At 27, I like to think I have enough of my life together to be able to look back on the past with some level of reflection. I don’t have a lot of my life together, mind, but just enough so that when I sit and reminisce on my long train journeys, I can arrive at calculated destinations in my head.
As a gay man, I was lucky to grow up with the level of acceptance that I did. Although there were times where I was bullied in school corridors, picked last at sports and had the way I dress laughed at for being too flamboyant. But growing up the time that I have meant that my existence wasn’t illegal, though at times it was made to feel like it. So, in a bid to find people like me, I did what most 16 year old gay men have done, and turned to Grindr.
You see, for those young ones of you out there, I also grew up with flip phones and Snake. There was no Twitter to share my tales with. YouTube was something people did for fun, not money and we didn’t really get smartphones until I was in my final years of high school. There was no swiping on Tinder, no waiting for the first message on Bumble and definitely no cat fishes on Plenty of Fish. In some respects, my teenage years were deprived of the chance to experiment and find myself, because visibility was nowhere near what it is today.
So our only options in the early noughties were seedy websites like FitLads, stealing your brothers ID to sneak onto Canal Street underage, or Grindr. And so at a time where I was looking to find myself, I download the one app that can never help to find anyones self. Naive and hoping for the foundations of a solid relationship to replace my rocky and catastrophic first relationship, I fell into the trap of believing that everybody who asked to see my nudes fancied me. I believed that every message of hi mate was the arrival of the one I would one day marry. By falling head first into that trap, I became a creature of habit, handing my nudes out to anyone, trying to deliver a winning conversation by scrapping the pleasant conversations for, well, not so pleasant conversations. I became a people pleaser to faceless profiles and then when an inevitable rejection came along, I took it personally. I believed it was because I was ugly, or perhaps I was too fat. I shaved my chest because people didn’t like it hairy, I cut my hair because people didn’t want to sleep with Runcorns answer to Justin Bieber. Time and time again, I took the rejection personally because at an age where I was trying to find myself, I was also trying to compete with the gays 200 metres from me.
Over the years, as relationships of mine have ended, I have returned to the cycle of trying to find love, quite frankly, in a hopeless place (à la Rihanna). It is an app that I have sworn never to fall into again, because it doesn’t bring any positivity to my life. If all you want is an afternoon hookup where the rules in place are that you aren’t allowed to kiss and you definitely aren’t allowed to stay over, then it’s the app for you. And I am not for a second saying it’s a bad thing, we are all human beings who all have our own desires and needs and wants. It works for some, and I completely agree, but that’s not the point I am trying to make.
I am trying to make a point for those of us who it doesn’t work for. For those of us who are a little more reserved, the hopeless romantics and the ones who take a while to feel comfortable enough to even get undressed in front of the person we fancy. If I could go back in time and give the young, impressionable me who wasn’t quite out to the world yet some advise, it would be to stay away from the hook up apps, because that’s what they are. And I think a part of me, the part that is a hopeless romantic and who just wants to settle down with somebody and share a bag of sour cream and chive pretzels, always held out for the belief that the more I put myself out there in a world that hasn’t always let me do that, then I am more likely to find the person to lie in the dark and ask stupid questions about life with.
I feel that we – the we here being us LGBTQ+ folk – spend so much of our lives living in some sort of shadow. We can’t always be out there holding hands with the person we love. A lot of the love we do experience is usually at some sort of distance because our areas are often sparse of people like us. We dress down to fit in. We change our voices, we hold back on our laugh and at times, we completely lose ourselves in order to fit in. And so, we hold on to all the little glimmers that we can. We turn to apps, we express ourselves creatively and we try to steal hidden moments where we can truly be ourselves. However, one thing I think we are all guilty of – myself especially – is the thought that we should seize every opportunity we are given to be ourselves, because it something we are often starved of in the real world. Grindr is designed to be a hook up app, and adult me can recognise that, but young impressionable me naively thought it was the place for love. And so, my view on love and relationships became warped. The journey to understanding that and learning my lesson was a journey that took a long time to recognise. But it’s a journey that I am glad to have experienced, because now I know what does and doesn’t work when it comes to my life.
Over the last decade, I have been on a journey that arguably, has been harder than most. Coming to terms with my adoption and the death of my first boyfriend left an impression on me that I think makes me view life a little differently these days. I have learned that there is almost always a lesson in every tiny thing we do. I probably think deeper than most, and I know how annoying it can be, believe me. But I like to think that I am finally though the other side, and able to stand confidently with the knowledge of what does and doesn’t work for me. And Grindr doesn’t work for me.
And it doesn’t have to work for you, either. If it does, if you can find what you are looking for and you feel safe and respected, then honestly grab it and run. But if you can recognise that it isn’t working for you, that it is warping your own self view, then you have the power to change it, to recognise that something isn’t working and to make room in your life for something that does.