The ugly truth about Grindr and exclusion-based dating

Essy Knopf Grindr exclusion-based dating
Reading time: 3 minutes

Exclusion-based dating has long been a widely embraced norm for apps and services like Grindr, Scruff, and Tinder. 

Filters enable daters to screen candidates based on factors like race. This has inevitably fed into an existing hierarchy of desirability.

As many a gay man can attest, the sexual economy of dating apps and services is one in which “White” is usually coded as most desirable. Those with intersectional identities are usually granted a lower rank.

Dating thus is not a level playing field. Rather, it mirrors the inequalities of broader society. In this case, it has been divided along the lines of attentional “haves” and “have-nots”. 

“Preferences” as a result have become a mere byword for prejudice, with countless daters openly rejected on the basis of their race or some other—often superficial—trait. 

Given the history of gay men being condemned for their identity, it is tragic that we now perpetuate this shaming cycle through the exclusion of our fellows.

The end of exclusion-based dating?

The killing of George Floyd in 2020 sparked a groundswell of support for the antiracism movement.

As #BlackLivesMatter protests rocked the globe, dating services that had formerly endorsed racial exclusion-based dating appeared to change their tunes.

Some announced they would be removing ethnic and race filter options. Others declined, citing the longstanding motivation for preference filters: maximizing user choice. (Choice which I’ve argued is largely an illusion.)

Such changes could be taken as a mark of progress. They may have also just been virtue signaling

When the powers-that-be make a concession to the oppressed, more often than not it is less a concession than a convergence of interests. The timing of this decision suggests as much. 

Arguably, little has since changed in the wake of the racial filter rollback. Identity-based pecking orders remain as entrenched as ever.

The Thoughtful Gay Grindr exclusion-based dating

How dating apps encourage exclusion

The popularity of dating apps and services depends upon their promise of greater ease and convenience, but also the pleasures offered by gamification. Exclusion-based dating exists because app design reinforces this pattern. 

To explain: sorting through the sheer number of prospects on dating services requires a process of elimination. Filters present themselves as the logical conclusion.

And so users are funneled into a preset selection of behaviors, responding to each candidate on a binary yes/no basis. 

Sorting through an ocean of romantic/sexual options demands significant mental energy. Our brain quickly learns to conserve that energy by autonomizing the process. 

A careful profile survey is refined into a reflexive swipe. Preferences shift into hard “no”s. Full sentences degrade into monosyllables.

The apps positively reinforce our continued engagement with this pattern through instant notifications. Flashy animations and sounds signal success, assuring us that whatever we are doing must be right.

We in turn interpret our behaviors as winning strategies, leaving us less prone to questioning our own biases.

Overcoming exclusion-based dating

Studies show that unconscious bias is almost universal. Biases often reflecs those held by wider society; racism on dating apps are often a product of widespread systemic racism.

Left unchallenged, biases color our perception of the world. They fledge into prejudice, promoting “isms” such as ableism, ageism, classism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, transphobia, and sexism.

The first step to overcoming biases is awareness. If you suspect you are prone to a particular bias, consider taking a free implicit bias test.

The second step is introducing information that directly conflicts with our automatic patterns of thinking about a particular group.1

Consider writing a letter to yourself, exploring the reasoning behind a specific bias or prejudice. Describe the experiences that may have given rise to it. Find possible flaws or contradictions in your biased belief system.

Weigh your dating preferences against your values. Do the two align, and if not, what then are you willing to do to address it?

Revising any attitude, belief, and response involves some mental effort. Dating apps on the other hand encourage us to suspend “intention, attention, and effort”2 for the sake of convenience and efficiency—then reward us for doing so.

Giving into automaticity results in us falling back on old habits. Like a car following grooves and ruts in the road, we will very quickly “tramline” our way back into bias.

Without self-reflection, we are at the mercy of our worst instincts. Only by developing awareness about our own thinking can we escape the toxic hold of exclusion-based dating.

Dating apps are surveillance capitalism at its most cynical

Essy Knopf surveillance capitalism
Reading time: 6 minutes

Collecting our behavioral data for private profit is a now-standard business practice first pioneered by tech giants like Google and Facebook.

On this surface, this may seem to be a mutual exchange: products and services, in return for personal information and what The Age of Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff calls “behavioral surplus” data.

From this surplus, these companies are able to construct profiles that are then sold as a commodity to other businesses. 

These profiles can also be used to “nudge, coax, tune, and herd [our] behavior” in a way that serves the interest of top bidders, such as through targeted advertising.

The people guiding this process—a mysterious, corporate-run “data priesthood”—operate from behind a one-way mirror. They might know everything about us, but we know next to nothing about them.

