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Dating in the USA: how to thrive in the queer dating scene

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Dec 15, 2023

Dating in the USA: how to thrive in the queer dating scene

Have you just booked your plane tickets for your next solo vacation somewhere in the USA, and you’re wondering what the best dating apps in the States are? Or maybe you grew up here but still don’t quite understand how American dating culture works. Either way, if you’re reading this, you might have questions about dating in the USA. Lucky for you, we’ve got answers!

For those of you who are foreigners here, the rules and dating culture in America might seem confusing at first. Why is everyone so direct all the time? Is that barista flirting with me or just turning up the friendliness for that 20% tip? What does ‘hooking up’ really mean? 

In this article, we are going to break down everything you need to know about how to master the art of queer dating in the USA. This includes unpacking American dating culture and the definition of ‘dating,’ figuring out what the best dating apps to use in the USA, and tips for queer dating in the US, especially for those who are new to the American dating scene.

Whether you’re a seasoned adult dater in the States or just starting to break out of your shell and explore the queer and lesbian dating scene in America, we’ve got all the tips for dating in the US. Cue “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys, and let’s do this time.

What does ‘dating’ even mean in American culture?

If we’re going to even talk about dating in the USA, let’s make sure that we are on the same page with what the term ‘dating’ means. Dating can be different for many people. Many Americans will say they are ‘dating someone,’ ‘getting to know them,’ ‘seeing somebody,’ or ‘just hanging out.’ But you typically know if you are dating someone when you’ve been on multiple dates and you are both interested in getting to know each other romantically. 

Some people view dating as a stepping stone to being in a relationship. However, just because you’ve started dating someone doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t dating other people (or that you can’t!). In the early stages of dating, going on dates with different people at the same time is widely considered acceptable in the USA until (or unless) you define the relationship as exclusive and/or monogamous.

Two queer American tourists holding up their US passports on a sunny day in France.

Understanding the American dating scene

When you first date in the US, the American dating scene might seem a bit different to other countries you might have lived in. It’s hard to generalize about an entire country—especially one as diverse and varied as the US. Dating behaviors can vary coast-to-coast (and even neighborhood-to-neighborhood) in the USA, but there are some views on dating and relationships that many Americans share.

Many people in the US tend to meet in bars, clubs, through shared activities, groups, or mutual friends, or (of course) on dating apps. You can expect a lot of eye contact, smiling, and about an arm’s length of personal space between you and another person. Despite popular belief, there is an actual difference between someone being friendly and someone being into you, even if it’s hard to work out which is which.

Getting a drink or a coffee or going on a walk somewhere is more common on a first date than a sit-down dinner at a fancy restaurant. Americans generally aren’t too pressed about traditional masculine/feminine gender roles, so anyone of any gender expression or identity can initiate a first date. 

American dating norms

Many Americans, even those looking for long-term partners, are generally not dating with the goal of marriage in mind. Some people, especially in the queer community, might practice ethical non-monogamy in the form of open relationships or polyamory. In fact, 61% of LGBTQIA+ adults believe that open relationships are always or sometimes acceptable, compared to 29% of straight adults. 

Generally speaking, American dating culture is pretty relaxed and casual. This doesn’t mean that everyone in the US is looking for casual sex or NSA hookups, but many Americans do value independence in romantic relationships. This usually translates into the flexibility and open-mindedness people in the US have when it comes to the trajectory of a relationship. 

There is less of an emphasis on courtship in American dating culture (the romantic in me screams into the void), but being single is generally accepted societally, especially for younger people. Americans are pretty straightforward and direct (especially when compared to people in the UK), although ghosting and breadcrumbing do happen regularly, especially on dating apps. 

When preparing for a date, keep in mind that relaxed and casual also applies to dress codes on a first date, so don’t expect most Americans to get dressed to the nines when meeting up for the first time. Dating in the US is also pretty egalitarian and rarely guided by traditional norms—especially across gender lines. It’s common for women or femmes to ask out men or masc people, and splitting the bill is pretty normal in most regions of the States.

Is dating getting tougher in the US?

For straight women, maybe. The Pew Research Center reports that nearly half of American adults say that dating has gotten harder for most people in the last 10 years. However, with the rise of dating apps like HER, many queer people are finding dating easier than ever before. While online dating has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for queer people to meet each other, many straight women continue to experience harassment and negative experiences while dating both on and offline. 

You might find it challenging if you are new to the dating scene in America. Americans are also taught from a young age that they have many options, i.e., a million fish in the sea. This culturally contributes to many Americans’ interest in dating, which happens regularly in the US. Some people in the US might find it hard to focus on one person to settle down with, especially if there is the idea that someone “better” is just around the corner. 

