Swiping and Grinding Through the Gay-Dating Jungle

There’s more fish in the sea, but in the world of gay dating apps it feels more like a shiver of sharks looking for fresh meat.

03 February 2024 / Published in Prism & Pen on Medium
Photo credits / Zac Gudakov on Unsplash

After braving the waves of past loves and a tsunami of a pandemic, I made my way to shore and found myself standing here once again, marooned on the beaches of this strange and savage wilderness — this gay Temptation Island of dating apps.

A bit weary and tired, I began to slash my way through the hot, steamy wilderness of love and desire. Growing sweaty and hungry for connection, I started to get excited about what new and exotic encounters lay ahead.

As I travelled through the gullies, groves and swamps, I couldn’t believe the dizzying spectacles that I came upon. Men of all shapes and colours — all belonging to their various clans and tribes — strutted and stomped with their mating rituals, tempting me with their hypnotizing moves.

Twinks, Otters, Cubs, Bears. Smooth, shaved and hairy. Muscle tops and power bottoms. Pierced, PrEP-ed and double-vaxxed. Tribes with their own dialogue and their own rules. With their own uniforms and dress codes.

The clones of tattooed men puffed their chests, with their steely six-packs and porn-star crew cuts. The gym bunnies flexed in front of stacks of barbells or in steamy locker rooms with their sex-machine scowls. They rode mountain bikes, ran Spartan Races and stood in front of monuments from far-off lands. Different men, all similar vignettes. All of these custom-made Ken dolls were beginning to make this feel less like a dating jungle and more like Amazon. Masked, packaged and ready for shipping!

The tribes may be different, but they all worship one god here. The God of Youth. You can feel his presence everywhere. Mature men squeezing themselves into teen-sized tank tops and Daisy-Duke shorts. Lips inflated and butts lifted. Faces Photoshopped and flattened into pink, baby-bottom smoothness. In this religion, age and wisdom were banished long ago.

Sometimes the men had no faces at all — just a dark, foreboding silhouette staring back at me, leaving me guessing what I would find underneath.

“Hi,” said discreet_guy.

He didn’t speak another word, but I think I knew what he was saying:
Either married, closeted or I have a side hobby of burying my victims in quicksand.

Dazed and disoriented, I dismissed him and raced off into the underbrush. Following the trail of the notifying red pellets, I made my way through the underbrush until I came upon a dark cave. When I entered, another group of men approached. They must have been in there for a while because they grunted and growled in a strange new dialect. I began to sink into the dizzying alphabet soup of acronyms.

“No LTR. Only FWB. DDF,” grunted up_for_action.
“Looking for NSA fun and DTF,” bristled act69.

SOS! Someone get me an urban dictionary!

I sped off once again, leaving the men in the darkness. Definitely tempting, but I was craving something more in my language and not this litany of letters that had been thrown my way.

I stumbled into a small clearing and another two men approached.
“Maybe these guys have seen more of the light of day,” I thought.

“Wanna f**k?” moaned an impatient right_now.
“Age? From? Size?” demanded wellhung42.

Wow, cut and dry and to the point. I’ve stepped out of the cave and into the quagmire. Forget the expressive chats; this is express checkout, baby.

I darted away, determined that I would find something closer to what I was looking for, blinded by the promising glow of The Perfect Match hidden somewhere in this never-ending beefcake buffet. Somewhere in this million-man army that marches on and on and on.

In a frenzy, I began to swipe left and right, drunk in the sea of choices that lay before me, confident in the fact that the always more perfect man lay just around the corner.

“Too short. Too tall. Balding. Not bald enough. Too hairy. Too smooth.”

Making split-second decisions, eating up the onslaught of red pellets that were raining down on me. Tap! Swipe! Woof!

I began to hunt day and night, whether I was racing between meals or doom-scrolling half-blind in the lonely hours of the morning, most times hardly paying attention at all.

“Was it this one? That one? Who was the one that I liked? Was I talking to tallguy11 or slimdude7?”