This priesthood’s practice of collecting, selling, and exploiting our behavioral data has since been adopted by the likes of dating and hookup app operators, at great cost to our privacy—and wellbeing.

The normalization of surveillance capitalism

Zuboff argues that every time we give in to these companies and sign their obscure, incomprehensible terms-of-service agreements, we are handing over exploitable information about ourselves.

We comply with these agreements only because by now they appear bog-standard, and because they are a necessary hurdle to accessing services upon which we depend. 

Fashioning an image of themselves as heroic entrepreneurs or authorities, data collectors buy our trust by promising “social connection, access to information, time-saving convenience, and, too often, the illusion of support”.

Yet their true goal as Zuboff points out is to extract human experience as a raw material for profit.

But succumbing to the new form of power represented by these organizations shouldn’t seem so inevitable. We still have the power to opt out. 

Here’s why it’s crucial we exercise that power.

essy knopf surveillance capitalism

Surveillance capitalism in gay apps 

In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Zuboff explains how the social media platform Facebook uses “closed loops of obsession and compulsion” pioneered by the gaming industry to engage and captivate users. 

These loops rely upon “social pressure, social comparison, modeling, subliminal priming” to generate continued usage—and even addiction.

But Facebook is hardly the only surveillance capitalist organization to employ these techniques. Consider dating apps, which I’ve previously noted bear a chilling resemblance to Skinner boxes.

It’s public fact that dating apps mine and retain our private behavioral data, including text, photos, and videos

Some of us know that this data is being sold to advertisers or passed on to third parties, perhaps even foreign governments. This emerged as a major concern following the purchase of Grindr by Chinese gaming giant Beijing Kunlun.

What’s not often discussed however is how app creators use behavior data to shape app design and to enhance the “hand-and-glove relationship of technology addiction”, to use Zuboff’s phrase.

For example, a cursory glance at Tinder reveals the creators have tuned the app design to generate more rewarding feedback, and thus more user engagement. 

Consider the flashy animation and audio tone whenever you “match” with another user on Tinder—stimulation that’s likely to cause a release of the neurochemical dopamine, associated with the sensation of pleasure.

This is a form of positive reinforcement that ensures many of us keep on playing the swiping game, at least until we hit a paywall.

Paywalls in this case are used to create the illusion of scarcity. When free users swipe “no” on an interested candidate, the app will notify them they have missed a potential match, then suggest relieve the resulting fear of missing out (FOMO) by purchasing the right to chat with this other user.

Similarly, by offering a limited amount of free “likes”, the app levers loss aversion to coax users into buying a subscription.

App designers also nudge us to return to the app using push notifications. These notifications are also used to promote flash sale promotions or advertisements.

The examples provided here are blatant examples of the manipulation Zuboff describes. However, it’s the examples we don’t know about that I believe we should be most worried about.

The danger of manipulative app design

Zuboff cites studies that reveal the particular vulnerability of teenagers to social media addiction, owing to their development age.

Yet I would argue that people of all ages—gay men included—face a similar hazard in an always-online world, especially given the decline in public gay spaces in the wake of COVID-19.

As a result, we may find ourselves constructing and displaying our gay identity in alternate venues, such as dating and hookup apps.

Much like social media, these apps coerce us into continued usage through social comparison. 

Combined with the addictive design of these apps, our self-value and personhood may become tethered to the ongoing gaze and approval of others.

If we don’t practice mindfulness, we are at risk of being caught in a toxic cycle, wherein “ego gratification and ego injury drive the chase for more external cues”.

To explain: when we are ignored or rejected on these apps, gratification is denied, and our ego is injured. 

We may try to soothe that injury by pursuing still more gratification, returning over and over to the app for our fix. 

The shallow, mechanical, and objectifying exchanges that often ensue are a far cry from the acknowledgment and affirmation we are seeking.

As we hover over our phones “anxiously awaiting the appearance of the little notification box as a sign” of our self-worth, we suffer a slow extinction by a thousand snubs. 

For “Without the ‘others’,” Zuboff writes, “the lights go out.” 

How surveillance capitalism hurts us

Enter dating and hookup apps with their endless stacks and grids of attractive faces and torsos. 

In the case of gay men, this social comparison is taken to a new level: we aren’t just competing for the attention of other users, but also against them.

The competition for the best possible “match”, when combined with the illusion of scarcity, fuel FOMO regarding potential romantic or sexual interests.

Our interactions on these apps come to resemble some overwhelming game of chat whack-a-mole, in which we try desperately to catch, hold and hoard other’s attention.

It’s a game that often feels futile, as interest fluxes and users log on and off, often without explanation. Being shunned or ignored is commonplace, as is deception.

