A few months ago, I went on a Tinder date. My match had a profile with perfectly curated images in which, in one picture, he was kayaking without a shirt on, revealing carefully sculpted abs, and, in another, he was globetrotting to the furthest corners of the earth — he was, so the pictures would have you believe, simply enjoying life to the fullest. This match was extremely handsome, he went to an Ivy League school, and he had a job. On his profile, he had written that he believed in monogamy and that he was looking for a long-term relationship. After a couple of quick exchanges, we planned a date. I was excited to meet him.
When I showed up at Dolores Park where we had agreed to meet, my mind flashed with images of what looked like a scene from an episode of The Bachelor. My date welcomed me into a tent he had pitched right there on the grass. He had laid out a gigantic blanket, on top of which were wine glasses, a bottle of chilled Rose and a full spread of cheeses, breads, olives and nuts. It looked like he had spent hours preparing. He was wearing shorts and a skinny tee shirt, which seemed designed to hug his fit body in such a way to make you wonder what it would take to get it off. We locked eyes, and he smiled at me. We hugged. I was immediately taken by his romantic gestures, which, now upon reflection, seem to me a bit more manipulative than my starry-eyed self wanted to see then. In the moment, I was confident that this was going to be a memorable experience but, boy, was I wrong. I have never been so thoroughly “love-bombed” on a first date by anyone.
Here’s how it went: we chatted for a while, and after going through pleasantries and discussing our backgrounds, I asked him what the most important characteristics he was looking for in a partner were. He said they were, in order of importance: smart, very tall, uncut. I am an intelligent guy but I’m not very tall, and I was circumcised at birth. I guess I didn’t meet his criteria. As he continued speaking, telling me how he didn’t like tattoos, how he never liked to hang out with his exes, and how he wanted to settle down and have kids, I nervously drank more and more rose. It wasn’t until right around the time when he abruptly told me that we weren’t a good fit and that I should leave that I realized how wrong I was about him.
I tried to defend myself with generalities about how the problem with our community was that we are not nice to each other but he wasn’t listening. In fact, my defiance seemed to cause in him a rudeness which, even after his initial rejection, I hadn’t expected he was capable of.
I noticed the background image on his smartphone: a picture of an oil painting of himself! I asked him about it but it only seemed to enrage him further. I was exposing him for the true narcissist that he was. I stumbled out of the tent, and then wandered around Dolores Park before making my way to a bar, a dingy Mexican place, where I found a little bit of consolation flirting with the cute straight bartender over margaritas. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was a failure. I had literally been rejected out of his tent. I kept thinking about what went wrong or how I could have handled it differently. Since that happened, friends and strangers have tried to comfort me with similar stories of rejection — different place, different time, different asshole. Knowing that I’m not alone helped pull me through but it didn’t lessen the sting of that god-awful date.
A few nights later, I went to a show called Tindervention, a comedy event during which a whole coterie of stand-up comedians came up to the mic to tell their personal horror stories using dating apps like Tinder. (That these apps should inspire an entire evening of comedy alone should tell you something about the absurdity of using them.) As I sat there, I was thinking the whole time with no small amount of irony that my stories were so much better than these. But the even greater irony that evening, alas, was that I was on another date. We had planned to meet at the venue. I bought the tickets for the show ahead of time. He showed up almost an hour late, and then left immediately after it was over because he had work to do. Sigh.
In my opinion, apps like Tinder are the worst thing that have happened to romance. When I’m on Tinder, all I feel is desperation and loneliness. It’s incredibly sad. I talk to people who seem to contain within them a mental portfolio of all the awful things other men have done to them, offline and online. Dating apps essentially render our relationships disposable. They unwittingly force us into a position of making snap judgments about other people based solely on a few photographs. The experience of using dating apps can desensitize us, and dumb us down. Using Tinder or Hinge or Bumble is almost like playing a video game. We don’t feel like we have to treat a thoughtless and mute collection of pixels with humanity just as much as we don’t have to flirt with Pac-Man. If you can relate to my personal experiences using dating apps, you probably also recognize how these apps have a negative impact on us in the analog world as well. Ghosting and love-bombing are increasingly the norm.
In the gay community, ghosting is particularly common, and naturally gay men report being unhappiest with their dating lives. This might have multiple other causes (especially given how many gay men grow up with bullying, intolerance and rejection), but Grindr is certainly not helping. I have never installed or used Grindr, but many gay men treat it as a remote control for a one-night-stand. It’s as easy to get laid on Grindr as ordering take-out. Center of Humane Tech, ranked Grindr the first in the list of popular mobile apps that made people the unhappiest.
Of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation. Are we as gay men unhappy because of Grindr or in spite of Grindr? In many countries where it is unsafe to be openly gay, apps like Grindr serve an important function as a safe space for queer people to come together. And when you think about all of the pressures of being gay, even in a society like ours where we have been afforded some freedoms and protections, it’s not hard to see how we might internalize some of the hate we perceive from the outside. It’s not hard to see how we might lack for self-love. It might be controversial to say it but the truth is gay men are often not nice to each other. We often judge each other by appearances, and we sometimes objectify each other, using each other for drugs and sex. “We accept the love we think we deserve,” Bill tells Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Within a certain subset of the gay community (I’m thinking specifically of millennial gay men, mostly white, in large cities) there are certain norms and expectations around sex and relationships that serve to reinforce some of these destructive behaviors. When we go out on a date, the expectation is sex, and if we don’t have it, we end up feeling like a failure. When it comes to relationships, we expect a level of openness. It’s not uncommon for a third party to enter into a relationship just for fun or maybe for something more. Studies show that couples in monogamous relationships have more satisfying sex lives than couples in open relationships. Relationships and dating are hard.
They have to be worked on. I want people to strive to fulfill their commitments, not satisfy their egos. I’m reminded of a quote by Peter Holmes who wrote that “when you find love, it should be so powerful that a preposterous idea such as monogamy makes perfect sense.” When you actually think about it, going to the gym for three hours a day to look like a porn star so that you can pleasure the hot new young thing you let into your bed with your husband makes a lot less sense.
It’s a common refrain about us that we are brilliantly successful in our professional lives but disasters in our personal lives. We have produced some of the most talented entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, athletes, artists and entertainers in the world. There are so many accomplished gay men who are role models, who represent us well and who have had an undisputedly positive impact on the world. But when I think about how we treat each other in the realm of dating, I feel like we diminish our own achievements. When I think about how much hurt and pain we feel and cause each other, I think that we need to focus more on our personal development and mental health. More than dick size, we need to worry about the size of our hearts. More than our biceps, we need to strengthen our souls.
The past couple of years for me as a single person have been a time of personal growth and development — with the occasional date. If you really know me, you know that I’m a romantic. I want to fall in love. I want to love someone more than the oceans and the skies. Despite having gone through a bunch of bad experiences, still, when I meet someone new, or go on a date, I try to keep an open mind. Maybe we will fall in love and end up spending the rest of our lives together? More likely, we will enjoy each other’s company for a few hours and that will be the end of it. but, hey, call me a romantic, I still keep my hopes up, because you just never know…