Could FOE Be Holding You Back From Finding A Fulfilling Relationship?

Though there are still places where it's unsafe for LGBTQ+ folks to exist — much less live their lives openly and confidently — queerness is rapidly changing in the cultural zeitgeist, and it's safe to say that, on the whole, relationships and marriages have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Gender is also undergoing a similar transformation, and visibility for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people has steadily increased due to social media and more available resources. With popular celebs like Laverne Cox, Sam Smith, and Kim Petras, who became the first trans woman to win the best pop duo Grammy, there is also an increasing number of role models for young people learning about their own gender identities.

Each person's journey toward discovering and forming their identity is different, though we may be able to connect over some universal experiences. One of the biggest of these is our first time getting together with another person romantically or sexually, no matter the gender involved. FOE, aka fear of exploration, is a hesitance to enter a new situation in which we feel vulnerable or unprepared. Though all dating comes with the risk of getting hurt, there's so much more information readily available for heterosexual folks than for queer youth, and historically, members of the LGBTQ+ community have had to figure things out without any institutional support. But FOE doesn't have to steer us away from going for what we want, and communal knowledge may be easier to find than we think. 

Uncertainty doesn't have to be a bad thing

Fear of the unknown is a well-studied phenomenon; as psychologist Ema Tanovic told the BBC, "Uncertainty can intensify how threatening a situation feels." However, Tanovic added, "In reality, worrying does not reduce the uncertainty we face and instead sets us up to feel more anxious." Plus, some of the best things in life are those we couldn't imagine until they happen.

Relationship counselor Holly Roberts shared with Metro UK that for those nervous to explore their sexuality, they can take their time. "You might not feel ready to open up fully about your bi-curiosity, so be patient with yourself knowing that it takes a safe environment to feel able to express and share intimate thoughts," she said. Roberts advised that daters remain honest about where they are in their queerness journey, though it might be scary to be vulnerable. She warned, "Be mindful of the impact of not saying anything — to yourself and to the other person."

Pretending to be more experienced than we are is an inauthentic place to begin any kind of relationship, even if we're only interested in a hookup experience. It's also beneficial to communicate your intentions going into romantic situations in case there are any dealbreakers on the table. Even if opening up might be awkward at first, it's nowhere near as uncomfortable as it would be when you are on different pages in the relationship and has to break down your mismatched expectations.

The LGBTQ community has resources

As its acronym implies, FOE only ends up becoming your enemy when it comes to living your life, just like other kinds of fear that can hold you back. Bisexuality often incurs vitriol from both straight and queer sides of the fence, despite widespread acknowledgment that sexuality exists on a spectrum and that it is not static throughout a person's life. Out of a sample of 14,000 LGBTQ+ global users, bisexual respondents were three times less likely than their counterparts in the community to have experienced dating outside of heterosexual connections. However, over 80% of respondents shared that they would be comfortable helping a newer community member — or a queer person who had yet to explore their identity in practice — explore the queer experience. 

Other members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely than anyone to know what new queer daters are experiencing, and they may have ways to calm their anxiety or keep the stakes low. After all, dating and love are meant to be an adventure, so a little bit of surprise and exploration is always on the table. And it's when we remove our self-judgment from the equation that we can accept that everyone starts somewhere and that it's never too late to pursue your own happiness.