For instance, it’s not unusual to realize mid-chat that the person on the other end either isn’t who they claim to be—or is actually a chatbot.

Certainly, where dating is concerned, rejection is par for the course. But when identity and self-value come into question, as it so often does on these apps, the stakes often feel so much higher, as anyone who has ever found themselves caught in a flame war can attest.

Creating app-based addiction

To recap: surveillance capitalism allows creators to monitor users’ behavior and then use the resulting data to control us, for example through the gamification I’ve described above.

Like gamblers denying the odds, we keep coming back, even attempting to turn these odds in our favor by curating a profile we know will maximize user engagement, even to the point of trickery.

It is human nature to selectively present the best parts of ourselves, but these apps seem to actively encourage selective self-representation by providing profile fields that cater to one-dimensional hypersexuality.

Limiting as it is to be defined only by the minutia of one’s erotic interests, many users inevitably fall into line. Some do it in the name of efficiency or practicality, others in the name of achieving the success of a date, a hookup, or simply being messaged.

When taken to the extreme, users will adopt a completely different identity, knowing it will likely entice messages or photo exchanges.

Instant messaging is inherently rewarding, but add to this the ever-present possibility of sexual attraction or rejection, and users are pushed into heightened states of anxious arousal.

With enough exposure, we run the risk of developing an app-based process addiction.

Defying surveillance capitalism

Today’s tech-dependent world has arguably left us all pawns of surveillance capitalism.

Dating and hookup app creators aren’t in it just for paid subscriptions. They want control of our behaviors and habits, a reality that is by now an open secret.

Fuelling addiction enables these creators to expand their subscriber base. The larger the subscriber base, the greater the behavioral surplus they have at their disposal. 

The greater the behavior surplus, the more practical data they can harness in the name of fuelling addiction.

If your data isn’t resold, it is at the very least exploited by app designers to keep the “hand firmly in the glove”.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism provides perhaps the most chilling argument yet against dating and hooking apps. There are still many more.

Yet given how reliant some of us have become upon them, quitting may seem next to impossible.

If even a small part of this article has given you cause for alarm, perhaps now is as good a time as any to consider some of the more wholesome alternatives.

Why choice in app-based dating is a cruel illusion

Essy Knopf dating apps choice
Reading time: 7 minutes

Personally, as someone with a natural tendency for obsessive compulsiveness, I find app-based dating about as stressful as clothes shopping.

My visits to the mall usually begin with a single aspiration: buying a pair of jeans. I’ll usually give myself just an hour to make a decision. But this attempt at self-discipline rarely is a good idea.

What begins as a low-pressure routine trip quickly ends up becoming a race to find the best deal. Wandering from store to store, I’ll compare fit, color, and price, and how each option ranks alongside those I find online.

Before I know it, the internal timer will hit the hour mark and I’ll be forced to settle on a candidate.

Head spinning, I’ll collapse into the nearest seat, overwhelmed by the possibility that for all my research, I may very well end up making the wrong choice.

This “analysis paralysis” usually results in me returning to my car, driving home, and spending the next two hours browsing online until I’ve found an even better deal.

The tyranny of choice in app-based dating

Picking a pair of jeans is not a life-or-death type of situation, but for me, it certainly feels like one. Whatever savings I may make along the way are almost always negated by the stress I accrue as a result of my exhaustive (and exhausting) search.

Worse still, when the jeans I ultimately select arrive in the mail, I’ll often discover they’re a bad fit…meaning an even longer wait for a replacement pair.

It’s a development I could almost certainly avoid if I just settled for an in-store option. So what exactly is stopping me? A little something economists refer to as “loss aversion”.

No one resents the freedom to choose, or the benefits, conveniences, and privileges it affords in today’s world. But there are instances—like the one above—where choice can tyrannize, rather than liberate

The downside of living in a consumerist society is that it often leads to a mindset governed by what author David Brooks calls a “utilitarian calculus”. 

That is, we look at everything in terms of personal utility or gain. Not even interpersonal relationships are immune to such cynical assessments.

People who have fallen prey to “utilitarian calculus” are what The Paradox of Choice author Barry Schwartz calls maximizers. When confronted by a purchase decision, maximizers almost always pursue the “best” possible option.

Maximizers are consumed by the need to be conscious and deliberate about every choice. They are extremely averse to losses but also regret. For that reason, they are more often than not hamstrung by their pursuit of perfection

As in my case, shopping for the “best deal” when confronted by an endless array of choices can lead to mental overload. It can also deprive us of valuable time and energy. 

As Schwartz writes:

“Nobody has the time or cognitive resources to be completely thorough and accurate with every decision, and as more decisions are required and more options are available, the challenge of doing the decision making correctly becomes ever more difficult to meet.”

