For Mina Gerges, dating has been largely disappointing.
The 24-year-old, who identifies as gay, says that he’s been on dating apps for three years with little luck. Gerges is looking for his “prince charming,” but feels like most people online are looking for casual hookups.
“I think a lot of guys my age want a quick fix, no commitment and something to just fill our time,” Gerges told Global News.
“I want a closed, serious relationship, but I’m realizing that it’s becoming harder to find that since a lot of gay men have embraced and seek open relationships more.”
Gerges is on dating apps Tinder and Hinge. He was told Hinge was more “relationship-oriented,” but he says hookup culture is still prevalent.
“I’m not against that at all,” he said, “but I’m constantly trying to manage expectations of what I want versus what’s the reality in the community.”
Are apps making dating harder?
Gerges’ experience is not unique.
“There’s many advantages to being queer within the LGBTQ community, but within that, there’s a lot of people who do struggle to find a long-term partner,” he said.
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Brian Konik, a Toronto-based psychotherapist who works mostly with LGBTQ2 people on issues around anxiety, trauma and relationships and sex, says same-sex partnerships are nuanced. There are a lot of complex dynamics and social and cultural factors at play, he said.
“I think at its core, same-sex partners haven’t historically been as tied to the idea of having children as opposite-sex partners, so we get to decide what we want and need and feel empowered to seek it out,” he said.
“Straight women are also able to have more casual sex so long as they are comfortable with their birth control methods, and this mirrors gay men’s hookup culture: free from the burden of childbearing, we get to decide what kind of encounters we want, whether it’s for sex or relationships.”
Konik adds that because of cultural and societal norms, women were — and often still are — expected to marry and have children. Gay men do not have this pressure, so they are not as “pushed” into relationships as straight people may be.
What’s important to note, Konik says, is that hookup culture isn’t unique to the gay community; many heterosexual people use apps for casual relationships, too.
“Hookup culture is everywhere, but the LGBTQ community gets our hookup culture unfairly expanded and made to seem as if that’s all we are (it’s not),” he said. “Apps help all of us seek out others who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for.”
Focus on hookup culture
For 29-year-old Max, who wished to use only his first name, apps are part of his and his partner’s open relationship. The couple is both on Grindr, and Max says they use the app solely as a hookup platform.
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“Both of us don’t need to connect with other partners on an emotional level, so the line is really drawn at just hookups,” he said. “We wouldn’t be sleeping over or going on dates with other guys.”
While Max says Grindr makes it easy to find casual encounters, it also has a dark side.
“It presents too much options,” he said. “You end up being over-saturated with selection, and this must be difficult if you’re looking for a partner or even a date.”
He said that dating apps also validate your ego in the same way Instagram can; people “like” your photos and users message you when they “like” your display picture.
In a recent article for Vox, psychiatrist Jack Turban wrote about how Grindr is affecting gay men’s mental health, and questioned if the app was harming people’s abilities to build romantic relationships. Turban argued that dating apps can create a sense that there are endless options on your phone, which can cause people to spend hours seeking out partners.
“There’s a struggle of who has the control — me or the app?” Max explained. “The apps present that idea of a hookup always being there in front of you, so in the moment, your instinct is to grab it.”
Considering app safety
While connections and relationships can be found online, dating apps can also be places rife with harassment and discrimination.
Gerges says it’s not uncommon for users on apps to write things like “muscle only” or “no fats” on their profile. Because of bad experiences, Gerges is now off Grindr entirely.
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“I’ve found that men are more comfortable body and fat shaming on that app,” he said. “I’ve experienced a lot of anonymous harassment … and it’s always impacted my body image negatively — especially while growing up as a young gay man exploring my sexuality.”
Mendelson says that the discriminatory behaviour seen on apps is reflective of larger issues within the LGBTQ2 community, like transphobia, racism and body shaming.
Finding serious relationships offline
The nature of dating apps has turned some users off of them entirely. Rob Loschiavo, 29, is taking a break from dating apps.
The communications professional is looking for a serious, closed relationship, but says actively searching for a partner on Tinder, Bumble and Chappy was getting exhausting.
He said he could never find someone who was looking for the same thing as he was, and many people weren’t sure what they wanted, either.
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“It’s overwhelming sometimes and you get caught up in the ‘game’ rather than actually looking to make a genuine connection,” he said. “I want to let things just happen in their own natural way.”
For people who want to meet people offline, Mendelson suggests people “broaden” their search by joining communities or spending time in LGBTQ2-friendly spaces. He says recreational sports team or meetup groups are great places to start.
“Going to a cafe that’s queer-friendly and interacting with others outside of the app can help a lot,” he added.
He also says that for people who do still want to date on apps, there are certain apps that cater to those seeking long-term relationships. Mendelson said it’s important for users to also be upfront about what they’re looking for.
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Mendelson says it’s important to remember when feeling discouraged that app users do not reflect everyone. There’s plenty of people offline who may be looking for the same things you are.
“It’s important to recognize that this is also a filter; this isn’t all gay men, this is specific gay men on an app,” he said. “Sometimes getting off the app too is important for your self-care.”
The importance of community
Even if dating apps don’t always lead to romantic relationships, they can offer safe spaces for gay men to connect with one another.
“I believe guys are allowed to explore any kind of connection that they want, from activity partners, professional networking, casual chat, friendship, sex or romantic relationships,” Konik said.
Growing up in the Middle East, Gerges said dating apps offered him a sense of community.
“I grew up in a culture where I was told I shouldn’t exist; where I was made to feel like there’s something wrong with me,” he said.
“Apps have helped me find other gay Arab men that I would never run into in real life, and I’ve been able to talk to them and share our experience, and build the sense of community that I’ve always craved and hoped to belong to.”