The first time I ever downloaded a dating app was in 2015. I am pretty sure it came about as a result of me typing “gay app” into the Google Play Store. At that time, I was looking for people to talk to about things that were happening around and inside of me (but mostly inside of me). I turned to the Internet to help me with this. It had, after all, helped me give a name to my sexuality. And so it was that I found Grindr.
I would say that growing up in a small village would make it difficult to find love or companionship, but I have since moved to a city and found that it was difficult to find love there, too. It did not stop me from trying, though. I remember the day I installed the app on the smartphone I had at the time, in my little village. I was nearly dizzy with the thrill of downloading it. But there was also another feeling: fear. Many ‘what if’s’ trickled into my mind. What if someone I know sees me? What if I see someone I know? What if they out me? What if my parents find out? In a frenzy, I uninstalled it and deleted it from my search history. A few days later I was back on it.
This time, I got as far as making a profile and scrolling through the app. I left out most information, lied blatantly about things I had no idea about, but most importantly, I refused to upload a profile picture. I scrolled through the app to find that many other people had the same idea. A few had pictures where you could see half a face or a silhouette, but not much more. I went through many profiles having no idea about how to start a conversation with someone I didn’t know anything about.
Then the strangest thing happened: a notification rang. It sounded like a gunshot to me. The person had asked how I was. There was no harm in replying to this, so I answered. The texts were about everyday things – we talked about the weather, food, sports, and anything else that happened to come up. I had had a nice time talking to this stranger and this gave me hope that there would be others like this person. With this in mind, I took the initiative and texted people – a simple “hello”, and then I would wait for a reply. I remember, over the next days and weeks, talking about a lot of things with a lot of people there. We discussed hobbies, work, movies and things that interested us. Sometimes, after talking to a blank profile for days, we would finally agree to exchange pictures. This wouldn’t always go well. The gay dating world is harsh and some men ghost or outright block you if you aren’t ‘their type’. I don’t know if this will ever change. The thing I found most irritating about the app was the amount of people who unabashedly sent and demanded nude pictures.
Sometimes, though, the conversation would go really well, pictures would be exchanged, and on one very rare day, we would plan to meet. The first time this was suggested, I panicked. I was not sure of myself and how to act around people and what was expected of me in these situations. But I was in secondary school and watching nearly all of my classmates start dating and have relationships made me jealous enough to try and meet someone. We planned to meet by the beach. I rode my motorbike there and reached about an hour earlier than the appointed time and waited. When he finally showed up, I almost ran back to my bike and rode away. But I stood rooted there. I don’t remember the conversation that day, but it did feel great to finally have someone to talk to. It was not a date (we had both agreed to not call it one). We had a nice time and then returned to our respective homes. I am able to make conversation very easily with a lot of people now – at airports, in buses, trains, and so on. Sometimes, I think this is because of Grindr.
But not all is peachy with dating apps. The constant asking for hook-ups, the frustration of not knowing who you are talking to and other similar things would get to me. I would uninstall and reinstall the app several times a month. Today, dating apps are often bad-mouthed because of the negative connotations that they carry (people around me call them hook-up apps, and I guess that is what they have become to some extent). People now mock Grindr for the way everyone’s first question seems to be an inquiry about their ‘age, sex, gender, location’, or the way people use terrible grammar and cannot hold a conversation. It becomes a lot like doom scrolling. One pours so much energy into finding a partner only to be met with disappointment.
On some days, it seems like the world of dating apps is one fraught with tension, frustration, and hostility. It is. But, I think, that is not the end of it. Like many other things in life, I feel that this is one of those places that test one’s patience. You have to keep tapping or swiping or whatever the app wants you to do. Sometimes you end up wasting eight hours of your day scrolling through it. Other days, you find a conversation that makes it all worth it.