The Sapphic Guide to Dating

She sent me a candlelit photo of her boobs, but like … as a friend?

Disclaimer: References to survey responses throughout the article have been edited for clarity.


Picture this: you’re queer — and you live in the 21st century… 

Girl “friends” keep commenting on how beautiful your eyes are on enough of your Instagram posts that you have to notice. 

It might just be a coincidence, but did they give a bit of extra attention to the bikini pictures from when you were back home in the summertime, too? 

Are they just sweet and supportive, or does it sometimes feel like you’re ignoring very ~flirty~ flags?

Sometimes just giving too much thought to online interactions can create a convoluted narrative like the fatal and failed fantasy of a friends-to-lovers daydream. 

This confusion is not just found online, though. This phenomenon has plagued the sapphic community since the dawn of time. 

It’s the indecipherable queer code, and we at 14 East decided we’ve had enough of trying to figure it out. Or rather, we wanted to know if other queer women, non-binary and gender-nonconforming folks are facing the same struggles. 

On a mission, we sent out the ultimate sapphic survey into the universe, asking a collection of questions about queer and sapphic communication and the ultimate question: are they flirting or are they friendly?

Spoiler: We still don’t know, but we learned a lot trying to crack the queer code.


What makes this so confusing?

Is it the general “girl code”? Or, possibly, the intimacy found in a friendship that creates gray areas? 

We share our lipsticks, clothes and often our beds. We zip the backs of each other’s dresses and make Instagram comments with special undying support for one another. All those things are nice – and, I guess, seemingly platonic. 

Though, I’m not sure I’d let my friend Josh (cis-hetero dude) sleep in my bed WITH ME, ya know? 

Friendly Flirting – ​​When someone is a natural flirt and is mildly flirtatious with many, even though they don’t have any romantic intent.
(Definition pulled from the prestigious Urban Dictionary)

Our survey secured just under 30 respondents, and “friendly flirting” was one of the most frequent finds. It appears to be one of the most confusing parts of sapphic communication. 

The distinctions between sapphic platonic and romantic relationships, and the many levels, need more unraveling.

The survey included questions about ambiguity in communication, how and where respondents meet and find their partners, romantic cues and how to interpret the indecipherable friendly flirting. 

Suzanna Rose, Florida International University’s founding associate provost of the Office to Advance Women, Equity and Diversity, in an article in the Journal of Social Sciences, touches on the “murky” lines between friends and lovers for lesbians in her work “Heterosexism and the Study of Women’s Romantic and Friend Relationships.”

Rose explained that lesbians will typically pull lovers AND friends from their pool of same-sex acquaintances – meaning, let’s take it case-by-case or be left humbled. 

When asked to describe how to determine whether or not a woman is being friendly or flirty, one survey participant’s answer stuck out — a bit sorely:

I think I’m quite bad at this because I have literally had situations where I hooked up with a girl and, like, fully slept over and then the next day they are like, ‘we are just friends,’ or getting back with their ex-boyfriend.”

This is frustrating, but not uncommon in a world in which sapphics are often fetishized … and straight girls “play gay” for the male gaze. Though, straight girls kissing girls at a party for boys to watch seems like an even more nuanced issue.

@kayleekawaii fr straight people queer baiting gets tf on my nerves… bih we don’t get oppressed for u to pretend for attention #lgbt #fyp ♬ want some more – ㅤ

Esther Rothblum, a professor emerita of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, has done research and writings focused on LGBTQ+ relationships. Rothblum suggests some missing links in female communication in the book Inside the American Couple with her article “Boston Marriage” among lesbians.

“We have no terminology for the early sexual crushes that some girls develop on other people, usually a female friend or teacher. We have no language for the sexual feelings that arise between adult friends, even when both friends are in sexual relationships with other people.”

This leaves many people in what feels like a yonder region, or more affectionately – “that strange, wonderful, and often messy neverland between the two …” a quote pulled from Maria Popova’s view on the convergence of friendship and lovers. 

There can be quite a bit of confusion between these lines.

As Rose concludes, this now leaves room for a better investigation of the contemporary studies of friendship. One that does not only review hetero-normative romantic/friendship relationships, but extends into a range of queer relationship dynamics. 

So… long story short, it’s complicated.

And, sure — it might feel a bit suaver to come off a little mysterious, but ambiguity can lead to unnecessary, and awkward incidents … even on dating apps, of all places.

“I met someone on Tinder for what I thought was a date … but during the ‘date,’ she told me she wasn’t queer. She was just looking for friends,” a survey respondent shared.

