t—SURPRISINGLY— think that you need to use your words just yet. I think there’s an intermediary step you can take first that will both bring you closer and give you more info about where she stands: hang out with her outside of work!!
Invite her to a movie, coffee, a concert, whatever. Just get out of the office, which is the first step to suggesting that you like her (either as friend or romantically). Adults are generally starved for friendship and closeness but also very afraid to initiate plans, DON’T BE!!! everyone loves getting an invite to hang out. Everyone. People want more friends.
Once you do go out with her once or twice as friends, that’s when you can start thinking of bringing up that you’re bi. You can figure out the best words for you; you can casually drop it or make it more serious if you feel like that’s more your tone. Frankly, there’s no way you’re going to feel totally comfortable and not nervous to tell her this— you have a crush on her, after all!—you’re going to have to eventually rip the bandaid off.
What comes next? I don’t know. She may be bi, she may not be. She may be pan, straight, asexual or unsure herself. I don’t know what comes next. You don’t know what comes next. Hell, she doesn’t know what comes next because she has no clue you like her as another other than “the best option to talk to when I’m at work.” However, the more time you spend with her outside of work, the more clear the next moves will be. Get outside of the office. Get to know each other better. Then once you’ve done a bit more of the getting to know her as a not-on-the-clock-human, you can decide if you want to make another, less platonic move.
NOW, I’d like to address one worry you have: “What if it turns out I just THINK I’m bi but I’m actually not, so if I do manage to start dating her maybe I’ll ruin everything when I realise I’m just straight!” This is probably the least likely scenario of all, but I 100% get your fear, on a personal level. This is a super common fear for bi people, and especially for bi people who haven’t dated/had sex with/hooked up with anyone outside of a hetero-appearing relationship. I cannot tell you that you are bi, HOWEVER, you can—and did!—tell me. And you have the most information of everyone! You at a minimum, seem to be attracted to women, regardless of your experience, and as a big ol’ reminder: experience doesn’t create sexuality. You can be bi even if you never in your entire life kiss someone who is not male. Or sleep with someone who is not male. Or have a romantic partnership with someone who is not male.
Here’s a little secret: most of the words for sexuality and gender identity are woefully inadequate. They don’t express the reality of a person’s capacity for love, desire, horniess and romance. There are people who use the term bi, but pretty much exclusively date people of their own gender. There are people who use the term straight, but get turned on by people of their own gender. There are people who use the term gay and occasionally find themselves thinking of their hot opposite sex professor from freshman year’s Geology course, much to their own surprise. No one word is going to get at who you love or want. Just because a woman is straight for example doesn’t mean that she loves every man. It means she’s turned on by some of them. You do not need to be turned on by or into the idea of dating every woman to be bi. In fact, after years of society inculcating in you a sense that being with a woman is somehow wrong, shameful, or just plain odd, (NONE OF WHICH IS TRUE!!) it’s no wonder that you’re unsure when it comes to your feelings around being bi. You can be mostly attracted to men and be bi. You can be mostly attracted to women and be bi. You can be mostly attracted to nonbinary people and be bi. The term is yours and it’s always going to be a poor approximation of what you really feel. Having to distill who we love and whom we’re turned on by into one word that we’re then expected to share with strangers is… a disaster. Ulitmately, if you feel the best term in this moment for your sexuality is bi, you’re bi. Whether you’ve dated any women or not.
That does not preclude you from the possibility of opening up, coming out to your coworker, expressing your interest in her, having her express your interest in you and then after a few dates, you realizing that it doesn't work with her. That can happen any time you date anyone of any gender. That’s showbiz, babyyy!!!
The best you can do is be open, kind, vulnerable and honest. Admit scary things. Give people the chance to get to know you whenever you can. Leave room for what you want to change and grow.
Rapid fire answers to other questions/thoughts you had:
— Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to date a coworker at all?? A lot of people date coworkers, and a lot of people bungle it. This really is the one aspect of this that might give me pause. I don’t think it’s wrong to date someone who works with you at your level of the company (or in an entirely different department, where neither of you report to one another). I just think you need to be careful to keep everything professional and to have talks about what you’ll do should you guys ever split. Dating at work is hard; having an ex at work is harder. That said, I still think you should go for it.
—She’s only ever mentioned dating guys, but so have I, so that’s not really a great indicator, is it? No it very is not a good indicator!!!!!
— But like most couples meet at work, right? Again, no. Despite your belief to the contrary, statistically “most” people don’t date people from work; office buildings aren’t usually the horniest of environs. A lot of people meet online (difficult, frustrating) and a lot of people meet through mutual friends or randomly in person (takes a long time, you have to wait it out). There isn’t a timeline or a way to speed up the process. The best thing to do is live a full life and invite people to join in the good times you’re having. That’s about all you can do.
— I don’t like going to bars or anything so there’s not really any other way for me to meet people. Not to pressure you to go to bars or anything, but the experience of what a bar is varies WILDLY. The difference between a local pub and a five-story dance club is vast. That said, of course, you do not need to go to bars to meet people. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t care about meeting new people! But, if meeting new people is a priority for you I would do two things: 1) don’t limit your goal to only meeting possible romantic partners. Treat each new person as a potential friend. 2) Find things that you like doing outside of your house even if they aren’t bars. Do something new. Take a class. Sit at a cafe all day. Run at a park. Get involved with the world. You don’t have to be wildly outgoing, you usually just have to show up for a while.
You’ve got this!! At times, it is going to be scary and you’ll have to simply push through that fear and act anyway. There really isn’t a way around it; you have to go through it. Apologies on that, life is often bullshit in that way. The more you do things that frighten the shit out of you, the more you’ll realize that they’re survivable. That doesn’t make them easier. It’s not like at any point in your life you’re gonna be like, “I can’t wait to tell my crush I like them and if they don’t like me back it won’t bother me at all, this is just so fun!!!!!!!!!!” But you can train yourself to go through uncomfortable moments. Honestly about 30% of adulthood is having uncomfortable conversations. You will survive. Hell, you might even get a girlfriend!!!!
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.