The perils of ‘maximizing’

Consider this quote in light of gay app-based dating. A maximizing mindset seems baked into website and app design, with features that make screening, excluding, and selecting effortless.

We are able to set filters to identify people who fall within a narrow set of idealized parameters. We swipe to dispose of undesirables, and “favorite” to build a list of prospective lovers.

But as Schwartz points out, dating app maximizers sooner or later run up against the following conundrum: “How can anyone truly know that any given option is absolutely the best possible?”

The fact is, we never really can, a fact that continues to haunt maximizers well past the point of having made a decision.

This may explain why many app users avoid meeting; who ghost and flake on a whim. Barring obvious reasons—such as being on the app purely out of procrastination or a desire for validation—these individuals may feel confronted by your request for them to make a decision.

While meeting for a coffee is not exactly a marriage proposal, it does require some investment of time and energy. It is by no means a commitment, but it is a choice all the same

That choice comes inevitably at the cost of other choices. For instance, spending facetime with one person for example means possibly missing out on facetime with someone else who happens to be available and interested at the same time. 

Not a significant loss by most measures, but ask a maximizer who lives with background anxiety of loss and regret aversion and they may disagree. 

This anxiety and agonizing about supposed trade-offs however can ultimately thwart the maximizer’s search.

Ignoring those of us who use app-based dating for the thrill of instant messaging and sexting, the remainder we can safely assume are looking for some form of in-person interaction. 

Monitoring our usage of these services reveals that we spend a lot of time information gathering for the “best option”—swiping, starring, filtering, blocking, chatting—time that is rarely proportional to any tangible outcome.

Sooner or later, we hit a point of diminishing returns. The “fun” offered by the often gamified app-based dating services diminishes, and we log off. (And unless we delete our account, it’s likely we’ll find ourselves hopping back on again for a quick attentional fix when boredom or desire strikes.)

The illusion of choice in app-based dating

While these apps are forever dangling the possibility of a “better option”, they’re also distracting us with addictive casual gaming mechanics

Even if we emerge from the use of app-based dating without a process addiction, our quest for maximization will prove neverending.

Consider the ever-shifting availability of possible partners. Attention from these individuals will oscillate, peaking at certain hours, falling during others, even dying off suddenly and inexplicably.

Consider also the fact other users harbor a variety of motives. Even supposing they happen to share ours, there’s often a difference between stated motives and true motives

A chat partner may say they are looking to date, but that may simply be a front aimed at sustaining the interaction. Or it may also be one of many conflicting and competing motives.

What this means is that in many cases one user’s stated desire to date could be abandoned the instant they are presented with an offer of immediate sexual gratification. (To quote the Nelly Furtado song “Promiscuous”: “Chivalry is dead / But you’re still kinda cute”)

Finally, while it may seem that you have total freedom to choose a romantic partner, that freedom is not exclusive to you. The other person has the right to their own choice, which will not necessarily align with yours.

Assuming your maximizing instincts don’t first paralyze you, there’s always the possibility your decision might be thwarted when the other person fails to reciprocate your interest.

essy knopf gay app based dating

Confusion, commitment phobia, and ‘gaming’

The opposite of a maximizer is the satisficer. Like the maximizer, the satisficer will be discriminating when it comes to selecting a romantic partner. They are also capable of being satisfied with excellence, as opposed to some impossible ideal of perfection.

Where maximizers are picky about finding “the best”, satisficers carefully weigh the options before accepting “good enough”. 

Schwartz says the distinction is essentially a philosophical one:

“A chooser is someone who thinks actively about the possibilities before making a decision. A chooser reflects on what’s important to him or her in life, what’s important about this particular decision, and what the short-and long-range consequences of the decision may be. A chooser makes decisions in a way that reflects awareness of what a given choice means about him or her as a person. Finally, a chooser is thoughtful enough to conclude that perhaps none of the available alternatives are satisfactory, and that if he or she wants the right alternative, he or she may have to create it.”

When juggling options on Grindr, Scruff, or Tinder, we exercise our rights as romantic and sexual “consumers”. But what we don’t do is reflect on what’s motivating our behavior. 

Yet effective dating arguably can only happen once we have a clear and consistent understanding of what we’re seeking, and why.

How do we arrive at such an understanding? We apply the Five W’s and the one H:

  • Who we are looking for (what kind of person)?
  • What type of interaction are we interested in (hookups, dating, relationship etc.)?
  • When do we want this interaction to take place?
  • Why this interaction in particular? (To put it another way, how will this interaction contribute to our long-term goal?)
  • How do we intend to establish that interaction? (What methods will we use?)

