Finding love in cyberspace

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Modern technology has made the world a much smaller place. Airplanes, high-speed trains, and automobiles have all made humans more mobile and have changed the ways that we relate to distant people. Just a few hundred years ago, many people never traveled more than a few villages from home. The pool of marriage and sexual partners was relatively shallow. Now a person can wake up in Nashville and go to bed in Tokyo, with little more than a mid-air nap in between.

The internet has brought the world even closer together. As is the case in so many markets, sex and love have been drivers of the internet since the beginning, with bulletin boards and email lists organized around helping people meet compatible partners (romantic, sexual, or otherwise) developing into websites, allowing us to find what we were looking for down the street or on the other side of the world.

Now websites themselves have transitioned into, or developed companion, applications. Where once our options were bound narrowly by our locations, our browsing for options is no longer even confined to our desks or tied to our modems. We carry veritable marketplaces (Tinder, Chemistry.com, etc.) or plain old meat markets (Grindr, Scruff, Growlr, and so many more) in our pockets, armed with GPS tracking and instant message capabilities.

From dating apps to “dating apps” to straight-up hookup radars, this way of discovering and meeting people has reshaped our social landscape too. Many blame the decline of the gay bar and other traditional “cruising grounds”—and a general devolution in social interactions within the LGBT community more generally, on the rise of the app.

Sure this may be a classic overreaction, but it’s hard not to sympathize on some level with the complaint you hear so often: everyone at the bar, or party, had their noses buried in their phones.

In addition to these complaints, one often hears other unflattering comments circling around the apps and those who use them. Many apps—especially those explicitly for hooking up—are widely used but also widely viewed judgmentally (even, or often, by those who use them for just this purpose). Slut-shaming those who use the apps is a pastime that seems to run rampant through social circles. “Did you know so-and-so was on Grindr?” is a question that could signal excitement, but could just as easily get the gossip train rolling.

Sure, we all know “what Grindr is for” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be for anything else. It’s one thing to make fun of that guy who has “friends only” or “not looking for sex” as his profile headline but who never opens a conversation until he’s shared a dick and/or ass photo, usually unsolicited. That’s almost as easy as making fun of Mr. Don’t-Contact-Me-Without-A-Pic who both has no pic of his own but also demands one of you right off the bat (and since your face is in your profile, we all know what he feels entitled to see anonymously). But I digress…

It’s another thing altogether to make fun of, or dismiss, guys who authentically claim to be looking for love or relationships or even friendship on the apps (even if they also happen to be open to fun where it can be found). There’s enough shame and stigma in the world without applying it to people looking to make some genuine human connections, even if they happen to be doing so in what may seem like the unlikeliest of places.

A lot of couples who meet on social apps—from people who add Facebook friends because they share a lot of common acquaintances and find the person attractive to those who started off as no-strings-attached midnight bootie calls—sanitize their stories to avoid that stigma. Many fear that, when others realize how they met, it will delegitimize their relationships in the eyes of those who hear their stories.

This month, I chatted with a couple of couples who found lasting love via social apps, and they got real, opening up about how those apps intersect with day-to-day life and overlap with other social spheres. Sure, finding love on Grindr, or via Facebook random hottie-friending, is a long shot, but is it any harder than finding Mr. Right in the supermarket, where the difference between a black eye and a phone number might be the strength of your gaydar?

The first couple I spoke with met through Grindr and wished to remain anonymous—I shall refer to them as Kyle and Dustin. Kyle is one of those guys who didn’t approach Grindr solely as a hookup tool.

“I found the apps—mainly Grindr and Tinder—as ways to find both friends and hookups when I moved to the area,” he explained. “I didn't know that many people when I arrived in Nashville, and I have made some of my best friends through these apps.”

Though not particularly a classic romantic, he also didn’t come in thinking he couldn’t find love on the apps as well. “I don't go scrounging around through people's profiles targeting love. Love was never a goal of using the app, but at the expense of sounding a bit banal, sometimes you never know where you'll find love.”

“I really believe,” he added, “that where you are most likely to succeed in finding love varies by person. Do you go out a lot and have a large social circle? Perhaps meeting people through friends or while out on the town will be best. Do you have bit more introverted personality and a much smaller-knit social circle? Perhaps a combination of online dating and meeting people through your friends will work for you. It's hard to say for everyone, but for me, I find online dating works well.”

As an introvert and a tech-oriented person, Kyle liked the fact that using the apps allows you to take a “data driven and customizable” approach to socializing. “You have filters for what interests you and there is no shortage of potential matches in the area. For me, the app allowed me to find other people who had similar interests to my own.”

The apps also have weaknesses, for those seeking more than a hookup, he pointed out. “It's hard to fit who you are on a small page with a picture. The app gives you a snapshot of a person,” he explained, “and it's up to you to decide if the person seems like someone you would be interested in spending time with or if they should be relegated to a ‘left swipe.’ It can feel very impersonal.”

Despite this, he added, “I've met some pretty awesome people using the apps, including my wonderful fiancé, Dustin. I had used the apps in hopes of finding people to befriend, but I didn't realize what an integral role those people would play in my life.”

