The Habit of Grindr
When it comes to hookup apps, what’s really driving us?
I was away for a weekend at a Connecticut casino with some family earlier this year when my brother and I ordered a large greasy pizza at midnight. I was in charge of one half of the pizza, so naturally I got my favorite topping, salami, which my brother found absurd. He facetiously posted about my choice on Facebook, writing, “Nic just ordered salami on our pizza… Who is this guy?” at which point our mutual friend commented, “Nic loves his salami,” which made us all laugh because, well, I’m a gay man. And I really do love my salami.
Speaking of which: Grindr.
In case you haven’t heard of it, Grindr is a digital tool that effectively takes the worst aspects of gay culture and magnifies them on smartphone screens everywhere.
In other words, it’s a location-based hookup app.
One doesn’t have much room to be a human on Grindr, as profiles are limited to a picture and a sentence. Most guys use their sentence to declare what it is they don’t want showing up in their bedrooms. No fats, no femmes, no feelings. There’s a superficial, slightly homophobic edge to the whole system, which is more than a little ironic.
The thing about Grindr, though, is that it’s a totally optional part of being gay. I mean, all one has to do is not use it for all of these things to be non-issues. (In the dominion of your iPhone, at least.)
But of course I’m a senseless hypocrite so I installed and uninstalled it from my phone probably thirty times throughout the course of 2013 anyways, all while complaining about how horrible my people are.
I suspect the real problem was that I had never just accepted Grindr for Grindr and used it for is its de facto purpose of hooking up. Instead I was always that annoying, pretentious, “too-good”-for-the-app-but-on-it-anyways guy whose profile read, Quality gay dude with good energy looking for legit dates with the same!
And then I’d ignore every message sent to me because they were all invasive and creepy, save for the occasional “How’s it going?” from a man who’d claim to be genuinely interested in dating but whom I’d already rejected in my head because he was on Grindr in the first place. (Please note that I’ve already labeled myself a senseless hypocrite.)
One could argue that I didn’t know what the fuck I was looking for, and that would be fair.
But what is anybody looking for on a hookup app?
Yeah, sex. We’re men and we’re often sexually driven, and spontaneous romps without having to worry about pesky attachments like “feelings” and “human connection” can make for a great time, not to mention relief. I get that. But what are we really looking for when we want that great time and relief? Orgasms are amazing and euphoric, yes, but so are salami pizzas. On that note, what are we really looking for when we want salami pizzas?
Or even the people who want the feelings and legitimate connection — what are they looking for?
Maybe all of these seemingly disparate desires share the same, lonely root.
I don’t mean to over-analyze, but after going phases where I’d habitually pop open Grindr on my phone for no reason multiple times a day, I couldn’t not ask why I even bothered.
Which brings us back to that casino weekend. I had deleted Grindr “for good” by then as per my 2014 New Year’s resolution to make life simpler, but given that I was going to be out of town for the weekend, I figured I’d give myself a two-day free pass and re-download.
With hookups out of the question (I was sharing a hotel room with my cousin) and the chance for dates (given that any guys I met would likely also only be visiting for the weekend) being slim, my intentions here were even more murky and undefined than usual.
Nevertheless, I uploaded my picture, crafted my sentence, and made my presence known.
As I scarfed down the salami pizza in the hotel room later that night, I got hit up by a dude who had shown up to the casino earlier for a night of solitary gambling. Him: cute, interested in meeting immediately. Me: just drunk enough to mindlessly agree.
“Did I really tell this guy to come up here?” I asked my cousin as I put my phone down and wiped pizza grease off the side of my mouth. “Who am I?”
“Yes,” she said, “and I DON’T KNOW.”
“He could totally be a psycho killer,” I responded.
Two minutes later, Jason (the guy) texted: Here. I stumbled out into the empty hallway and yelled, “Jason? I don’t see you… It’s desolate out here!”
Jason was lurking near the ice machine, presumably to ensure that I myself wasn’t a psycho killer, but he emerged after I made my awkward little speech. I escorted him to the couch in the lobby of the floor.
“You’re a real handsome guy,” he told me, touching my leg as we sat down.
“Thanks,” I replied, feeling like a million bucks for about five seconds. “You too.”
We laughed and talked about random personal details such as where we each went to school and what towns we lived in (turned out we lived just an hour away from each other) and soon enough we cut to the chase and started making out. This made me feel even more validated than when he called me handsome, and I now realize that these feelings of validation were all I really wanted in the first place, which makes me laugh because just down the hall there were two hotel rooms filled with three of my closest family members, all of whom routinely display an abundance of love for me.
But to a drunk person, the validation that comes from being sexually desired by a stranger is infinitely more thrilling than the kind of validation that comes from being authentically loved by kin.
The more we kissed, the more I wanted to take it further. Validation was the gateway drug, but with enough friction, something else started driving me: the mindless, all consuming need to Just. Get. Off.
Should I tell my cousin to move into my brother and sister-in-law’s room for the night? I asked myself. But what if they’re doing it? Maybe we could just wait until she falls asleep and then try to be really, really quiet?
After enough back and forth in my mind while Jason’s hands teased their way around the waistband of my jeans, I ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth it. I still had some pizza left to finish.
“Sorry to make you come all the way up here,” I said, abruptly pushing our semi-public display of affection to a halt. “But now that I think about it, we should stop. I need to get back to my room. My cousin is staying with me.”
“Wow,” he said. “Okay, I guess.”
He was kind enough to leave without calling me out on the absurdity of my behavior — inviting him upstairs only to kiss him for a few minutes, not let him into my room, and send him back downstairs with blue balls. What was the point of any of it?
The next morning I awoke to a text message: Made it home safely last night. Was great meeting you.
I gave him a quick “same to you” and returned to my normal life, promptly forgetting about the experience. By the time Jason texted me again three whole weeks later, it was only our two-message history that jogged my memory enough to recall who he even was.
Hey Stamford, he wrote, addressing me not by my first name but by the name of the city I live in.
I was tired and it was 12:01 a.m. and I imagined that his intentions were as murky and undefined as mine were on the night we met.
Was it a drunken booty call situation? Maybe he never bothered to take down my name, instead saving me in his phone as “Stamford” so he’d know whom to hit up for a good time when he passed through town. Or did he genuinely want to see me again? Maybe he just needed someone to call him handsome.
I declined to respond, figuring that the cycle had to end somewhere.
I’ve been off Grindr for the past six months, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wrestle with the decision every now and then. Sometimes there’s an energy in me that pulses with the urge to tap my way over to the app store, hit install, and find my soul mate in the form of a perfect-for-me-and-only-me profile picture patiently waiting to be discovered and make all my problems go away. Maybe he downloads and uninstalls and downloads and uninstalls just like me, and it’s only a matter of time before we sync up and take one look at each other’s pictures and just know.
Couldn’t I at least check?
I could. Or I could accept Grindr for Grindr and deliberately use it for its de facto purpose of hooking up once and for all. Or I could text Jason. Or one of my ex-boyfriends. Or any number of guys I know who’d be willing to hang out and Just. Get. Off.
I could do it — and them — all.
But I’ll probably just order a salami pizza instead.