In today’s world, being on a dating app has become a common practice among a large part of the population. It isn’t a regional or national phenomenon, but one that transcends borders and unites people across nations. Dating apps have become a prevalent way of life and allow individuals to connect with other individuals with similar interests and similar dating goals. Queer individuals too have a visible presence on dating applications, and in today’s inclusive world, many apps have come up that particularly encourage the queer audience to engage. I talked to gay men across various platforms and in person to understand the impacts of dating applications on gay men and their relationships.
Avinash is a homosexual man in his early twenties, he is not out to the majority of the people surrounding him at home or at work. He finds it easy to get on a dating app and discreetly connect with other gay men online. Most of the men online aren’t his type, but sometimes he matches with someone he would like to talk to, maybe even get on a call with or meet up with, even though he knows he hardly finds people he likes. Avinash spends around an hour or two on dating apps almost every night, and he never manages to keep in touch with the men he had earlier connected with or met. When asked, he said that the emotional energy it takes to form a bond, or keep in touch with one man over long periods of time is not his cup of tea. He prefers to just find men online, connect with them, meet up, hook up at times, and then find a new man the next time he’s looking. Since Avinash is looking for something “short term” for him, this sort of pattern works out. He is not on the lookout for something more because, at the end of the day, he has to come back home to a family and friend circle that are unaware of his proclivities. Many of the men with whom I interacted for my research have stories similar to Avinash’s and find themselves scrolling through dating apps quite regularly.
Dating apps have become the “safe haven” for many such closeted men, not only in their search for intimacy, but also in their search to expand their knowledge and understand their sexuality better. One such experience I had was with a man I met on a dating app. He asked me multiple questions about being a gay man, how it works for me in a social, economic, and cultural sense, and much more. Upon my asking why he wanted to know all this, he told me that he had recently realized he was gay and wanted to understand his sexuality better, but belonging to an orthodox neighborhood of the city, he preferred doing so from the privacy of his room using dating apps. In these cases, we see the positive side of these dating apps in a country like India, where a lot of the population sticks to a homophobic belief system that is at its most tolerant but not accepting. These applications on one’s phone make it easier for individuals to connect with others and share their true selves without having to hide from judgement or pretend because most of these applications allow you some sense of discretion and anonymity.
Sometimes dating apps also act as sources for one to identify and interact with other queer individuals for purposes that can range from friendship, to emotional validation, to acceptance, or physical intimacy, to name a few. On a recent trip I made to a bustling Indian city, I met a guy, and he told me how most of his friends from the community were made on Grindr, because he believed that wherever you go, you can always find someone queer on Grindr, and if you relocate or move around a lot, that’s the first thing you can do to find a friend. Some people also believe that dating apps can help you identify gay men in your vicinity, simplifying the process of asking someone out, or going out on dates.
Akshay and Sabir met each other on Tinder four years ago, and even though they found each other online, they did not get too close too soon. They took their own sweet time and almost 4 months of meeting for dinner and coffee, before the conversation drifted towards liking each other. Both of them believe that their relationship is as strong as it is today because they spent time and energy getting to know each other and building a space where they could both feel safe and secure. They feel that becoming friends with each other was the most important aspect of their journey.
Are gay dating apps the appropriate modern way to find the relationships that homosexual men are looking for?
As we have seen on one side, we have people like Avinash, Akshay, Sabir, and so many others, who have found friendship, acceptance, and a safe haven on dating apps. These men would agree and tell us that dating apps are indeed the appropriate way to find what they, as homosexual men, are looking for; but just like most phenomena, dating apps are also a double-edged sword. There have been many who have found themselves on the other end of the coin, facing difficulties with dating apps.
As with most mobile applications, dating apps also rely mainly on the concept of instant gratification. Individuals use them to seek out partners and pleasure. Many times, the ability to instantly find a person takes away from the concept of relationships. There are many old school romantics out in the community who want a relationship and want to build on it, but the presence and convenience of dating apps leave them in cycles of disdain. Raj talks about his desire for something long term and how he has stated on his dating profiles that he is on the lookout for a long-term relationship. This makes it difficult for him to get matches, and many of the matches he gets are people looking for a fun time but not a long-term relationship. This causes Raj issues, and over time, he has developed insecurities about being rejected due to his desire for long term relationships.