Sounds obvious. And yet more often than not, our focus is confused. There are simply too many options that maximizers are forced to treat app-based dating as a game of elimination.

Our focus in this game is less on identifying a suitable partner than it is removing options from the dating service pool, often for the most arbitrary reasons (“I don’t like his hairstyle”, “He seems too needy”, “He lives on the other side of town”). 

Gamified app designs, such as the swipe mechanic used by Tinder, encourage users to continually “prune” options, often to the point of distraction.

Another factor is that we as a culture are commitment-phobes. More often than not when dating, we become locked in a maximizing mindset, hellbent on securing an option that ticks off an often superficial, if not an impossible shopping list of personal traits. 

Forever scanning our grid or swipe stack, we “trade up” prospective candidates like indecisive children in the candy aisle, stricken by the possibility that the one candy we select comes at the exclusion of other, possibly better selections.

Maximizing also can lead to “gaming”. Caught up in maximizing rewards, our initial goal (“meeting someone with whom I share chemistry and/or compatibility”) becomes something more vague and insatiable (“getting as much validation as possible”). 

To put it another way, we go from treating romantic attention as the means by which we achieve some kind of relationship, to attention exclusively becoming the ends

Caught up in the fun game of projecting desirability and provoking engagement, we spend our time manipulating the attention-based economy of dating services in order to get our attention fix.

‘Shoulda, coulda, woulda’

When our focus is confused, when we shy from committing to a choice, and when we’re caught up in gaming app-based dating, we treat self-awareness as an obstacle to our purpose.

Yet so long as we’re driven by blind instinct rather than introspection, that purpose risks becoming more and more unclear.

More effective and productive use of our time would involve choosing with purpose, rather than selecting on a whim. Namely, satisfying, rather than maximizing.

If we give in to maximizing, we may find ourselves prone to bad decisions, anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction, and even depression, Schwartz warns.

To maximize means to be driven by a fear of loss and regret, to succumb to “shoulda, coulda, woulda”-style doubts.

Regardless of what our moment-to-moment motives on app-based dating services are, what we are all seeking as human beings, ultimately, are meaningful connections

But where such connections are concerned, one can only maximize so far. People are by nature imperfect, so pursuing “the best” is a quest that – let’s be honest – is doomed from the outset.

Takeaways

  • Recognize that “maximizing” is driven by loss aversion.
  • Avoid dating app commitment phobia and “gaming”.
  • Try “satisficing”. Mindfully seek “good enough”.

Five steps to a fantastic gay relationship

Essy Knopf gay relationship success
Reading time: 6 minutes

Throughout my twenties, I stumbled from one unsuccessful gay relationship to another, thwarted by the fact my partners and I were often operating at cross-purposes.

The first time this happened, I had just confessed to my then-boyfriend Kohei* that I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to have kids of my own.

Having a vague awareness of my own dysfunction, and fearing I might unintentionally inflict it upon my children, it seemed the sensible thing to say.

I was also barely out of my teens, and in no way ready to even contemplate the possibility of parenthood.

“Gonna be honest, that really has me worried,” Kohei replied. I shook my head.

“It’s just not my thing.”

“… So you’re not even going to consider it?” Kohei said.

“Sorry,” I said. Kohei’s gaze fell to the floor.

“Well, I can’t see myself dating someone who doesn’t share my long-term goals.”

Feeling cornered, I grabbed my backpack from his couch and stood up.

“Fine,” I said. “Don’t date me.”

Stepping out onto Kohei’s front porch, I called out a polite farewell, hopped on my bike, and pedaled home.

When a gay relationship just doesn’t “work”

My reaction was, in hindsight, unfair. But truth be told, Kohei’s ultimatum had given me the escape hatch I had long been looking for. 

My boyfriend’s puppy-like devotion had arrived at my door, premature and unqualified – like a Christmas gift in July. It had left me with deep-seated suspicion.

Was Kohei really interested in me, or was he just afraid – as we all are, on some fundamental level – of being alone? 

Up until this point, I had been seeding our conversations with prickly challenges, less out of a desire to antagonize Kohei than a wish to test whether he would stand his ground, or rollover. And time and time again, Kohei had done the latter.

When the morning after our confrontation, Kohei attempted to patch things up with me, I insisted that he was in fact right: we were not compatible.

The “don’t date me” comment was, I knew, the culmination of many attempts to test him. Kohei’s willingness to overlook my take-it-or-leave-it attitude seemed to me proof enough that the two of us were, in some inexplicable way, out of alignment.

Too needy, or too neglected?

Where I had kept Kohei at arm’s length, come the next relationship, I found myself cast in the opposite role.

