Online dating | Can we find love?

A few years ago, as a university student, I remember being jolted into shock as I read multiple articles about the existence of a murderous ring that was targeting wealthy gay men. The criminal gang would lure these men, often online, then come into their homes where they would kill and steal from them.

The news sent shock waves in various circles and we were all cautioned to be careful, meet others in safe public places and alert people about the danger. Fast forward to now, when meeting people online is standard – for everyone. For gay men, even more so as we find ourselves still battling the shame and stigma attached to our identity.

But let’s be real; is online dating about looking for love or are we just moving from one guy to the next in a quest for momentary sexual pleasure?

Following the sad and dramatic break up between myself and a man who still calls me the love of his life, I discovered that the world of online dating has grown in a big way. There are apps for everyone and even within those apps there are smaller communities for every type, fetish and desire you can think of.

The world of online ‘love’ is alive and burgeoning. With location technology, you need one app and you can find your fling wherever you may be; a layover (ahem) in Dubai, a quick holiday in Paris or a business meeting in New York. I stand here as a test case; having met many men online, without judgment, but with my own horror, comic and pseudo-success stories.

The man who still calls me the love of his life met me online – Facebook. Not a traditional dating app, but an app nonetheless. And that love was good for as long as it lasted, which was a while. I have also been robbed after a date with a man I met online. And in-between these incidents, I have found myself chasing the usual high; a hookup for fun.

It’s in these encounters that I’ve often scared guys by saying “I want to meet a boyfriend”. Yes, some gay men will delete and block you the moment you mention the word “boyfriend”. You may be trying to meet the next love of your life, like I was, but most men seem to just want you now, and only now; that’s it.

In some instances, I gave in to my carnal desires and set aside my true wishes and found temporary comfort. After you lie that you just want fun, and they perhaps also lie that they want the same, we’ll get together and have our fun that lasts the duration of a Gautrain trip from Sandton to Pretoria. We’ll groan and grunt and then part ways wondering what if we had spoken our truth and actual desire.

On one recent occasion, a man said he would still like to meet, even though I’d made it clear that we were looking for different things. I stuck to my story; I was online to meet a boyfriend. He stuck to his; he was online to hook up. We met and, as those younger among us would say, someone “caught feelings”. A turn of events he wasn’t expecting, one which I wasn’t expecting either; I liked him and he liked me too. He wanted to see me again, as did I, and we agreed not to have sex, but rather talk. He asked why I thought I could meet a potential boyfriend online.

I said that meeting people in ‘the real world’ can be even more challenging than doing so online. Firstly, we still live in dangerous times, and meeting men in physical spaces is not always less dangerous. Real world meetings also come with the potential for outright rejection. If I am blocked and deleted online, it happens just between me and my suitor. If it happens in full view of others at a club, I may not live it down.

Online, we may know before we invest in a “hi” that someone is probably not going to be into us – hello “no fats, no femmes”. We may also realise that someone just wants sex while we want something else, so we don’t bother. Whereas if we meet in a club or restaurant, I may have to settle a bill in my attempts to impress. Worst case, he may be an uncultured straight man or homophobe who reacts violently to my advances. I make no excuses for the levels of toxicity that prevail on dating apps, but I also know that the same toxic behaviours are rampant within real world social circles among gay men.

Can we find love online? Can we sift through the many gay men who are afraid of sharing their truest desires and meet those who are open to love? The answer is simple: the men who are online are the same men we meet in bars and restaurants. And these men can have the same desires we have (we = those of us who want love).

So yes, we can find love online. We can find love on hookup sites, on the major social networks (I have receipts) and we can find love in the many chat rooms and sub-communities that are out there.

The key, I think, is being honest about what we desire. I recently changed my status on Facebook to ‘in a relationship’, because since the fateful meeting I mentioned earlier, I have been besotted with that young man I met online and chose to be honest with. And just like relationships that happen between people who meet in person first, this one has a chance, just like any other. It may or may not work but at least this Valentine’s Day I know I’ll be receiving a gift and some special attention.

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