Challenges Posed By App Dating For Gay Men in Today’s World

GoodTherapy | Challenges Posed By App Dating For Gay Men in Today’s WorldIt’s no news that dating apps and the rise of social media have revolutionized and expanded upon the concept of “online dating” that took off in the 1990s. While this directly affects people from all walks of life, this article seeks to focus on the unique experiences that gay men face which are amplified by the changes to the dating culture that the world has seen over the past decade.  

 In the world before such technology was available, to meet other guys, gay men relied heavily upon specific locations such as gay bars to meet other men with similar inclinations. While it’s true that not everyone at the bar on a given night is gay, most are, and, if they are not gay, it’s quite possible that if a gay man met a heterosexual man or woman at such a place, while they may not be interested themselves, he/she/they might know someone who is a gay man and make an introduction. All of this is to illustrate what has been lost with the slow death and decline of the gay bar and gay neighborhood scene that has gone hand in hand with the increased convenience of connectivity gay dating apps have provided; gay men experience more isolation and less connection than they have in the past without these places available to meet people the traditional way.   

To examine precisely what, then, dating apps leave gay men, it’s most efficient to begin with the type of space dating apps provide. The online world is undeniably convenient when it comes to its location-based abilities to provide available potential partners within a given proximity to every user. However, as Wade, R.M. and Pear, M. (2022) suggest, “the greater anonymity of virtual environments enables users to express harmful and discriminatory sentiments much more visibly, frequently, and aggressively than in most physical environments.” In other words, because guys have no fear of having to deal with the social repercussions of what they say when they “speak” to someone, they are more emboldened and/or callous when they hand out their opinions or rejection. 

Dating apps provide the convenience (and even safety) of “blocking” anyone they do not wish to communicate with. Therefore, if one man initiates a conversation with another, he is putting himself at immediate risk of being blocked without any kind of acknowledgment or explanation for the rejection, and such rejections are more painful than ones where they are politely said something like “thank you for the offer, however, I am not interested.”  

Today’s easy come easy go convenience and the anonymity barrier and distance that are now afforded everyone has brought about with it the age of “ghosting,” where there is a culture of silent dismissal. So even if a guy is successful in getting another guy to agree to a date, and given how small the dating pool already makes this task no easy feat, there is still the risk of arriving at the date and looking down at his phone on his way or after arriving to find that his date has blocked him without apology, explanation, or even a word. Again, this kind of rejection stings much more acutely than plans canceled with what was once considered common communication. 

Obstacles With Gay Dating Apps

If focused more acutely on what the dating app culture is leaving gay men to contend with is the increased objectification of the physical form. It is no secret that men are visual creatures, but because of this, the importance of a single photo is crucial on these dating apps because one quick impression makes or breaks getting blocked or completely ignored at best. This causes men to abruptly encounter and persistently deal with self-image issues regarding weight, age, skin color, and a host of other body-related characteristics. These issues are old and were certainly present before, but the app dating culture reinforces and reproduces them daily as it is a requirement before communication can even be earned. 

While combating these obstacles, and again thanks to the anonymity of gay dating apps, gay men have the unique challenge of dealing with more men who are either married or at the very least “not out, discreet.” These men holding onto a straight/heterosexual identity while stepping quietly into the dating pool by creating a profile to satisfy their same-sex attractions and curiosities adds another layer of homophobia-related damage to sift through when finding a partner. An unfortunate part of app dating in the gay world is determining whether or not someone is lying at the onset of communication. The lies could include not disclosing the fact he is a married man or a lie could be that while openly admitting to the guy he is talking to on the app that he is married, he is still cheating on his spouse behind her back and that is what some gay men are left to choose from.  

Further, if is accepted that it is indeed best to “be friends first,” in relationships rather than being sexual up front, gay dating apps are once again not the answer. Because users have the quick and easy ability to pour their hearts out and self-disclose at faster rates, by the time the date comes around, the two daters already feel as if they know each other well and become sexually active more quickly than they would have had met any other way. This leaves them not stopping to take the time to get to know the other person and diminishes the “trust building, easy communication, and companionship” that strong relationships are known to have (Brenner, A., 2022). 

Gay Dating Apps and Mental Health

Ultimately, gay dating apps and the culture that is arguably more hurtful than it is helpful to mental health are successful because of their success in sustaining the trapping illusion of time. Gay men are caught in the belief that by being on dating apps and quickly accessing partners from a wider pool than the small one around them has to offer they are saving time. However, because any one conversation partner can disappear at a moment’s notice as discussed, there is a necessity for speaking to multiple partners at the same time to maintain the feelings of pursuing and winning or being pursued and winning which leaves everyone on the apps in a constant cycle of both anticipating and handing out rejection. In the end, the more rejection a person receives, the more comfortable they become in handing it out to others. 

In the wise words of Elizabeth Bishop, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Focusing on real relationships in life that are built on stronger foundations than shallow, insincere, and forced connections or it “may look like a disaster.”  

The moral of this detailing of an offense to psychological well-being is to recognize and see the game of dating apps for what it is. Clients within the gay community should focus on self-improvement strategies both mental and physical that support a healthier person that is ready when the right person comes along, whether that’s the old-fashioned way or being one of the lucky lottery winners on a dating app. Those seeking mental health strategies can inquire about mindfulness-based interventions as self-compassion does wonders to counter the barrage of negative messaging from apps in gay dating (GoodTherapy, 2018). Therapists working with this population should have an understanding of the degree of rejection that exists within the gay community in addition to the marginalization that has happened and still happens in society.   

 

References 

Brenner, A. (2022). 5 Reasons It’s Better to Be Friends Before Lovers. Psychology Today. 

GoodTherapy. (2018). How to improve self-esteem.  

Wade, R. & Pear, M. (2022). A good app is hard to find: Examining differences in racialized sexual discrimination across online intimate partner-seeking venues. International  

journal of environmental research and public health. 

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