FOE: Enter The New FOMO That Might Be Sabotaging Your Dating Life

Dating is always hard, but dating in the queer community can add extra layers of complication. While FOMO, the fear of missing out, fueled the discourse of the 2010s, the 2020s now has a new monster to face: FOE, or the fear of exploration.

According to Gallup, 7.1% of adults in the United States identify as LGBTQ+, a percentage that's doubled in the last decade. Other polls reflect a similar trend in the country, particularly in regard to gender identity and expression: A recent Pew Research survey indicated that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary. When you look at adults under 30, that percentage goes up to 5.1%.

The increase in openly queer adults is likely due to the increase in cultural and political support throughout the country. Pew Research finds that the majority of American adults favor legal protections for transgender people. Another poll shows that the majority of the country believes that legalizing same-sex marriage had a positive impact on society (via Pew Research). Although many queer people still aren't safe living openly, the changes over the last decade have certainly empowered more people to come out.

The queer dating community has grown and is likely to continue to grow in the future. This growth means that there are many newcomers, including older queer people who have come out later in life and young queer people starting to date for the first time. This brings us to FOE, the latest form of social and dating anxiety.

What's FOE?

FOE has always been part of queer dating, especially with the risks of coming out. However, the FOE of today has a different dynamic, with most people's anxieties directed toward other members of the queer community.

The queer community is not a monolith. The term comes from queer theory (or gay and lesbian studies), the intellectual movement led by thinkers such as Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, and Michele Foucault. Queerness refers to all experiences that occur outside of hegemonic heterosexuality, which can include many identities, forms of expression, and sexual preferences. You need only look at Kinsey Scale surveys to see the diversity of sexuality (via Kinsey Institute). And that data doesn't even account for asexuality or the complexity of gender identity.

Due to this diversity within the community, queer people don't always feel confident fully coming out to their dates. For example, bisexual people report facing exclusion and distrust from other members of the queer community (via the New York Times). Transphobia is also a significant concern in the queer community, especially with TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). Per NBC News, there has been a resurgence in transphobic discourse in queer spaces, with much of the hostility aimed at trans women.

FOE also relates to people's worries about being inexperienced. The Hinge LGBTQIA+ Date Report found that half of the app's users weren't sure how to approach new queer dating experiences. The Hinge report also shows that half of their queer users are still coming to terms with their identity.

How to overcome FOE

The best way to overcome FOE is to seek out supportive social networks where you feel safe and affirmed. This may mean finding dates through trusted friends rather than social media or spending more time developing queer friendships before you enter the dating scene. And, of course, always meet new people in public spaces.

That said, you won't know what kind of queer experiences you'll have until you try. The Hinge report says that 80% of the app's LGBTQIA+ users are open to being someone's first queer experience. So if you're new to queer dating, remember that the odds are in your favor. FOE is also best handled by limiting the time spent on dating apps. Research shows that having too many choices overwhelm us, and you can reduce dating anxiety by restricting your app usage (via Gottman Institute).

Once you are dating someone, be honest and communicate your concerns. It's far better to know how your date feels about your identity and experience from the start, rather than get an unpleasant surprise a few weeks in. Use these early conversations as a way to set relationship intentions and boundaries. Everyone's identity is complicated, unique, and fluid — when you spend time with the right people, exploration won't be scary, it will be a natural and positive experience.