Dating apps are meant to help individuals find a suitable match that is suitable for their dating goals and compatible with their personalities. If used correctly, these are some great features on the application, but often the profiles on the apps can be misleading. Dating apps allow users to make profiles and share photos, and it happens that people tend to input details they find would be more likely to get them a match, regardless of the authenticity of said details. People also choose to portray certain aspects of themselves in a highly positive light while overlooking others altogether. This can lead to misunderstandings and having the wrong idea about the other individual. Applications have started dealing with this issue by conducting a verification using a selfie, but that only verifies the face of the individual, leaving a lot to speculation. Some individuals view dating applications as a struggle that they do their best to overcome. Sabhay, a man in his late twenties, says, “It acts as an addiction of sorts; I don’t want to be swiping every time I happen to have some free time, but the process of swiping meeting up for pleasure and gratification becomes addictive,” and “one can’t help but partake in it since the brain starts enjoying the easy-to-access state of physical satisfaction.”
Three of the men I talked to during my interactions about dating apps told me they had faced similar struggles as Sabhay's. They talked about their attempts to quit dating apps and find more organic ways of looking for partners due to the addiction-like state that the apps have caused them to experience.
When we discuss dating apps at such great length, it becomes imperative to understand what the gay dating culture was like before the dating apps came into play. Yes, we’re talking about the time when telephone directories, landline phones, and post boxes still held some sway. When I asked Nikhil (46) about his view on gay dating and dating apps, he told me about spaces like parks where gay men used to gather on a predetermined date and time, or of the spaces that became known as cruising spots where you could always find gay men looking for someone to meet. He told me of dinner parties at friends' houses where he would meet other gay men and casually flirt around, trying to get to know them and gouge their interest. He also told me of events that used to become spaces for queer expression and identity to flourish in subtle ways; art exhibitions, dance performances, plays, and so much more. To quote him, “I can never make a profile on a dating app and sit at home looking for a man, after the vibrance and diversity in life that the gatherings, events, and cruising have shown me, a dating app feels so artificial.” As I talked to individuals, learning about and understanding their experiences, I came to realize that the impact of dating apps on gay relationships is almost as diverse as gay relationships themselves are. To some people, they are the safe haven that allows them access to a repressed part of themselves. To others, it is a platform to access other queer individuals in their surroundings before connecting for a real-life meetup, and for some, it is an addiction that hinders their organic dating process. It is a very personal choice, and dating apps do not work out the same way for two people. Some circumstances have occurred where individuals have ended up in very dangerous, and traumatizing situations at the behest of dating applications. Some individuals create fake profiles or identities on these applications and try to thug, rob, or expose (some individuals who are not out, may get threatened with an outing) and threaten individuals. There have been cases of men being harassed and blackmailed for money, or instances where the person on the other end turns out to be completely different than shown online; in some worse scenarios, individuals have experienced cases where groups of homophobic bigots were waiting for them when they reached a place to meet their date, and situations have also posed a threat to their physical safety.
Some methods that one can resort to in order to maintain basic awareness and not get caught up in such unwanted situations are:
● Prefer verified profiles on dating apps, as those profiles are verified with a selfie or video ensuring that the photos shown are of the individual and have been verified ● Don’t rush into sharing any personal / confidential information
● Block and Report any suspicious profiles
● Ask for a video call / some method of verification to be sure the individual you are talking to/ and going to go meet is the same as the one on the profile.
● Taking a friend / trustworthy individual into confidence and sharing your live location with them as well as asking them to call and keep checks on you.
● Planning the first meeting in a mutually agreed public space (well lit, busy, central) to ensure nothing untoward can happen, and leaving at the first signs of discomfort with the individual.
It is advised, though, to always remain vigilant of the negative impacts and repercussions that they can cause so as to consciously keep oneself away from those instances.