We all love a good old whinge about dating apps, don’t we?
As a gay man, especially, it can be very tempting to blame all society’s ills on them – be it an increase in superficiality, the death of romance or body insecurities. We romanticise a time before Grindr when, in our heads, we all met up in public and cultivated beautiful, caring friendships and relationships in cosy little bars with rainbow flags above the doors.
And then it comes. “FINALLY deleting this horrible app!” they say. “I want to meet men the old-fashioned way,” spits a 22-year-old who’s been on the receiving end of one-too-many “hello m8″s and unsolicited dick pics. But the thing is, the old-fashioned way doesn’t really exist anymore and if it did, you’d be even more miserable. Take for granted the freedom apps have given us at your peril. They’re changing lives.
Before the internet came along, being a gay man could be a very isolating, confusing, and heartstoppingly sexless experience. Grindr and its desktop predecessors may have changed the face of gay culture, but they haven’t made it worse. The same things are going on, it’s just that the journey to them is different.
I’m not saying you’re totally wrong, or I’m right – we’re all a bit wrong. Here’s why:
1. “It’s better to meet gay men the old-fashioned way.”
First of all, we need to establish just how old-fashioned you want to be. Are we talking Victorians meeting in secret and being forced to marry women to avoid becoming a social outcast, ruining not only their own lives, but also those of the women they wedded?
Or perhaps we should peer through our rosy specs to the halcyon days before the internet, when the best place to meet gay men was in a noisy bar –pumping out Hazell Dean remixes, probably – full of strangers judging you.
Of course, this is if you a) were lucky enough to live in a town with a gay bar or even know if one existed, b) had the money to go, c) were confidently out, d) didn’t have a disability, e) had the courage to walk in there in the first place.
2. “Hookup apps don’t let us meet naturally.”
Define ‘naturally’. How do you think most romances start offline? A few flirtations at work? Maybe. Introduction through friends? Perhaps. Even the most romantic episodes have to start with an initial attraction, be it across a crowded room or on a dating app.
Yes, we all want to be taken out for drinks and dinner, but how do you meet in the first place? Chuck a stone down Old Compton Street and stun them? It’s all got to start somewhere.
3. “Hookup apps are killing romance.”
There was nothing beautiful or poetic about desperately trying to make eye contact with someone in a park toilet, wondering whether you were going to get your head stoved in or your pecker played with.
Sure, Grindr makes men more accessible but I’m sure the frisson of excitement you may get from being choked to death by a gay-basher in 1981 can be easily obtained with a bit of carefully arranged BDSM.
Romance still exists – it’s everywhere. Witness flash-mob marriage proposals, gay couples on Don’t Tell The Bride, and man-on-man smooching on the Eurostar to Paris. If anything, the internet has positively encouraged it.
4. “Hookup apps are so shallow.”
If you think gay men being obsessed with themselves, their looks, their possessions and their dicks only kicked in with the internet, you’re sadly mistaken.
Superficiality was eating away at the gay scene long before you added your first shirtless pic to Grindr. Going to a gay bar could be an incredibly daunting experience back in the day, with everyone so scared to let their guard down that lashing out with bitchy remarks or sneering looks was sometimes the only option for the first hour.
People have always been shallow; you’re just more exposed to it than ever before. There are still deep, meaningful relationships to be had – and there have always been people moaning they can’t find one.
5. “Everyone is so mean/racist/stupid on hookup apps.”
Point taken. Totally true. Unfortunately, this kind of thing isn’t new. Racists, morons, sexists, fat-shamers. camp-shamers, evil bitches – they all existed before the internet. They were all lined up against the bar whispering to each other about how ugly you were. An unfortunate side-effect of apps is they bring these people front-and-centre and to the palm of our hand.
I would like to think that Grindr and the like now much more quickly expose these idiots can only be a good thing. Shining a light on these horrible attitudes and bringing them out in the open is the first step in educating these massive douches that behaviour like this simply isn’t on.
But this is very idealistic and easy for me to say as a white man with 40 years under his belt. A reader has pointed out that their experience of using screenshots to expose racists on Grindr had actually not been a positive one, with many people making a joke of it, and that if a PoC feels better by deleting an app, this doesn’t make them “wrong”. And this is an excellent point. To be clear: I’m not making light of these issues and don’t think racism is just one of those things you have to accept if you’re on an app and that you are wrong to be offended by it, nor do I acknowledge “It’s just a preference” as anything other than the battle cry of a bigoted moron. We all have a responsibility not to be an arsehole, and some find it harder than most.
6. “Dating apps are just about sex. Nobody wants a long-term relationship.”
You should perhaps consider retiring your pout and putting your shirt back on.
There are thousands of men using these apps who want to find their next true love. Seriously. Just like, in the old days, the gay bars used to be full of guys mooning over hotties across the room and dreaming of marriage.
The key to finding these men is to be clear, to have long chats, and politely decline any behaviour you don’t think will make for a good LTR. Yes, the selection process isn’t quite as organic and elegant as it could be, but to dismiss these apps as not genuine ways of finding love is myopic.
Don’t moan nobody wants to take you out to dinner in Mayfair when all your profile pics are bulge shots, you refuse to have a conversation beyond “hey”, or have loads of strict (usually acidic, homophobic or racist) criteria in your bio – what are they supposed to think you’re after? And SMILE, for God’s sake. Save the pouting sex-doll face for when you’re getting down to it.
