I’m old enough to remember a time when gay dating websites didn’t exist, a time before the Internet itself. There was no option to stay home if you wanted to meet guys. You had to go out. You had to go somewhere. Men met men at dinners, parties and dances, at bars and clubs, at gay sporting and social groups or in parks and public facilities. You were there, in-person, and you showed your interest in other men through your conversation or body language.
Then along came the technology that meant we could sit at home, in front of a computer, carefully crafting our online profiles in the hope we would meet a particular type of man who wanted what we were offering. We could trawl through pages of other hopefuls on sites like Gaydar, Manhunt or Gay Romeo, send messages of interest and wait for responses. These sites promised to match us to other men looking for long-term relationships, sex or friendship. Their chat rooms provided a place to exchange our ‘vital statistics’ and even find a hook-up in real time. A few years later, apps like Grindr and Scruff gave mobility and immediate access to men in our near vicinity. There was no more waiting, the men were often just metres away.
Is Grindr Leading to Gay Promiscuity?
There has always been a diversity of men using apps and dating sites, just as the guys you could meet at a party or in a park ranged across a spectrum from those looking for fast love (i.e quick sex) to those seeking a long-term monogamous relationship. So I think it’s a bit naive to suggest that this technological revolution in gay dating is responsible for a collapse of morality amongst gay men. If you read Larry Kramer’s ‘Faggots‘, written pre-Internet and pre- HIV/AIDS, it’s obvious the same criticisms of promiscuity amongst gay men were being made in the 1970s.
I speak with many men who are disappointed with Grindr and similar apps. The implied promise that there is an online match waiting for them raises their expectations. Some tell me they use several different apps and waste a lot of time hunting for sex or a partner or simply companionship late at night. For some guys this disappointment seems to feed the habit of going online. This was a theme in one of my short stories Hook Up. (You can read it at www.ashrehn.com ).
I know a lot of guys also become disappointed in themselves when they use Grindr. They might start out with an intention of finding a boyfriend and, when the guys they meet appear to only want sex, they settle for just a sex hook up as well because, in the words of one man, anything is better than nothing. But later it can seem like a sort of self-sabotage, and even leave them feeling ashamed. If you have had this experience, let me tell you, you are definitely not alone!
One of my counselling clients – and I share this story with his full consent – told me that accepting Grindr had limitations was a turning point for him.
“I realised that looking for a relationship on Grindr was like expecting to find a prince in a brothel”
He went on to say that it was possible that some princes frequented brothels, but those were not the kind of princes he was looking to meet!
Do Gay Dating Sites Cause Addiction?
Other gay, bisexual and even bi-curious men worry that the frequency of their use of gay dating sites might be a sign that they are suffering from an addiction. These are some of my unhappiest clients. They have tried, repeatedly, to stop using Grindr, sometimes even deleting it from their phones, only to download it again sometime later and then hate themselves for doing so, thinking they have failed. They tell me that despite re-installing Grindr, they don’t want to be using it. They sometimes describe it as a compulsion or obsession. (You can read more of my responses to Gay Mens Sex ‘Addiction’ here).
Don’t panic if this is you. As much as you might be struggling with trying to reduce or even stop your use of dating apps or websites, my experience is that all behaviour is a response to something. People usually have good reasons for the things they do. As convinced as you might be that you are suffering from a serious disorder or altered brain chemistry as a result of your usage of Grindr, Manhunt, Scruff or the others, it is extremely unlikely that you have done yourself any permanent damage or that you cannot recover from what is essentially just a habit. The first step might be recognising there are reasons you use the app and then finding different ways to respond to the same need. That could be something to do with loneliness or isolation or stress or a need for relaxation or adventure or intimacy or companionship. Talking it over in counselling can make the difference.
There are a lot of criticisms of apps like Grindr. They reduce people to ‘things’ or ‘products’. They are a reservoir of offensive statements about skin colour or cultural background or gender performance (“No Xs, no Ys, no Zs!“… you know what I mean). And it can be boring to spend time with someone who is preoccupied with chasing men through his phone apps. But I’ve also wondered whether we are losing some very important skills when we give all our attention to text based engagement with other men. I’m talking about how we respond to kinesics, oculesics, proxemics and haptics (Google these if you haven’t heard of them!). Some might call these ‘flirtation’ skills. I have asked guys in the Grindr generation about the ways in which they ‘sense’ another gay or bi man in their vicinity and the first thing they often do is look at their phone!
Let me be clear that I am not anti-sex or against gay men meeting for sex. But maybe you feel stuck on Grindr or a gay website and you’re not as interested in sex dates as you are in meeting a man for a relationship. One way of kicking the Grindr habit could involve focussing on other ways of engaging with men, in the flesh. If you haven’t done this for a while, or never at all, it might feel scary or too hard. But it gets easier with practice. And you can start with just improving your in-person communication with other guys. Sharing your experiences of simply relating to or conversing with other men can be a way into better relationships. Contact me if you are interested in discussing this further in a counselling appointment.
What are your experiences of using Grindr?
Have you kicked a Grindr habit?
Or how did you find ways of continuing to use Grindr without it taking over your life?
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