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The truth is that dating as a gay, bi+, or pansexual man can be as messy, unfulfilling, and complicated as “Queer As Folk” makes it seem.

But it doesn’t have to be. These tips can help!

There isn’t a single, agreed upon definition of dating. And the amount of seriousness and commitment implied with the term “dating” varies, depending on who you ask.

Some people use the term loosely, applying it to sex-laden situationships, casual bone buddies, and FWBs. Others reserve it for dynamics with more intimacy or commitment.

Figuring out what dating means to you can help you determine whether dating — or something else altogether — is what you’re wanting.

“It’s helpful to know what you’re looking for as you go into dating,” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST, the director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my preferred relationship structure? What is my relationship orientation?
  • What level of commitment, time, and energy am I willing to bring into this dynamic right now?
  • What are my current priorities?
  • Do my goals and dreams involve another person or other people? To what extent or degree am I willing to work toward that right now?

It can also be helpful to understand what feels negotiable vs. nonnegotiable in a partner.

“When you’re able to identify what’s negotiable and nonnegotiable, you can continue to be flexible and allow what you’re looking for to evolve and be more specific to the relationship — while staying connected to your wants and needs,” they say.

Here are some prompts that may help you figure out your negotiables and nonnegotiables:

  • Close your eyes and visualize where you see your life in 5 years. What do you see?
  • Make a list of your own firm values
  • If you could abracadabra your dream self into being, what would you be like?
  • If you could abracadabra your dream partner(s) into being, what would they be like?

There’s a thin line between dating within your negotiable and overly restricting your dating pool.

Often, people only date people within a specific ‘type,’ which keeps them from exploring a wider variety of partners and relationship dynamics, says Brian Ackerman, a psychotherapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.

“By dating just one type of person, you limit the range of insights you can gather about yourself, your needs, and the desired characteristics in prospective partners,” he says. Plus, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Dating a wide variety of people can be helpful, precisely because it gives you an opportunity to learn more about your own likes and dislikes — and maybe even meet your next boo…

Remember: ‘Types’ are a myth

“No two people are exactly alike. So even if you have a specific ‘type’ you can still be intentional about seeking a variety of different characteristics in people with those similar core features,” Ackerman says.

Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, if you want to start dating, like, yesterday, the apps are tops.

Research which apps are best for you

No two dating apps are the same, which is why Zachary Zane, a sex expert, the founder of BoySlut, and a columnist for “Sexplain It“, suggests understanding the purpose of the available apps before using them.

While there are exceptions to every generalization, Grindr and Scruff are best for hook-ups. (They’re basically seamless for sex.)

Which one you choose varies based on current (if any) gender(s) preference. Grindr typically has greater diversity of gender and sexuality compared with Scruff. Profiles from nonbinary people and straight men attracted to trans women, for example, are more common on Grindr.

For a relationship, Zane recommends Chappy or Bumble. If you live somewhere rural or suburban, or if you have time to swipe, you may choose apps with more users (aka potential dates), like Tinder or Hinge.

If you’re interested in a threesome, throuple, or polyamorous dating structure, consider Feeld, suggests Daniel Saynt, the founder of NSFW, a private members club for sex, kink, and cannabis-positive millennials. #Open is a decent pick, too.

Tailor the profiles to what (er, who!) you’re looking for

If you’re omnisexual, bisexual, or pansexual, Zane recommends listing that on your profile.

Due to the pervasive biphobia in our culture, less people will match with you, he says. “But those who do will be open to dating someone who’s bi or pan.”

Use the apps

Having the app downloaded isn’t sufficient. You need to actually use them!

And no, responding to messages the one or two times you take a dump each day isn’t enough. Dedicate the time amount of time finding dates as you would to that date. In other words: 20+ minutes a day.

Consider FaceTiming before meeting up

Some daters swear by the pre-date get-to-know-you FaceTime.

As Zane puts it, “Sometimes, you go on a date and, within seconds, realize that you’re not into the person. A quick FaceTime before can help solve that problem.”

If you’re comfortable video-meeting someone from an app, or if you’re very worried about “wasting” time on a bad date, this strategy is worth a whirl.

The name of the (long) game here is meeting as many people as possible, Saynt says. “The more people you meet, the better your chances that you’ll be dating soon.”

Go to a bar or coffee shop

Specifically: a bar or coffee shop that you actually like.

Why? Because, odds are, you and the other patrons are attracted to a similar energy, and you may have something in common.

“Dating within a community might be the key to finding partners who stay off of apps and are more focused on real-world connections,” Saynt says.

So, while you’re there, consider introducing yourself to someone you’re drawn to — or someone who you see there regularly.

