Updated: Jan 17
Best advice I’ve ever received about hook-up apps:
‘You will get fucked’
Very few gay men seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless they’ve come to the realisation that they’re lonely. The stigma and shame we feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.
I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
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There are fewer topics in the gay community that can elicit visceral responses like the topic of hook-up apps: their use, attitudes on them and how they reflect beliefs on what it means to be gay and part of the amorphous gay community.
Indeed, so much has been written and spoken about the use of hook-up apps in the gay community that any Google search will come up with many different perspectives on how their use affects us and reflects society. There are numerous articles about how they can be used for good and how they can be dangerous. There are plenty of personal reflections from people and tips on how to successfully use them. Perhaps that’s how you found this article today.
I don’t want to do that in this article. I want to approach this article with a simple intention: hook-up apps - and hooking up – when feeling lonely and feel the need for connection.
If you’ve only got time to read one thing in this article, please read this: A leader in the local gay community and I were chatting one afternoon soon after I came out, and he shared the best advice about Grindr and other hook-up apps with me: ‘You will get fucked’.
They are wise words.
What’s the problem?
Sometimes we need something more than Pornhub and our hand, right? We need to be in the close, intimate presence of another man - or men - as an expression of our sexual needs as a gay man. Sometimes we need a good fuck, and it's bloody awesome when we do.
The allure of hook-up apps is clear: they’re very convenient. We don’t have to go any further than reaching into our pockets and pulling out our phone when we feel like having sex. There’s no need to head out to a club and engage in small talk. We can see who of ‘our people’ are close by and want to hook-up when the mood strikes us.
The apps allow us to filter others out by height, weight, age, sexual preferences, sexual groups (bears, daddies, twinks, etc.) and interests. We can manicure our feeds and express our preferences and personalities in our short bios to only see and to attract the attention of the type of men we like.
For all the convenience, the apps show us the best and worst in people. Try as the platforms may to be places of inclusion, diversity and education, the apps are places where the worst in humanity can find their voice. And the worst can be horrendous: racism, body shaming and ageism. Anonymity and lack of meaningful consequences can breed disgraceful behaviours that would never be tolerated in other forums.
They’re addictive based on both their convenience and their ability to hasten the end goal of having sex.
They also allow us to become expert storytellers when we anticipate what it will be like to spend time in the company of that man or men. We get swept up in stories that we tell ourselves. The anticipation and the possibilities can be as intense – possibly MORE intense – than the sex itself. More on these stories in a moment.
All this can be done from work, the bus, the couch, the gym, the toilet – wherever you are, whenever you want.
For something so personal, the whole experience can be thrilling and utterly dehumanising. We can love these apps and we can loathe them. Sometimes in equal measure and at the same time.
How many times have you deleted an app only to reinstall it at a later point? It’s hard to hook-up with other gay men any other way, isn’t it?
For the gay man experiencing loneliness
I want to come back to the power of the stories we tell ourselves when we use these apps.
We compare what we see with how we feel. And while the stories we tell ourselves when we’re winning on Grindr (‘winning’ being the goal of hooking-up with someone) are powerful, the stories we tell ourselves when we’re losing (‘losing’ being when we’re the target of exclusion and are rejected) can be more powerful.
We can feel like we don’t belong in a community that is supposed to espouse acceptance, diversity and inclusion. We can feel that we’re not worthy of love and of being loved by someone else. We can feel like we’re not the right type of gay.
Indeed, the reverse can also be true. When we’re constantly winning on Grindr and getting all the sex we want, we can tell ourselves that this is how we get the attention of other men. We can’t change. We must keep ourselves exactly as we are to keep being this desirable for other men. This is how we feel seen, heard and how we belong in the gay community.
While one problem may feel like a better problem to have, both are problems for the gay man experiencing loneliness.
In short, the tool that we may have reached for when we wanted the intimate company of another gay man – or men – can exacerbate our loneliness. Grindr fucked us. (continued below...)
I’ve written about my experience with Grindr after my wife and I separated and I began to live my life as a gay man (read ‘What type of gay am I?’ here).
My initial Grindr experience was intoxicating. Finally, it felt like there were men who saw me and they thought that I was attractive. It was amazing that, after feeling scared of who I was for so many years – and the loneliness that came from that – it was thrilling to feel accepted by the gays around me on Grindr.
While it was intoxicating, I knew that I had to be me.
In possibly the most unsexy thing that I could do on Grindr, I set and maintained my boundaries: I'd not send pics of myself that I wouldn’t be happy with my Mum seeing (who knows where these photos end up…) and we’d need to meet for coffee or a drink before we had sex. I needed to connect with the other man first and feel that I wasn’t going to end up chopped up in pieces in his freezer.
I communicated these boundaries, and many ignored them. I maintained them (most of the time). I noticed that the anticipation of the hook-up was sometimes more intoxicating than the sex itself. There was the thrill of the discovery, the chase, the arrangements, the preparation and the reveal when we got naked. The thrill of the anticipation – the possibilities – was everything.
But I used Grindr as a tool for connection. I made friends with some guys. I had some great sex. I even met my wonderful partner, Jeff.
I wanted to use Grindr, rather than it use me.
Hook-up apps serve an important purpose and they're here to stay. We need to adapt so we use them, rather than them using us.
To do that, we need to heed the wisdom of ‘You will get fucked’.
With that firmly in mind, if you are looking to get a fuck, then you’re in the place to find it and to scratch that itch.
If, however, you’re feeling lonely and looking for connection: if you’re feeling the need to feel seen, feel heard and to feel that you belong, perhaps it’s worth a moment to question whether that need is going to be best met on Grindr, Scruff or another of the dozens of other hook-up apps in that moment.
The real connection we need as humans requires being vulnerable and being authentic. A hook-up app is a place to find others to have sex. Using an app to arrange sex as the cure to loneliness is not going to do the trick. It’ll scratch your itch for a good fuck, but it probably won’t touch the sides in your need for connection.
Your words, thoughts and actions do that, not an app.
Sometimes, the only way to tell the difference between looking to get a fuck and looking to not be lonely is how we feel at the end of a hook-up. If you feel emptier leaving a hook-up than when you arrived, you’ve tried to scratch the connection itch only with your bodies; and not included your minds, hearts and souls.
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Loneliness is awful and it’s tempting to try to solve it or fix it yourself. Trying to do this defeats the purpose of loneliness: you’re meant to reach out for support. Please, reach out to your partner, a friend or someone in your orbit who you know is trying to put themselves into the world just like you are. That could be me through my mentoring services. That could be a therapist or a counsellor – including a crisis counsellor. That could be a coach. It could be a combination of all.
Check out my services page when you’re ready for support and guidance.
Join me and my friend Michael DiIorio for a coffee and a chat in the upcoming episode of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’ from Thursday 2 September 2021. Michael has some great content on using hook-up apps and I can’t wait to share his wisdom and insight with you.
Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.