In this intimate account of some of the frustrating experiences he’s endured as a single man in the modern gay dating world, Andrew Barry asks why we as gay men often treat each other so badly.
Dear single gay men,
Finding a partner seems like it has become a nearly impossible feat. We live in a world where the only realistic option for many of us is to search for love through electronic means. Looking for companionship on Grindr, Scruff and Tinder, however, presents a myriad of challenges, and often leads to jaded attitudes and feelings of hopelessness. One of the most trying obstacles is ghosting, a practice not exclusive to, but prevalent in, online dating, where someone you care about chooses to disappear from your life without explanation or warning.
This letter discusses the deep sense of hurt I felt when someone I recently met through an app and had a Titanic-like romance with vanished one evening, connecting that story to an overview of my online dating experiences over the past six years. In a culture where insensitive online dating practices have become norms, it is a search for answers and gentle request for us to be more mindful of how our behaviour impacts others.
Late last year, I boarded an ocean liner for a seven-night journey from New York to Southampton.
The purpose of my vacation was to visit a friend in London, but I thought it would be fun to travel to England by boat, especially since I was fascinated by these floating palaces as a child. Shortly after boarding the ship in Brooklyn, I went on Grindr and immediately got a message from a handsome crew member. We met a few hours later and I hoped that he liked me while we were getting to know each other. He was charming and charismatic, and we had a lot in common, including a similar sense of humour. Luckily, we hit it off.
Over the next few days, we spent a significant amount of time together, doing everything from going to dinner to jokingly reenacting a scene between Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater, complete with a replica of the Heart of the Ocean. Even though we had to keep things a secret because staff members weren’t allowed to have romantic or sexual relationships with passengers, he proudly introduced me to one of his colleagues and she was very excited to meet me, which made me feel like our relationship was not only legitimate, but special. I enjoyed every minute we shared and his company ended up being a nice escape from the ship itself. As a 34-year-old man, it felt a lot like a fancy retirement home because the vast majority of my fellow passengers were older seniors.
I wasn’t expecting our relationship to be more than a fling. But, on the fifth night, he implied that he wanted to continue seeing each other when the ship docked. He mentioned visiting me in Canada. He also offered me his guest pass, so I could come back on the ship to visit him for free. Particularly powerful because we lived in different parts of the world, his desire to be with me demolished whatever walls I had built up and I completely fell for him.
The next morning, we had breakfast and, in the early afternoon, he left a voicemail on my cabin phone, telling me to meet him that evening. From the public room we were supposed to get together in, we planned to make our way to the deck to take pictures. That night, however, he didn’t show up. He didn’t call. At first, I thought a work thing must have come up. But I never heard from him again.
The rest of my time on the ship was incredibly lonely. My sense of loneliness was heightened by my isolation since I didn’t have anyone to talk to, cell phone service or internet access. I haven’t cried so hard since I was a child and I have never cried for so long. After disembarking the ship in Britain, I connected to Wi-Fi and messaged him on Grindr, writing something with a sentiment, like “I’m not angry. I’m just confused. What’s going on?” He responded by blocking me.
After racking my brain for days, I think I figured out what happened; he probably got in trouble. I know crew members who get caught sleeping with passengers can face serious consequences. They can actually get fired (Don’t worry. He didn’t). Whatever went down, I wish he would have told me. It’s not fun to overanalyse your entire relationship, trying to figure out where things went wrong.
Although this may not seem like a story or relationship worthy enough of taking the risks associated with opening up to strangers and making myself vulnerable, this experience is compounded by the fact that it is not an isolated incident of ghosting in my life.
Over the past six years, I’ve been single, I’ve gotten used to guys telling me how much they like me and then vanishing. The last guy I had a crush on lived in Toronto. He was so interested in me, he organised a one-day business trip to Calgary, so we could go on a second date. A few days later, I realised we were going to be at the same place at the same time, so I asked him to get together again, but he left me hanging. He took almost six weeks to respond to one of my last text messages, which was, “Hey, I’m guessing you’re no longer interested, which is no problem. Could I ask what happened?”
Even though I have met some nice guys, a few of whom I’ve developed friendships with, more often than not I get blown off or randomly blocked by potential suitors after we’ve made plans, so we never end up meeting and a significant amount of our time and energy gets wasted. On other occasions, my dates say offensive things (eg. sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, talking a lot about exes, calling my dog ugly, etc). I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve also gone out with men who didn’t ask me anything about myself, showed up under the influence of drugs or acted so strangely I’m not exactly sure what was wrong with them. Until I boarded the ship in New York, I hadn’t made it past a third date since my last relationship ended in 2013.
Despite the challenges I face on dates, getting to know men online is an even more daunting task. First, there is sifting through blank, unoriginal, narcissistic or even discriminatory profiles, featuring statements that highlight the deep-seated racism and obsession with masculinity in the gay community, like “no Asians or fems.” Then there are guys who are unrealistically discrete, often for questionable reasons, and others who are only interested in chatting or hooking up, and try to pressure you into sending nudes after you’ve said no. Worst of all, however, are the men who, after corresponding with you for various amounts of time, go MIA or block you, deciding you’re too unattractive to maintain communication with when you adhere to their request for more pictures. Although there are opposing views on app etiquette, it’s clear the more we’re connected, the less we think or perhaps care about how our online behaviour affects others.
I’ve asked myself if I’m the problem.
It’s possible you might have asked yourself the same thing. Maybe I’m too sensitive? Maybe I’m withholding information from you? Maybe I have bad habits that I’m not aware of? Unfortunately, I think very few of us have managed to keep our hands clean while online dating. I definitely haven’t done anything as extreme as the crew member did, but I’m not perfect. I’ve done (and continue to do) shitty things. The action I struggle with the most is disappearing from cyber conversations when I feel disillusioned with the men I’m chatting with. Another thing I grapple with is ignoring guys I’ve been on unsuccessful dates with while running into them in public. I do those things all the time.
So, why do we often mistreat our fellow bachelors? After being single for a long time, I have many theories about why it’s difficult to find a partner, but I am less certain about why we’ve created a culture where we’re disrespectful or mean to each other. Sure, some of it can be chalked up to disagreements, misunderstandings and inadequate levels of critical self-reflection, but there’s more going on here. In an era where we post shameless selfie after shameless selfie and are pre-occupied with how many Instagram followers we have, have we become too self-centered? Is it because we heavily rely on smartphones, tablets and computers, forgetting the people at the other end of our electronic conversations have hearts and feelings, too? Or, is it because conflict avoidance is easier than conflict management? I don’t know.
The result of my six years of online dating is a tremendous amount of stress and pain, not limited to heartache.
After all of these dysfunctional experiences, my self-esteem and trusting nature remarkably remain intact, and I’m still able to deal with hurt in healthy ways, but I have seen others who struggle or have given up. Despite being lonely, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have the strength to continue to date, either.
I first thought about writing this letter while I was on the ship. What happened between the crew member and I triggered a depression, which put a damper on the rest of my vacation and took me even longer to come out of. I felt so down I wanted to reach out to family and friends, asking for messages of support. Now that I’m feeling better, I hope my letter will instead be interpreted as a heartfelt request for all of us, including myself, to try to be a little nicer to each other. Life is cruel enough and a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Andrew Barry is a social justice activist who works in higher education in Calgary, Canada.