Remo* was accommodating, but not in the way Kohei had been. Unlike Kohei, asserted himself where he needed to, and I respected him all the more for it. 

Here was a person capable of withstanding me at my bossiest and gently putting me on notice. We were, I wanted to believe, a good match.

The day I called to reveal I had just been made redundant, I got my first hint of the growing distance between us.

“So…I’m out of a job,” I said, my voice breaking with emotion. 

“Well, you know what you have to do,” Remo replied.

“What do you mean?” I replied, stung by his lack of sympathy.

“Look,” Remo said. “I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll text you later.”

Feeling kind of put out, I grew first apprehensive, then adversarial.

“You know, you could be a little more empathetic,” I said during a later conversation.

“I think you mean empathic,” Remo sniped back.

Sensing his withdrawal, I pressed him for emotional support. But the bullishness Remo had once excused had suddenly become a problem. He ended it not long later, claiming he no longer “had the time” to hang out. 

In fighting for my boyfriend’s validation, it seemed I had unwittingly driven him away. Heartbreak and an unexplained sense of shame followed. 

What is attachment?

When gauging a gay relationship for compatibility, there is perhaps one factor that trumps all, and yet is often overlooked: attachment style

Attachment styles in short are about how we form attachments to other people. Our styles are largely the result of our first relationships with our caregivers.

When our attachment is healthy, we develop a secure attachment style. According to Attached authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, “secures” have a strong and stable sense of self-worth, have no problem being direct in relationships, and are comfortable with intimacy.

When however our caregivers inflict trauma such as sexual abuse or emotional neglect or fail to properly “attune” with us, our attachment is ruptured, and we develop an insecure attachment style.

Those suffering from insecure attachments not only struggle to maintain consistent self-worth – they are also more likely to struggle where it comes to forming healthy relationships.

Levine and Heller identify two insecure attachment styles as the most common: “anxious” and “avoidant”.

Those with anxious attachment styles typically seek closeness and intimacy in their relationships. They fear abandonment and may engage in “protest behaviors”, which include excessive attempts to reestablish contact, withdrawing, hostility, and manipulation. 

Avoidants on the other hand like to keep their distance when in a relationship. They do this by engaging in “deactivating strategies”: refusing to verbally commit or say “I love you”, dodging physical or emotional closeness, nitpicking their partners, flirting with others, and longing after a “phantom ex”.

Levine and Heller believe about 50 percent of the adult population have a secure attachment style, while roughly 25 percent are anxious, and the remaining 25 percent are avoidant.

One could argue that in the case of gay men, insecure attachment styles could be even higher. Consider for example the misattunement that results from a parent rejecting their child on the basis of their sexuality.

Notably, relational trauma can also shift securely attached people towards insecurity. The fact that “betrayal, abandonment, abuse, and chaos” is a gay relationship rite of passage for many, according to The Velvet Rage author Alan Downs, makes us even likely as a population to suffer from attachment issues.

essy knopf gay relationships success

Which attachment styles are compatible?

Secure + secure OR secure + anxious/avoidant: Those with secure attachment styles can form strong relationships with each other and with the insecurely attached (anxious and avoidant). “Secures” are generally able to provide a “safe base” for their insecure partners, sometimes even help “heal” their attachment problems. But not always.

Anxious + anxious OR avoidant + avoidant: Anxious-anxious and avoidant-avoidant partnerships are less likely to work by virtue of their mutual difficulty forming healthy attachments. 

Anxious people seeking reassurance from other anxious people are naturally a difficult proposition. Likewise, avoidants are not likely to date avoidants because of their mutual desire for distance and independence inevitably forces them apart.

Anxious + avoidant: Avoidants’ tendency towards distance and independence is likely to unsettle their anxious partners, who thrive in an affirming, supportive environment.

When avoidants withhold intimacy from their anxious partner, the partner may confuse the resulting turmoil for passion. Attempting to re-establish relational equilibrium, the anxious partner may double down in their demands, only for the avoidant to withhold affirmation even more.

The pair thus will find themselves caught up in a spiraling push-pull dynamic that is sometimes confused for romance.

Forging a fantastic gay relationship

According to an attachment style quiz devised by Levine and Heller, I myself have a predominately anxious attachment style. Considering the behavior of my first boyfriend Kohei, I’ve concluded that he too was likely anxious.

Kohei’s constant need for affirmation and intimacy might have been a non-issue for a securely attached partner. But for me, it was overwhelming, and I coped in the only way I knew how: by challenging and thereby trying to create distance.

Kohei’s anxiety about the relationship understandably grew, until at least he issued a challenge of his own: either change my future parenthood plans or kiss him goodbye. 

