Friend or Lover, That Is The Question

two person holding papercut heart
two person holding papercut heart
Photo by: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

As any other twenty-two-year-old, red-blooded woman with a very particular attachment style, I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of relationship I want to be in romantically. A girl has needs, and this girl feels particularly touch-starved after ten months of a global pandemic. 

However, beyond the fact of being socially inept and sucking at flirting in general, I also happen to be a member of the alphabet mafia, more specifically, a bisexual woman. Why is this a problem, you may ask? I mean surely, with being attracted to more than one gender, the dating pool would only multiply and my chances of finding a partner would grow exponentially. 

Well, zero multiplied by zero is still very much zero, and even my middle-school level math skills can prove it. I realised I was bi when I was around sixteen, and in the following years, I’ve never been in a romantic relationship with another woman. The problem, I believe, has never been the lack of opportunity. 

Despite the aforementioned social awkwardness that has plagued me since puberty, I have had chances to court girls in the past. However, a problem I encounter often is one that, I recently realised, is common among sapphic women I know. The question is this: “How do I know if I’m attracted to them?”

Other versions may include: “Do I like them as a friend, or do I like them more than that?” and “I like them, but is it romantic or platonic?” Since we’re fairly young, we’re conditioned to believe, through the media or our surroundings, that attraction between women is “normal”, and just because you kiss your friend at a sleepover when you’re fifteen, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically romantically interested in women. 

A lot of the time, girls are said to have a “phase” where they experiment with people of the same gender, without any real pressure to identify as bi, pan or even lesbian. Being attracted to other women is often dismissed as something that is temporary, which in turn can cause long-standing psychological hold-ups for girls growing up.

In my experience, this has definitely influenced how I think about myself in relation to other women. I might think I like another girl, want to be with them in a romantic way, and even then question myself as to the validity of my attraction to them.

Scientifically, it should be easy for us as humans to identify our own attraction – pheromones do their job and boom, done. But when society has conditioned us to read that attraction as not romantic, not even as an indicator of our queerness, the lines get blurry and our brains.

In an effort to go beyond just my personal experience, which can be generously described as limited, I polled some of my sapphic friends on social media and asked them, in simple terms, how they knew for sure they were romantically attracted to other girls.

One of them had an interesting point about how, to them, it’s not even about their partners being women specifically, and that it’s hard to distinguish romantic from platonic attraction as a bisexual in general: “To me, it’s just hard, in general, to understand if I like someone as a friend or if I have romantic feelings towards them. A lot of the time after meeting someone I would start wondering if I’m actually developing a crush and have to imagine myself with that person in various relationship-y situations to come to some sort of conclusion. Even in those imaginary scenarios, I’ll still question myself sometimes.”

This, I think, is a big part of what has been coined as the “Bilemma”. Urban Dictionary defines bilemma as “When a bisexual individual can’t decide between taking home a man or a woman that evening.” To me, that is too simplistic of a definition, because why can’t we decide? It’s not that we can just pick and choose if we’re attracted to women one day and men the next and non-binary people next week. 

Obviously, we know sexuality isn’t a choice. However, when you’re attracted to all genders, how do you navigate the social sphere of your life without being convinced that you want, in short, to shag everyone you speak with?

I think this is something that is unique to the bisexual experience, and why it can feel so isolating. I can’t simply go to my straight and gay friends and vent to them about how I can’t understand my own sexual attraction and feelings; they simply don’t get it.

I’m not here to offer a solution to the bilemma – if I had it, I wouldn’t have half the problems I deal with in relation to my interpersonal relationships. All I can offer is this: to any bi youths out there reading, you’re not alone. If you can’t really tell whether that girl in your class is hot or just nice and friendly, I’ve got you. 

If you can’t quite understand whether you want that cute barista’s number because you want to take him out or take him to bed, I’ve been there. I don’t have an answer, but I do think it’s invaluable to know that your experiences are not isolated and that there’s someone out there who understands. 

So from this conflicted bisexual to you, happy LGBTQ+ history month, and may you be as proud as you are confused.

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