It’s amazing what our laptops and smartphones can teach us.
Before online dating became our modern reality, I had been on a journey of random physical encounters — a series of drunken sexual trysts behaving like consecutive loops of a roller coaster. The force of gravity pulling me in every direction as I just struggled to stay on the tracks.
Damning me even further was the persistent feeling that, romantically, I was totally doomed. I felt like a fucked up creature out of water. A gangly, geeky, shy gay man who told jokes that didn’t land and prefered the company of trees and cats to that of the men who wanted to date him.
So when the 21st century rolled around, with its websites, forums, and smartphones — I immediately rejoiced. I joined in collectively unlocking a tempting buffet of men. I became obnoxiously familiar with the sending and receiving of previously-lewd requests in a growing web of online subcultures — a variety of curiosities to explore.There I was, even before we had defined the term “selfie”, a key player in a graphic symphony of self-indulgent words and photography.
Here are the things I learned from navigating the sometimes choppy waters of online dating:
- There will always be an expectation to conform to the needs of the few. And we will want to conform.
- We overindulge in what we see, at the expense of what we hear, smell, taste, and feel.
- Though we are a ragtag group traveling together, we often serve ourselves alone.
In the beginning there was just the elite and the alpha man, the blonde bombshell, and the drop-dead gorgeous. The confident and the unbashful, the muscular and fierce, the testosterone-ridden and the risk taking. The more modest and sentimental among us evolved alongside these characters, outmatched. Technology replicating life once again.
When we self-indulgently began capturing our well-rehearsed postures in bathroom mirrors and sharing them online, we also became the first generation controlling our own distribution. With twitching groins and only partially matured fetishes, every one of us — each gender, preference, and orientation — on display. Hopefully happy endings that began in expletives and cock shots.
We may not be obligated to feel anything when we interact with each other, but some of us still perpetually hope for the best. I remember how inflated my ego felt in early days of online dating, access to the homosexual smorgasbord laid out in front of me, the compliments and the cat calling. Easy access.
I remember the false security, my fears of not measuring up to the alpha men and muscle daddies, safely hidden behind my pixelated shield. Online, no one can see you cowering in the corner, no one can feel your sweaty palms.
And the guilt too, the feeling that I wasn’t respecting the best of me. With no alcohol to blame for my misbehaviour and insecurity, I became riddled with judgement. I looked down on myself and the people I was hooking up with. It felt inauthentic to ignore people so openly, to flip through an online catalogue of potential mates, to like, ban, block, and critique people on such a superficial level. But I was just following the crowd… or at least that was the excuse I was using.
All Five Senses
In the presence of another person, we can indulge in body language, the flavor of their subtle glances, the pitch of their distant laughter. At least when I’m in a dark room and someone catches my eye, I can be both a detective and a casual voyeur.
When I meet someone in the flesh, I tend to lean into the role of the peacekeeper. I feast on the approval of others and it’s as though the word “no” get strangled half way up and out my throat. Online this is a different matter. Fear of the unknown, fear of entering someone’s life (and in some cases, their body) so quickly, makes it easier to deny a craving then give into it.
Enter pheromones and lingering eye contact. Enter nerves and trepidation. Enter sweaty palms and grumbling tummy. This is where my mind and body find pleasure. Focus and efficiency is one thing, desire is another, and my desire calls for more than just a profile picture.
Often in the early days of online dating, I would think of the love that I would hope to find in the future. Finding sex online was easy. Finding anything other than a hookup was much trickier.
It seemed doubtful that a lasting relationship could be created with cock shots. I wondered if two men could seriously fall in love after meeting online. Could I be with someone that I met online and still be proud enough to answer the question, “so how did you two meet?” Especially if that question came from my mother? Would I joke in confidence about the dick pics and the dirty conversations that somehow turned into slow Sunday morning walks and her adopted grandchildren?
Love is love. Humans have been meeting, greeting, grinding and hooking up in dark, sweaty places for years.
I’m no angel. I’ve shed my digital skin. I’ve followed a map to a new address and taken my clothes off… And then I’ve shut it all down, but not always for the right reasons. At times I’ve been modest and aloof, other times sentimental and traditional. I’ve been outgoing and daring, and frigid and fearful. I’ve wished I could change in either direction just to please the masses and stand up, or get down on my dirty knees. But I just can’t.
I clear my life’s cache and it all goes quiet online.
Because this isn’t an issue of technology or anthropology for me. I’m not sending out a heartfelt plea for the backwards compatibility of the gay community. This is simply a case of forgiveness.
Forgiveness for wanting to change someone else and forgiveness for wanting them to change for me. This is forgiveness for trying to please others, no matter their request and this is forgiveness for sacrificing myself because of it. I have given into boys, bytes, and the bottle so many times… And if I do it again, I can be much easier on myself this time.
This is me moving on — an uncompromising promise to myself to just be me.
Online and Offline.