Remo on the other hand was most certainly avoidant. I was never permitted to get too close, and the more I sought reassurance, the more he withheld. My attempts to re-establish contact were met with veiled contempt.

Until I discovered attachment theory, the mechanics of a successful gay relationship eluded me, and gauging romantic compatibility was hit-and-miss. 

Levine and Heller thankfully provide detailed strategies for coping with avoidant or anxious attachment styles. Their key advice is to seek out a more balanced pairing: secure + secure, secure + anxious, or secure + avoidant.

To determine the other person’s attachment style, Levine and Heller suggest following these steps:

    1. Determine whether your partner seeks intimacy and closeness. 
    2. Assess how preoccupied s/he is with the relationship and how sensitive s/he is to rejection. 
    3. Don’t rely on one “symptom” – look for various signs. 
    4. Use effective communication: express your needs, thoughts, and feelings. Then assess your partner’s reaction.
    5. Listen and look for what he is not saying or doing. Trust your gut feeling. 
essy knopf attachment style gay relationship success

A final word of caution to secures: helping someone with an insecure attachment shift towards more secure attachment patterns isn’t always possible. Sometimes your partner may insist on clinging to their old ways.

The question therefore is, are anxious or avoidant behaviors something you are ultimately willing to overlook in your bid to forge a gay relationship? Can you learn to be satisfied with your partner’s status quo?

For those with anxious attachment styles, remember that you’re more likely to experience an avoidant out in the wild than any other attachment style.

Avoidants after all spend more time dating than in actual relationships, on account of their struggles forming healthy attachments. 

Secures are also a lot harder to come by. Why? The ease with which they form healthy attachments means they’re more likely to remain in relationships and are less likely to ever appear in the dating pool.

Takeaways

  • Identify your attachment style: secure, anxious or avoidant.
  • Use the five steps to determine your partner’s style.
  • Seek compatible partnerships.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

Four instances when gay men are justified in cutting a date short

Essy Knopf gay men dating
Reading time: 6 minutes

I like to think that if two gay men are willing and able, they can overlook their differences and find common ground. There are some instances, however, when such open-mindedness comes with mixed results.

So when Hayrik* approached me over a dating app asking to meet me for a hike and I saw he harbored political views diametrically opposed to mine, I decided nevertheless to try and bridge the divide. 

But when Hayrik showed up 30 minutes late for our date, with neither apology nor explanation and looking at least 40 pounds heavier than he did in his photos, I knew something was off. 

I considered confronting him about this but told myself that to do so would be rude. But as we set off on our hike, Hayrik’s dog in tow, doubt began to gnaw at me.

Some minutes later, the dog stopped to relieve himself. To my dismay, his owner made no attempt to pick up after him. 

When pressed, Hayrik complained that he’d forgotten to bring a bag. Offering a shrug and a lopsided smile, he said: “I’m just a bad dog owner”. 

I considered whether or not to cut the date short. If I turned on my heel and left, I had no way of knowing how Hayrik might react. Fear of conflict forced me to bite my tongue. 

Hayrik made some small talk, slowly steering the conversation towards politics. When I made our differences of opinion known, he responded with a gleeful aside, attacking my beliefs. 

By this point, we were at the hike’s halfway mark, so excusing myself now seemed almost pointless. What was I going to do? Overtake Hayrik and storm back to my car?

I tried to change the subject, only for Hayrik to drop an incendiary comment, the kind you might expect from a troll sowing chaos in an online comments thread. 

I fell silent, and sensing I’d quit the game, my date quickly ran out of steam. An awkward silence prevailed.

What to look for when dating other gay men

In choosing not to end the date prematurely, in choosing to save face, I’d been forced to tolerate Hayrik’s behavior, thereby inadvertently endorsing it. 

Had I identified some guideposts for what I expected when dating gay men – and also what constituted a violation of these expectations – in advance, the situation might’ve turned out quite differently. 

But what are reasonable guideposts, and when is it appropriate to quit a date?

1. Discrepancies

I didn’t believe that the disparity between Hayrik’s physical appearance and his photos was cause enough to end our interaction then and there. Yet the disparity was one he was surely aware of. 

Dating profiles are the personal equivalent of marketing materials. It’s in our interest to put our best foot forward, so we all “curate” our personal presentation to some lesser or greater degree. There is however a clear difference between selective presentation and active deception.

Gay men who for example list themselves as being one age on their profile, when in reality they are at least 10 years older, are another example of this. 

No matter how youthful someone might look, such behavior points to a fundamental lack of trustworthiness. And without trust, there is no basis for a relationship.

