I’d always had this idea in my head about the sort of guy I wanted to meet on hook-up apps: older, taller, in shape but not too muscular, kinky and dominant yet nurturing and intelligent—I could go on. I’d spend hours, week after week searching for this type of guy. It became an addiction and, of course, I never found this fantasy man. I read that gay men spend 9.1 hours on average a week looking for sex online. I couldn't believe it at first but when I added up all the time I'd spend on them it made a lot of sense, especially on Sundays when I was alone all day. Some weeks I'd spend even more than that I bet and all it ever amounted to were endless conversations that'd go nowhere or mediocre sex. I'd feel worse than I did before and the bad sex would make me want even more: was this just social isolation?
I recently decided to stop using these apps altogether because they seemed so counterproductive but like any addiction it wasn’t easy. Without them it made me aware of how alone I actually was. During that first week I came home from work to an empty house with seemingly nothing to do—I’d usually spend my evenings chatting with different guys. By mid-week, I decided to stay at the gym after work much longer, which wasn’t a bad thing. I’m going to try to get in better shape, I thought to myself.
I got together with friends on Friday night for drinks and was running around all day Saturday. I normally wouldn’t use the apps much during these times, so I didn't think about it much. I knew Sunday would be difficult though because I had no plans and usually didn’t. I’d often spend the day alone on the sofa or in front of the computer. The hook-up apps had a strange way of making it seem as though someone else was there, even if it was just a smartphone screen. It was almost like I didn’t need anyone else.
I woke up at 7AM that first Sunday and went for an early morning walk while the city was still asleep. It helped me clear my head. As I travelled down University Avenue I thought it strange that the more I used the apps the less I wanted to go out, despite the loneliness I felt. That can’t be healthy, I thought. Over the years of using it became increasingly easy for me to stay in.
Social isolation is a very funny thing. A quarter of the people in the US don’t have meaningful social support in their lives; electronics and screens replace deep friendships—it’s true, look it up. I’d often have TV on while using my laptop and checking messages on Scruff. I’ve known for a while that it was getting out of control. And I noticed changes in my mood. Social isolation is a huge factor in severe depression, which has doubled in prevalence during the past decade. This extends further than just the hook-up apps, when you think about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Add Grindr, Scruff, Growlr, and Recon and it's game over. You may as well eat your phone.
I spent the rest of that Sunday morning writing in my apartment. I kept picking up my phone every twenty minutes, forgetting that I’d deleted Scruff. I’d quickly scan through Facebook instead, check my email then put my phone back down. At one point I unlocked the phone and just stared at the screen without purpose before I finally put it down. “What’s wrong with me?” I said aloud. It reminded me of when I’d quit smoking.
I finally called an old friend and asked if he wanted to go for lunch. He suggested this new spot in Riverdale. “Sounds perfect,” I said. During lunch when I brought up how I’d deleted the hook-up apps, he agreed that they were a huge waste of time. He was concerned about his own behavior and was considering doing the same. We then had a great laugh about all the strange dates we’d gone on as a result of the apps. It was great to talk to someone else about this because sometimes it feels like it’s not a real problem—nobody really acknowledges it. When we were done we promised to see more of each other.
After lunch I went to the gym but took my time with the workout, which was a nice for a change. It was so busy during the week that I’d feel rushed on the equipment. I enjoyed daydreaming that afternoon in between sets thinking about nothing in particular. When I returned home I showered then lounged on the couch with a book that I'd been reading for the last few months. I always complained that I didn’t have time to read, and since I was getting that nine hours of my week back I thought reading would be a great use of that time.
I realized that I’d never meet my fantasy guy sitting on the sofa with a book but I'm certain that technology wasn't the solution either. I knew I had to rethink my approach but concluded that if I was serious about meeting someone new I'd have to make the effort to go to a bar or party in person. If I just wanted sex, I’d go to the sex cinema or sauna. These were the new rules and I had to stick to them.
I made a prosciutto and provolone pizza for dinner that night and watched this one French movie directed by François Ozon, which was pretty thought provoking. It wasn’t until I was getting ready for bed that I realized that I’d had one of the best Sunday I’ve had in a while. Despite going to bed alone I didn’t feel that emptiness I’d feel after a day of cruising for sex on hook-up apps. It made me realize the true dangers of social isolation.
By Mike Miksche Mike's work has appeared in Instinct, The Gay and Lesbian Review and Daily Xtra. His first novel, Paris Demands, is out now by Lethe Press
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