Queer dating in the US

That being said, dating as a queer person in the United States is a whole lot easier than it is in other countries. Many Americans take this for granted, but the truth is that attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ relationships are generally more progressive in the States than in many other places in the world.

Of course, your success finding other LGBTQIA+ people to date will depend heavily on where you live. Big metropolitan cities are likely to be more progressive, whereas many queer people still face isolation and discrimination in smaller, more rural areas. However, it is generally safe to say that homophobia isn’t as culturally relevant in the US as it used to be. 

A black woman pictured from the waist down in a cream colored tank top using her smart phone to scroll on one of the best dating sites in the US, HER.

If you’ve found yourself in America, you might be wondering: what are the best dating apps in the US? Every country has its own dating culture and preferences when it comes to online dating, and it’s no different in the States. 

Dating apps have transformed the culture of modern dating globally over the last twenty years as more and more people are finding love, sex, and friends on the apps. This is especially true for LGBTQIA+ people Americans.

New data from the Pew Research Center shows that lesbian, gay, or bisexual adults are more likely than their straight counterparts to say they have ever used a dating site or app (51% vs. 28%). One in five partnered adults met their current partner on a dating site or app, whereas a quarter of LGBTQIA+ people met their partner online. This just goes to show that queer people + technology = world takeover.

The most popular dating site in the USA for people of all ages and sexual orientations is Tinder. Match follows as a close second—previously known as for those of us who lived through the first era of online dating 1.0— followed by Bumble, OkCupid and Hinge. The two most popular dating sites for LGBTQIA+ people in the US are Grindr (for gay men and those who sleep with gay men), and (your favorite) HER, which is basically for everyone else. 

If you are a queer woman or a transgender person looking to meet other women or trans and non-binary people in the States, HER is the best dating app for you. HER was created with the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community front and center. We are a dating app made by and for queer people, and it shows. Not only does HER offer a long list of pronouns, gender identities, and sexual orientations, but you can also specify drinking habits, height, build, and most importantly, zodiac sign on your profile. 

Tips for dating in the US

With all that said, here is a non-exhaustive list of tips that I gathered from people who have found success dating in the USA! Check out some of the tricks below for how to get over the culture shock and slay on any date you go on in America.

Be upfront about what you are looking for

Let people know early on what you are looking for! Whether you are looking for a long-term relationship, something more casual, or if you already have a primary partner, telling people what you want out of the date will save everyone a lot of time and energy spent playing guessing games. 

Talk about monogamy or polyamory early on 

Make sure you talk about your preferences around exclusivity, monogamy, or ethical non-monogamy early on in the dating process. Be open-minded but also grounded in what you are looking for in the dating process right now.

Financial awareness is sexy

 If you’re going to invite them out to an expensive place for a date, offer to pay. Otherwise, suggest something affordable or free so that the concept of money doesn’t get in the way of you getting to know each other.

It’s okay to sleep together on the first date!

If the vibe is right, don’t be afraid to get physical—Olivia Newton-John style. Throw any predetermined “rules” about intimacy out the window. This also applies to wanting to wait to have sex until you know each other better. You can hug, kiss, or have sex whenever it feels right for you.

It’s okay to date multiple people at the same time

Unless you’ve both specified that you are looking for a long-term, monogamous and committed relationship, don’t be afraid to date other people—especially if they are doing the same.

Don’t write off a long-distance connection

If you aren’t necessarily looking to settle down in your city, don’t be afraid to set your radius far and wide! Traveling to see someone in another part of the US can be an exciting and romantic way to date people and experience new things.

Send a follow-up text after a good first date

Don’t be afraid to let someone know you had a good time or that you’d like to see them again! That being said, don’t spend too long waiting for someone to message you back. If the energy is matched, move towards them. But if it starts to feel imbalanced, pull back and protect yourself.

Stay safe

If you are meeting people on dating apps, make sure that you have vetted someone properly before meeting up in person, especially if you are traveling to see them.

Choose the right venue

Attend queer events to meet new people or go to a queer bar for your first date, if there is one in your area.. It’s much more relaxing for LGBTQIA+ people to be around folks in our community, and going on a date in a safe venue can help put you both at ease.

Don’t let anyone be the gatekeeper of your queerness

If you identify as queer, then you are queer enough! Be honest about your experience, but don’t let it stop you from getting to know people.

Take the pressure off

Don’t put too much pressure on dating! Dating is supposed to be fun and exciting; let yourself relax and enjoy the process rather than try to force an outcome. Go for it!

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Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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