Here are some lines to try out:

  • “Hey, I’ve seen you here a few times and wanted to introduce myself.”
  • “I don’t know if this is something you’d be interested in, but I’d love to give you my number if you want to grab a cup of joe together sometime.”
  • “Would you be interested in sitting together? I’m new to the area, and I’m trying to be better about meeting people.”
  • “We keep running into each other here on accident. I’d love to give you my number, so we can try it on purpose some time.”

If you’re specifically interested in dating other men and nonbinary folks, check out gay and queer specific drinking spaces. To find some close to you, hit up Google. For example, try searching “gay bar near me” or “queer meetup Chicago.”

Join a club or other community project

Thanks to Meetup, Bumble BFF, and local Facebook groups, there are “bisexual baker meetups,” “gay dodgeball teams,” “pansexual pride marches,” and “‘Queer Eye’ watch parties.”

“Finding group activities in your neighborhood and pushing your focus toward community-style activities and meetups will bring you around more people who have a similar interest as you,” Saynt says.

Your move: Think about how you want to be spending your free time. Then, join groups around that!

If you’re sexually adventurous, try a sex party

Or another sex-positive space. As more people get vaccinated, sex-positive spaces are starting to open up, too.

Sex-positive spaces, sex parties, and orgies are moving back IRL after being URL or OOO for the last year plus, Saynt says. “Check online to find out what’s closest to you.”

You can also ask the educators at your local sex shops for tips on where to find them.

The good news: “There isn’t a single right or wrong way or time to bring up making things serious,” Ackerman says. The bad news: That means there’s no timeline you can follow.

Some men feel comfortable sharing what they’re looking for on or before the first date, he says. “For them it’s important to be up front, so they don’t spend time or energy on dating that isn’t moving in that direction.”

They might say:

  • “Before we make plans, I just want to be up front that I’m looking for something serious.”
  • “For the sake of transparency: I practice hierarchical polyamory and am ultimately looking for a primary partner.”

Others may feel more comfortable letting their feelings evolve over several weeks or months, and then sharing them as they feel increasingly confident that they’re ready to get more serious, Ackerman adds.

“If you’re not ‘out,’ take your time! It’s an individual process with individual timelines,” Ackerman says. “There’s plenty of room for exploration of how you identify before coming out.”

That said, as far as dating is concerned, how ‘out’ (or not) you are will likely impact how you date, as well as your dating experience.

If you’re not out, it’s important to be clear with yourself and whoever you’re dating about what information you’re comfortable sharing or having shared. “This clarity allows you to honor where you’re at while being transparent with folks you’re dating,” he says.

It’s also important to recognize that folks you want to date are going to have their own reactions to what you’re ready to share.

For example, if you aren’t out to your friends and family and therefore avoid using photos of your face in your dating profiles, this decision may result in fewer matches.

As Zane says, “most guys aren’t into meeting up with someone who’s DL (downlow) and whose face you can’t see.”

But, if someone won’t date you because your face isn’t shown or you’re not out, they’re not the best match for you. After all, if you’re not out, you need to be dating someone who’s OK with you *not* being out.

Ultimately, it depends on whether you’re looking for a strictly sexual relationship with the third or an ongoing sexual and romantic fling (aka a throuple).

For the former, Zane recommends using Scruff or Grindr. “That’s what my boyfriend and I use,” he says.

For the latter, Saynt says you’re going to have to give it some time to come to fruition. (Because, no, boyfriends aren’t sold at the grocery store).

“It’s important for your shared life to be fulfilling before looking to expand your experiences with a third partner,” he says. “You can open the conversation by discussing fantasies and desires, asking your partner for theirs and sharing yours.”

Hopefully, you’re with a partner who already wants to explore with others. This should make things a lot easier when planning a future threesome.

If you’re reading this, you’re single, and you know you want a three-way relationship down the line, Saynt says it’s OK to say you want a more serious three-way relationship when you first start seeing someone.

“Don’t be ashamed of wanting intimacy and connection,” he says. “Many men hide these feelings for fear of seeming weak or too needy in a relationship. Communicate early and often to build a relationship in which your partner feels comfortable to do the same.”

Dating fatigue is REAL. If you stop having the energy to show up for yourself on dates or consistently interact with potential mates, take a breather.

“If you’re not able to give it your all, or you’re not open to dating people, it’s just a waste of time for you and your date(s),” Zane says.

In fact, Saynt recommends proactively fighting off dating fatigue by taking a break if your last few dates were less than stellar or if you’re feeling jaded after your past relationship.

Societally, people mostly view dating as a means to an end — be that orgasm or marriage.

“But dating itself can be the end,” says Ackerman. “Dating allows us to experience new personalities, perspectives, physical intimacy, and lessons learned about what we do and don’t like.”

So don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Pun absolutely intended.

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.