Which sounds really awkward, and could have been done without — c’mon, like have you heard of Bumble BFF

This quickly leads you to my most encompassing pieces of advice in the…


⋆⁺₊⋆The Survey-Sourced Guide to Sapphic Dating⋆⁺₊⋆

AKA, the main takeaways from our survey respondents:

1. Be Clear — Instead of wondering if it’s a date, ask if it’s a date. 

In terms of  in-person contact (looking at you — you “met at a party,” “through mutual friends,” “in an elevator” an organic vibe), try to confirm the plans as a date as casually and comfortably as you want. This might mean as soon as it’s suggested, or through text or call later on. If you’re the one doing the asking, make sure it’s known … it’s a date; a big ole gay date. 

When flirting around on non-dating platforms, be even clearer. The conversation may be smooth. Getting those texts back with lighting speed, maybe even the comfort of the double-texts … a couple of long paragraphs?

Even if it’s full of suggestive nuance, and an excess of emojis — survey respondents gave us a mixed bag regarding online text message conversations, and how to (or how they) interpret them.

One survey respondent shared that they overuse emojis in all of their text conversations, and it should not be overthought by the recipients. Another shared that they actually DO try to interpret the use of emojis as a tool for flirting and that sometimes they actually can be helpful in terms of context.

2. Phrasing of compliments is CRUCIAL – like, make or break. 

When asked how to decipher someone’s communication as friendly or flirty, a survey participant shared their insight on compliments:

“The way they chose to compliment you can be telling. For example, ‘That dress is so cute’ – I find that friendly. ‘I love the way that dress really brings out the brown in your eyes.” I find that flirty.”

Though maybe obvious, fluffing up your compliments might help make your point a bit more weighted. 

I do have to say, I am guilty of passing out loaded compliments to friends all the time. Importantly, to my sweet friends who I do not want to smooch (which like, how could I not? If you look good … ya look good.) 

So, take this at face value, and do whatever you can to read the room. 

@ohomeycomb people are asking me how to flirt w women and this is the only advice I have but I truly believe it. the outfit complimenting is not direct enough ! be (politely) bold !!! ; top from @peppermayo ♬ original sound – miss macy

3. Be conscious of your eye contact and body language.

During a conversation outside of Nobody’s Darling, a queer bar in Chicago’s former lesbian enclave of Andersonville, Hannah, a lesbian, shared that she always starts off skeptical, assuming that “everyone’s a straight girl who wants to be friends.” 

This is until she gets her first cue: Direct eye contact. Then, with a bit of extra attention, and a realization the same pretty girl has been keeping close proximity to her all night, she realizes. 

At this point, Hannah’s in the know – and this strategy has been working for her.

So, perfect your doe eyes … and maybe plan your outfit to stand out enough that it is hard to miss on the dance floor. 

4. Utilize Queer Spaces.

In major cities, it’s not as hard to find queer clubs or bars. Chicago is home to many queer-friendly spaces like Berlin, Sidetrack, as well as a variety of theaters to view drag.

Since these spaces were designed with the goal of creating or securing queer community, it creates a great opportunity to meet other sapphics, with less hetero-hesitation. No excuses now, though, buy her that drink!!!

If IRL queer spaces are not something you have access to, consider queer-centered apps. Lex is a text-based app, with a similar app infrastructure to that of an open forum. The app is for queer, trans, gender-nonconforming, two-spirit and nonbinary people to find both friends and lovers. 

A personal favorite policy of this app is its zero-tolerance policy against any sort of “creepy or discriminatory behavior.” This creates a safe environment for those using the app and a better sense of regulation of the text reels. This helps keep the community consistent.

The Lex community is growing, and you can connect with queer people all across the world with ease. With a little filter toggling, you can even receive push notifications of those posting updates in your area. 

In my experience using the app so far … I love feeling looped into Chicago queer events with a lot less effort in upkeep. The posts vary from restaurant ideas and creative projects to people in search of dates. I can’t say I have seen another dating app operate in this way.

I would not call this an expert’s guide to queer dating, but it sure is a start. 

So, ask her on that DATE… and no, not a “friendly” one. 

There is no time left to dilly-dally, especially after all that time stuck in the closet. 

Be sure to always carry your thesaurus to compose the most potent of compliments for the girly of your dreams. 

But maybe, more importantly – spend your time (and money!) at queer bars and clubs. 

If you use all the tips I taught you – I make no promises, but the fruitier the destination, the fruitier the results. 



Grace Del Vecchio contributed reporting and surveying to this article.

Header image by Annie Gidionsen