I’m not 19 anymore. But, when I was, I moved to New York. Back then, I used to meet guys off a phone chat line. It’s funny—and other gay guys will remember—it was like a dating app, but it was all voicemail. You would have to decide if how the person was describing themselves seemed accurate and if their voice sounded like somebody that you would be into. Then, you would decide to meet, and all of this would be coordinated through voicemail messages.
It was exciting to meet people because there was an element of surprise: you’d finally get to see this person you imagined in your head. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But for better or for worse, you had no way to preview who they were, no way of seeing years of Instagram photos or mutual friends. Now that social media has connected us, it feels impossible to meet somebody who isn’t six degrees of Kevin Bacon away.
Back then, if you were on a dating site, people would give you hell about it. If you met somebody online, you had to figure out the lie to tell people where you met.
My last relationship started because of a chance meeting at a bar. I’m single now, for the first time in six years, and some things have definitely changed, while others haven’t.
One thing that has changed is that people don’t seem to meet people in person anymore (except for bars—that probably won’t ever change). I tested this theory out and found that earbuds have ruined the grocery store. You can’t talk to anyone, because everyone’s got earbuds in. I tried borrowing a friend’s dog so I could chill at the dog park and meet people there, but it didn’t work. Plus, my car got really dirty.
So, I tried using some apps, and went on some dates, but I noticed that people’s expectations and habits have accelerated with the technology they use to communicate.
I was dumped twice by people I met on apps. Before you think to yourself, “Aww, poor Josh,” you should know that I had no idea I was ‘dating’ these people. That’s how fast they were trying to move things.
Lying About Eggplant Size
On these apps, the average size seems to be eight inches. Now, we all know that that’s not the case. But because so many people lie, the situation has spiraled out of control. It’s akin to driving on the interstate. If someone’s chugging along at the speed limit and everyone else is going thirty miles an hour faster than the speed limit, they’re going to get run off the road. So, the person decides to speed, even though it’s wrong and it’s easy to get caught.
It’s a double-edged sword for me. I love the ease, convenience, and speed of texting. But the downside is – and I’ve had this happen in past relationships – you get in the habit of texting all day, and it’s super exciting during the honeymoon phase. But then you realize when you finally get to see the person that you have nothing to share. You’ve already said it all through texts.
On the very first episode of Life with Josh, I talk about wanting someone to complement my life, and my desire to complement theirs. I don’t want to become someone’s life. I certainly don’t want them to become my life. I’ve been through that.
Who Picks Up the Check?
Without handy dandy heteronormativity as a guiding principle, I get nervous that I’m not doing the right thing. Does somebody pick somebody up or do we meet there? Does it matter who invited who out? If he invited me out, is it weird for me to pick him up? And if he invited me, who pays? Should we just do Dutch?
Where Do We Go on a Date?
One of my personal rules of thumb is keeping the first date short: grabbing a drink or getting a coffee. I try to avoid having an entire meal for the first date, because what if it’s a dud after ten minutes, and now we have to wait for your salmon to arrive?
There’s only a limited number of gay-friendly establishments in Nashville. I’m not saying you always have to go to a gay-friendly establishment, but on a date I definitely feel more comfortable in at least a friendly place. The downside is, those friendly places are places that my friends are. If I go to one of my go-to bars on a date with somebody and my friends walk by, they’re going to stop and then it becomes “Oh, we’re just all hanging out.”
Dating with HIV
I’m single for the first time since being diagnosed with HIV six years ago, so that brings with it some new territory. I personally don’t really feel different. I take two pills a day—that’s the extent that it affects my daily life. But some people consider HIV a deal breaker, even though—like so many others living with HIV—my viral load is undetectable, meaning there is no risk of transmission.
I have a profile on DatingPositives, which is awesome because they serve the positive community and you don’t have to deal with people blocking you or ruling you out solely because of your status. It’s a nice change of pace, because, right now, DatingPositives exists solely on the web, although rumor has it that will soon change.
They’ve modeled the site to be like they were in the good old days. There’s a bigger opportunity to share more about yourself, to create a fuller profile. It’s also not about meeting people that are ten feet from you. You can if you want to, but there’s an opportunity to see what else and who else is out there. It leads you to people that you would never meet otherwise.
Josh Robbins is an award winning sexual health advocate, author of the site imstilljosh.com and spokesperson for DatingPositives.com. He was nominated for a GLAAD media award in 2017 and recently won the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association’s Excellence Award in the blogging category.