7. “I hate how hookups have become the norm in gay culture.”
They haven’t. We’re just able to get them more quickly. Whether it’s moving cakes to a lower shelf in the bakery or having a vodka tap installed in your kitchen, if you make something easier to obtain, people are going to want to take advantage of it.
Are we really hankering after the days when none of us was getting any? Sex isn’t just about getting your rocks off, it’s an act of self-discovery. Whether we like it or not, who you have sex with, and how, and where, and when, can come to define you as a person.
And hooking up has always been around – it’s just had a facelift. Back in the day, there was cruising and cottaging and personal ads in the papers, and fuck buddies. Some of it was unpleasant, some of it helplessly exciting and romantic, but it was there. It’s always been there.
There are plenty of men on these apps looking for love or friends, too.
8. “Hookup apps promote the use of drugs.”
Literally the easiest way to meet a fellow gay man in the ’90s was to take loads of ecstasy and dance on your own in a club for four hours until someone fell into you, so case dismissed.
Drugs and the gay scene have gone hand-in-very-sweaty-hand for decades.
9. “Hookup apps have led to a rise in HIV.”
Unicef seems to think a rise in HIV among teens in Asia might have something to do with hookup apps and the easy availability of sex. A study by the Los Angeles LGBT Centre claimed there was a direct link between smartphone users and STI contraction, but this is pretty hard to prove. To deny these apps are a factor would be madness, of course, so I’m not about to do that.
If anything, it’s about a lack of education of the people using the app. And, obviously, if more people are having sex using apps – and not protecting themselves – then rates of infection will increase.
Remember, however, that HIV wasn’t exactly a rarity before the internet. If anything, the internet has helped promote safe sex and warn of the dangers of certain behaviours that might lead to HIV infection.
Yes, there’s chemsex, and, yes, younger generations who can’t remember the scary ’80s advertising are perhaps more laissez-faire in their attitudes to protecting against HIV, but the apps aren’t responsible for that. It’s the users who do that. Any social group will find a way to adapt something to suit them better – that’s not even unique to gays, whatever their status or predilection for drugs.
In fact, you may find men using hookup apps are more open about their status. While listing your physical attributes or preferences may seem clinical, apps make people more upfront. Sure, you’ll get men lying about their status, but you could just as easily meet a liar in a bar.
Blame a cut in funding for HIV education, the fact that HIV is no longer viewed as life-threatening, or maybe even a generation who thinks bareback is the best way, but apps don’t promote this behaviour, they just make it easier for like-minded people to practise it. This one’s down to us.
10. “It’s just too easy to get sex now.”
Too easy?! Is that a thing? You want to go back to the days when gay men would sit at home and dream of the touch of another guy but would be too scared to do anything about it?
Maybe the value of sex has been cheapened thanks to its availability. Perhaps none of us tries as hard in bed because we know the next shag will be along with just a few clicks. But opening up sex to a group of people who, for whatever reason, weren’t getting any before, is not a bad thing.
11. “Hookup apps are to blame for gay venues closing.”
Venues themselves have to shoulder some of the blame for this epidemic. Outdated, scuzzy bars playing the same old music just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Younger LGBT people – indeed, any age – aren’t going to come to a gay bar just because they’re there; they want something unique, something fun. Gay clubs that have found their niche, like London’s Push The Button or Duckie, are thriving. Thanks to a more tolerant society, if venues want to stay open, they need to compete with all other pubs and clubs, not just gay bars.
Let’s not forget greedy landlords and property developers also have a hand in the destruction of the gay scene. Even busy, profitable pubs and bars have been earmarked for closure – this is not about everyone staying at home in droves fapping themselves blind while a guy 700m away says “u hung m8?????” over and over into the void. It’s about cold, hard cash – and the pink pound isn’t as powerful as it once was.
12. “Hookup apps mean we live our entire lives online.”
The internet in general has driven a lot of our socialising online, and has definitely made plans easier to cancel, but if you think about it, it allows many people to lead much fuller lives.
Cut to those lonely or shy gays in small provincial towns who maybe don’t conform to modern beauty standards. Who was knocking on their door wanting to meet them before the internet? Nobody.
Now these guys can talk to other men just like them, maybe even meet and have sex with them. They can be told they’re beautiful by perfect strangers, flirt for hours, and discover they’re not going to be alone for the rest of their lives.
13. “Hookup apps make me feel inferior.”
It’s a problem. I get it. But that’s why we have blocking, and reporting, and locked profiles, and private pics.
And also, those chiselled studs with perfect beach holidays and shirtless selfies taken in infinity pools with a gaggle of beautiful friends around them? They still have the massive insecurities you do; that’s why the post the pics they do.
Hookup apps can be damaging to your self-esteem, and you’ll meet all manner of idiots, but at least on an app, you’re in control. The term ‘safe space’ might have come in for a lot of stick, but it’s a real advantage to people who might not be accepted by the wider gay community, if you can call it that sometimes.
For every racist douche or bro saying “if you’re camp, no thanks”, there’s a trans guy trying out dating for the first time, a bi-curious boy wanting to know he’s not alone or a man who’d get ignored in a bar realising that not everyone is only interested in looks.
And if you’re getting hassled, you can block, report and move on to someone who deserves your time. Sadly, we can’t swipe left in real life just yet. One day, though.