And even if I did like one of them, I seemed to know everything about them already — what they wanted, what they liked — and, in turn, what they expected of me. No stone unturned and no undiscovered country. The pressure to live up to the product description. To the tribe. Reduced to a laundry list of likes.

I howled and raced through the palms, wide-eyed and manic. And then all of a sudden, there he stood under the trees.

“Hi sexy,” he said in his manly voice.

“Wow, this guy looks great,” I thought.

“Maybe he spends his weekends building huts and thrusting his hairy, brawny forearms into treacherous waters, plucking out fresh fish with his bare hands.”

Slowly taking off my own masks, trinkets and shiny things, I stood there, baring all. But he didn’t. He just stood there, cool and unshaken, continuing to move in his scripted dance.

I was nervous at first, but then I thought: “It’s okay. I’m sure he’s human under all of that.”

“Stop strutting and posing for a moment so I can really see you,” I thought.

And then with total abandon, I raced towards him. We kissed and clawed at each other and fell to the dirt. We played and teased and sprung ourselves on each other. Minutes passed and time stood still.

And then, before you knew it, it was over.

We lay there for a moment in the warm sun, but I had never felt colder. The deed was done and there was nothing more. Maybe his dance is all that he had. Maybe he didn’t want to go deep and get bogged down. Just get in and get out fast. Maybe it was only just about the right now. And right then, it knew it was finished.

“Thanks…maybe I’ll see you around sometime,” he said coolly before slinking off into the trees, ready for the next hunt.

And just like that, I was on my own again. I’m no Virgin Mary sitting here on my high horse, believe me. We’ve all succumbed to the no-strings-attached casual encounter — hookup, line and sinker. And it can be fun and wonderful and not last forever — but not forever doesn’t have to mean not connected.

After a short while, I picked myself up and began to walk, and after what seemed like hours, I came upon a beautiful waterfall surrounded by a deep lagoon. I slid into the cool water and swam towards it. When I finally reached it, I hoisted myself up on the slippery rocks. I entered the shower of clean, refreshing water and let it wash everything away. I sat there for a while — silent and slowly regaining some clarity. And then, one single red pellet fell at my feet from above. I looked up and a man stared back at me from the top of the waterfall.

“Hi,” he said. “You probably don’t remember me.”

I shook my head, slightly embarrassed.

“Look, I know you weren’t into me, but you could have at least answered me. A little humanity would have been nice.”

I paused for a moment and then I said, “You’re right…I — I’m sorry. There just wasn’t enough…time. I was too distracted.”

He smiled knowingly, gave me a wink and then walked away, out of sight.

And then I realized that maybe I forgot something here. That I, too, became a complicit player in this world, with the swipes and woofs and taps. Maybe I should have taken more care and taken the time to respond. We all have busy lives and some solicitations definitely don’t warrant a response at all, but some do. Isn’t there always time to be human? There are people behind these masks after all.

But I should like this world, right? I should be liberated and carefree and have encounters like it was ordering a cup of coffee. But I’m not.

Maybe I’m just not gay enough.

Some guys say they’re ‘not into the scene’ so much. Interesting word. Scene. It really is like a theatre with its fake backdrops and perfect lighting. But let’s face it, you can’t put the gay genie back in the bottle.

Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned. Hey, I know I’m part of the Daddy tribe now, but I didn’t think I was a dinosaur just quite yet.

Maybe it’s time to get off this island. I used to remember times on the mainland. Nights in bars and discos…nights where you’d catch a person’s eye and there would be electricity in the air. There was no doubt because he was standing right in front of you. You had the freedom to flesh it out before seeing the flesh later.

So Grindr grinds on. Does the island make the rules of the game or do we? Sure, I can think of a few more tribes to add to the list now — like maybe Weasels, Rats and Snakes — but it doesn’t matter so much now. Now I have choices. Choices about who I talk to. And especially the choice of how to treat one another.

I may have been welcomed into the tribe, but now I stand strong in my own skin, speak with my own voice and dance to my own rhythm.

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