What is FOE? And how do I get rid of it?

What is FOE? And how do I get rid of it?
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It’s the season of love, which for many, is an exciting time to celebrate existing relationships or even embark on new ones. For others, it can also be an opportunity to explore their sexuality and preferences. However, recent research from Hinge shows some members of the queer community are feeling hesitant to take this step.

The recent findings by Hinge Labs reveal that bisexual daters are three times more likely than other LGBTQ+ daters to have never had a queer dating experience. Why? It’s a feeling we’ve coined “FOE,” or fear of exploration. 

What is FOE?

FOE is a term to describe the feeling people can experience when they’re hesitant to explore their identity and share it with others. FOE stops you from being your authentic self, becoming more than just a barrier to dating but a barrier to self-acceptance. 

What causes FOE? 

Many things can cause FOE, but the top cause for bisexual daters is that they hesitate to tell people it’s their first time dating someone else in the queer community. Nearly half of Hinge’s bisexual daters who’ve never had a queer experience say they feel afraid to initiate open discussions about their dating past. 

Understandably, bisexual daters feel nervous about opening up about their identity. Despite being the largest self-identified group in the LGBTQ+ community, bisexual people encounter misunderstandings and prejudice from outside and within the community. Daters can face biphobia in the form of discriminatory rejection, with potential partners being unwilling or suddenly uninterested in exploring a connection further once they learn of their identity. This leaves many curious daters hesitant or even fearful to reveal their sexuality. 

How do you get past FOE? 

The key to overcoming FOE is to have what I call “the first-time convo” – and yes, it’s as straightforward as it sounds. A majority (80%) of queer daters on Hinge shared they are open to being someone’s first queer dating experience, and daters feel most comfortable if they talk about it early on.

Whether you’ve shared your identities with the people closest to you or not, I still encourage curious daters to be transparent about their interests, preferences, and experience fairly early into dating a new, potential partner. You’re more likely to build connections once you get more comfortable with honest, open conversations about your self-exploration. 

Last year, nearly three out of every four LGBTQ+ daters explored their sexuality by simply having a conversation with others. Of course, this can be easier said than done, but creating a connection to explore your identity freely means pushing past the potential discomfort of sharing intimate information about your dating experiences and expectations. 

I encourage daters to push past their FOE by being upfront about their self-exploration and having the first-time convo with a match within the first three dates, if possible. 

How do you embrace exploration? 

I’ve had many moments of exploration along my journey. Before coming out as transgender, some years earlier,  I came out as bisexual and then pansexual.  I was definitely anxious to tell my dates about my sexual orientation. What helped me to overcome my fears was knowing that for them to see me fully, I had to allow myself to be completely visible. I accepted that to have love built on honesty and trust, I had to be candid with myself and my dates about my sexual orientation.

In my early communication with people, I found it extremely helpful to be transparent and upfront about my self-exploration. After I shared my sexual orientation with the people I was dating, they were more than willing to have conversations and participate in that journey. 

As a person who lives by radical authenticity, I have grown to realize that my subtle FOE really could have stopped me from being my authentic self, and I would have missed out on all the amazing connections where I was able to be my whole self from date number one. I loved showing up as Moe and not my “representative” – the version of ourselves we share to be most palatable. 

Biphobia and FOE can also make it harder for bisexual people to form community bonds outside their romantic pursuits. For those on a journey of self-understanding, being able to turn to a like-minded community is vital. While it can be just as tricky to uncover LGBTQ+ people you can lean on for support, allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share where you are in your journey can open a dialogue and reveal those willing to go along for the ride. 

Coincidentally, many LGBTQ+ people would advocate that open conversations also help to build self-acceptance. Nearly 87% of bisexual Hinge daters wanted to explore their sexuality in 2023 – so you’re not alone. 

The number of adults in the US that identify as LGBTQ+ nearly doubled over the last decade, which means every year, more and more people are experiencing their “first time.” As long as daters are transparent about this exploration, there are more people willing to be part of your journey than they may have initially imagined. 

Moe Ari Brown, Hinge’s first-ever Love and Connection Expert, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and one of the leading mental health experts in Transgender Identity. Since graduating from Northwestern University with an MS in Marriage and Family Therapy, Moe has spent the past decade working with LGBTQIA+ individuals, couples, and families on their journey to love their authentic selves and establish meaningful connections, in addition to being a Diversity & Equity Consultant and former Adjunct Professor at Adler University.

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