Grinding You Down

Man grinding pepper Andy Love on gay dating in the 21st century

“Hey, how are you doing?” “I’m good, how are you?” “I’m good. What are you up to?” “Chilling. What are you up to?” “Bored…” This might seem like a regular start up conversation for people with dating/hook up apps. But are they good, are they bad, where do we stand?

Do you remember a time when people would say “You shouldn’t really date online. It’s kinda dangerous”. In the brave year of 2014, they are quite the norm. Who’s never heard of Grindr and its variables? There are so many! Scruff, Growlr and the ones becoming popular more recently like Tinder and Hot or Not?. The thrill of knowing someone is five feet away from you, the excitement of opening the app and seeing that new message and who knows – the next hook up, or even prince (not so) charming?

It’s easy to understand the importance of these apps. It made gay people visible to each other. It is good to open an app and see that “you are not alone”. It opened a dialogue and a proximity between a minority and that is quite good, but with that it has also opened options. Too many options can be a bad thing – anyone who has wandered into Boots to buy a toothpaste could tell you that. You just want to clean your teeth but brand A will make it whiter, brand B will help your gums… One word: confusing.

When you have a choice of five different people to date, and another five sending you messages, it can all be a bit exciting. It seems that some gay guys have started to see dating as “shoe fitting”. Pun not intended, but this one is too big, this one is too small, this one is for parties, this one is for work…it all becomes a “Goldilock’s Battle of the Best” and it makes it difficult to set your eye on one thing when there are so many possibilities. In the age of technology and the “now” we don’t stop to take a step back and have the patience to think things through. Personally, I believe that when you are seeing too many people at once you are not really getting to know anyone at all. One of the most ironic things I find are apps like Tinder – being matched with someone you can either “message” or “keep playing” – so wait, is this all just a game? How are you meant to meet someone if no one is taking it seriously?

Same sex marriage
Credits: Rob Griffith/Associated Press

As I read on a tweet recently: “A gay marriage, where both grooms delete GrindR and say I DO!”. Just last night, talking to a friend, I heard a line I have heard many times “I used to date a guy at a time…but no one else does it, so I’m losing opportunities by doing that!”. I agree, but shouldn’t we be the change we’d like to see in other people? Lead by example and all that. It may be naïve, but it is not unreasonable to think that if I take time to get to know someone, hopefully there is someone out there who does the same. Whilst Tinder and Scruff are relatively new, there is also the issue with Grindr’s reputation. The automatic assumption is “everyone is in it for sex” – since that’s what the main aim of the app used to be. Dating has become a playing field where most people’s hearts don’t seem to be truly in it.

Another common thing I hear is “the spark”. We have all felt it – that moment when you meet someone and you just know you want him/her. That tiny little moment that makes life seem like a Hollywood film or that Disney has been secretly directing this fairytale romance. And isn’t that a lovely feeling? But when dating – it doesn’t really come into play. Mostly because realistically two people will hardly ever feel the spark or at least not in the same intensity. So what dating truly becomes is a job interview – you try your best to impress each other (and in most cases this will be a power struggle of interest). This means you’re likely playing the perfect you most of the time, rather than being the “real” you. When seeing all this as a playing field, it makes it easier to understand that although we are more connected, we are also more isolated. I have never been the dating type – I have always found the whole thing tedious and long-winded. I’m a simple guy, I prefer to get to know someone before deciding where things might lead, or as someone once said, “to get to my bedroom, you have to go through the living room”.

So can we blame it all on the apps and their reputation? Perhaps, but maybe the immediacy of the internet and how little time we take to get to know one another also have a lot to answer for. Putting it bluntly – mobile phone companies will charge you a fortune for mobile data and will give you plenty of minutes for free. As humans, we seem to have lost that sense of clear vocal communication, we prefer to interact through cold letters and texts rather than the old frank tone of voice. We also try to avoid any situation that might bring us discomfort – sincerity and honesty is too often mistaken for “Drama”. Most of the time however, drama is a shot at getting the truth and trying to know what is happening, usually by someone who often feels neglected. In the dating battlefield where people tend to fail to communicate effectively consider yourself lucky if you never had someone disappear on you, the lack of sincerity makes that an even harsher reality. These apps have its social importance, but they may also turn us cold, reducing people to just “another face in the grid”. Try to turn a bad situation around: if things don’t work out make a friend out of that experience. Even if you’re not compatible romantically, dating is about getting to know each other. That guy is a person with feelings looking for the same thing you are – maybe he knows someone that could be compatible with you and vice versa, so why not network?

The other harsh truth is that, while we are all trying to communicate – and yet feeling somehow isolated – we are all on the apps. As a good friend said recently, “everyone is on the apps. At the pub, at the club, even when you’re talking to them – they are searching”. That is the main issue with the app world – besides the vanity of something like Hot or Not, judging your look based on how many people rated you hot, it’s the thought process that maybe that eternal next swipe will bring THE ONE (And let us be clear on the image issue here – I would like to think that The One wouldn’t be a bare-chested exhibitionist). Break that illusion a bit, chip away at it – let the perfect person reveal themselves through their actions before you decide where things might go. As exposed brilliantly by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, one must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if one wishes to become acquainted with the butterflies. Or as in Love and Other Disasters – stop trying to cast your true love instead of just meeting him. Maybe true love is a decision. You know, a decision to take a chance with somebody, to give to somebody without worrying whether they’ll give anything back, or if they’re gonna hurt you, or if they really are the one. Maybe love isn’t something that happens to you. Maybe it’s something you have to choose. Get to know someone before you force them into the glass slipper, and remember that only happens at the END of the story. Leave the fantasy of a “love spark” (it’s not a lightning bolt) where they belong – the great works of fiction.