Our cover couple, Sheldon Sinks and Ben Myrick have been together for a couple of years now, and they met on Grindr, kinda… They actually friended on Facebook before their first direct “romantic” interactions on Grindr, but took it back to Facebook before they met. Convoluted I know.

“I just friended him because I thought he was cute. After we became friends on Facebook,” Sheldon said, “he used to hit me up on Grindr. Plenty of times … at like 2:30 in the morning! Got to love those drunken, middle-of-the-night messages! I always turned him down…”

Neither was embarrassed by their story, or even how that part of it got started. “One of his friends, I didn't know it was his friend,” Sheldon explained, “but we had hooked up, his friend and I. After I friended Ben, and sent him a message like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ he asked this mutual ‘friend’ and was like, ‘Do you know who this guy who friended me is?’ And that guy was like, ‘Oh, yeah. You should get with him….’”

“He actually said, ‘He’s a good lay,’” Ben clarified. “And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try!’”

“And so that's when I guess he started trying to hit me up on Grindr,” Sheldon continued. “And I was just like, ‘Eh, let’s keep it on Facebook!’”

There was clearly interest going both directions, so we wondered whether Sheldon had turned Ben down because he was obviously “looking” for some late-night action. “Not because it was Grindr or any kind of stigma… It was like 2:30 and I had to be at work by 6:00!” Sheldon clarified. “I had Grindr Extra and so I’d happen to leave the sound turned on and it would make a noise. I would look at it, and I'm like, ‘Oh my god, he's messaging me this late?!" I'd be like, ‘No,’ or ‘I can't.’”

After being turned down a few times, Ben decided to friend Sheldon on Facebook. Some time after that, Sheldon noticed Ben had checked in on Facebook at the same gym, and messaged him. “I just sent him a message saying, ‘Hey, you’re at the Y! I’m at the Y too. What are you doing?’ He said something smooth like, ‘Working out.’ So I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll see you out on the floor.’ By the time I was done and asked him where he was, he replied that he was in the shower, so I just said, ‘Oh, okay…’ And we didn’t meet there.”

“I tell people something else,” Ben added with a laugh. “I say you tried hitting me up saying, ‘Hey, come meet me in the shower.”

“I never said that,” Sheldon quickly clarified. “But, so, we ended up meeting up later that night. He was like, ‘Come over and get tacos.’ And he eats all the tacos. And he leaves me waiting for like three hours. Finally go over to his house, and he's like, ‘Well, I'm in bed watching…’ What was it? Gay German Ballads?”

“Ballets,” Ben interjected. “It was some Netflix thing at the time. They didn't have the best selection, so I thought, you know, it would be a good ice breaker maybe. I don't know.”

“It was a terrible icebreaker,” Sheldon said, returning to the fact that, “He was supposed to feed me dinner and he didn't feed me dinner. But, and so we dated for … Well, we talked for about a month and we started dating in December 2014.”

Later, they discovered that the interest had been going on longer than either of them realized. Both men are in Hot Mess, and when Ben went back over some of his old photos he recognized a familiar face was in a lot of those shots.

“At one of the first games,” Ben said, “I decided, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna take a bunch of photos so that I can have these memories with my friends.’ And then about a month or two after we started dating, we were going through all these photos on my camera, and I realized… I thought, ‘Wow, I have so many pictures of Sheldon!’ And I'd never met him before. I just thought he was cute and ended up spending half of my camera roll on him!”

When I mentioned that a lot of people I spoke to agreed that Facebook, especially with its people you may know, acts like a hookup app for some people, and supplements hookup apps for others, Sheldon and Ben agreed.

“I think it's more successful, too,” Ben agreed. “Because it doesn't just show what you're into, or here's this one photo. It shows more of what you’re like in life, what you do for a living, who you hang out with, what you do in your extracurricular activities.”

Neither was inclined to try to sanitize their story, though, to make it a “we met on Facebook” situation. Both had had significant relationships develop off of Grindr before, and said they didn’t feel a lot of stigma around it personally. Both said they’d used other apps and websites in the past, including Scruff and Hornet, Manhunt and Adam4Adam, as well as others.

“I dated a guy before I even moved here, and I met him off Grindr,” Sheldon said. “We only dated for eight months, and when I moved down here from Kentucky, we ended things. It didn't really work out. There's plenty of people that I know that have met off Grindr and they dated, but I do think if you're gonna get on Grindr, it's usually for fun, and if something more happens, it happens. If it’s 2:30 in the morning and you're messaging on Grindr, it's pretty much what I'm thinking you're wanting,” he added with a laugh at Ben.

But over two years later, what began, and could have ended with, 2:30 a.m. bootie calls, has developed into a long-term relationship. The two have been living together for a year-and-a-half, and have a dog together. All thanks to Grindr and Facebook hottie chasing.

So, maybe take a page from these intrepid couples and don’t be ashamed to take a browse, whether you’re looking for love or it’s just 2:30 a.m.—you never know who or what you might find. You don’t have to take the bait, but see what’s out there and whether it might be a good fit for the space you have available—the space in your heart or just the empty other half of your bed.