2. Causes for concern

Unmanaged Mental Health Issues: As someone who has battled anxiety and depression, do I advocate intolerance of such people? Definitely not. The keyword here is “unmanaged”. 

If this person is not actively seeking or receiving help for their problems, trying to establish a romantic relationship with this person may put you in an untenable position. 

You may find for example that in trying to help, you become a codependent “fixer” who prevents your partner from taking charge of their situation. Or you may find yourself forced to keep the other person at arm’s length as a matter of self-preservation. This is not fair for either party. 

Addiction: Unless gay men are seeking help for an addiction, whether it is substance- or process-related, the concerns are very similar to those outlined above. For most addicts, their habit will almost always come first, and often at a significant cost to their personal relationships. 

Even if you feel you are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tolerance required to deal with an addiction problem, you still run the risk of becoming an enabler or being dragged into their habit.

Personality Disorders: When left untreated, personality disorders can wreak devastation not only on the lives of gay men but on those in their immediate vicinity.

A full list of diagnostic criteria is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some telltale signs you could be dealing with someone with a personality disorder:

  • Ongoing emotional instability
  • Chronic temper problems
  • Excessive self-involvement 
  • Excessive neediness
  • Callous disregard for your feelings or wellbeing
  • Deceptive, manipulative, exploitative or destructive behavior

Again, I am not attempting to dissuade you from dating someone with a personality disorder, but rather flagging the possibility that, should you decide to go down that path, there may be some rough terrain ahead.

3. Irreconcilable differences

There are differing tastes in music, and then there are incompatible value systems

Had there been some value overlap between Hayrik’s political views and my own, things might have gone okay. As it stood, there was not. Our value systems were incompatible.

Even the most casual behaviors can be telling in this regard. Watch, for example, how your date addresses the restaurant server. Is he polite? Patronizing, or cutting without cause? 

How does he behave when he encounters an aggressive driver? Does he laugh it off? Or does he fly into a rage, vowing retribution? 

If you’re a person who values treating others with kindness and courtesy no matter the circumstances, a person who acts this way does not share your values

essy knopf gay men dating

4. Dealbreakers

These are myriad and often subjective. You may not be justified in ending dates when these arise, however they should give you pause. Here are some telling examples.

Aggression: Everyone has their triggers, but gay men with a hair-trigger are people you should definitely steer clear of.

Meanspiritedness: If someone intentionally attacks or puts you down on the first date, don’t stick it out. That said, this person could be having a bad day. If it happens once, be on alert. If it happens twice, be on your way. Leaving sends a clear message that you have personal boundaries and are willing to protect them. 

Disrespect: This can take many forms. Personally, I consider a lack of punctuality on a first date a form of disrespect. Of course, your date could have gotten stuck in a traffic jam, an accident, or can’t find parking and forgot or was unable to communicate. You can offer some leeway here.

But if it happens more than once, there is a good chance this person is lacking basic consideration for others.

When Hayrik, for example, failed to clean up after his dog, he wasn’t just shirking personal responsibility. He was signaling a lack of basic respect for other people. 

Complainers and bad-mouthers: Complaining, blame-mongering, and backbiting should set off internal alarms. Why? Because it often speaks to serious self-esteem problems. Ask yourself if this is a trait you’re willing to stomach in the long term. Chances are it isn’t.

Immaturity/Game playing: Personal interactions shouldn’t be treated like a game. Hayrik’s attempt to lure me into an unwinnable political debate spoke to an immature desire to prove his intellectual superiority – and not a desire to connect as equals. Without such equality, any kind of healthy relationship will be impossible.

Your mileage may vary

This article is not meant to be treated as a definitive list, but rather as a jumping-off point for identifying your personal limits. The message is: know your deal-breakers, and know that you have the right to walk once one has been identified.

If revelations are made mid-date that bring to light fundamental incompatibilities, you have grounds to end the interaction. There are perfectly polite ways of doing this. 

One I swear by is setting a timer on my phone and only feeding my parking meter for that period of time. This gives me a legitimate reason to get up and leave, no charade required.

How long should you set your timer? For a first date, one hour is more than adequate. When the alarm goes off, explain you have another commitment you need to get to. Thank the person for their time, pay for your bill, and leave.

This tactic can also be useful for those instances when you haven’t identified any dealbreakers but the interaction leaves something wanting. 

Sometimes the repartee is listless, the other person is nervous to the point of paralysis, or they may say something that rubs you the wrong way. If the interest – and effort – is mutual, these challenges can be overcome. 

Takeaways

  • Keep an eye out for discrepancies, causes for concern and irreconcilable differences.
  • Know your dealbreakers and what you’re willing to tolerate.
  • Have an exit strategy in place, should the date go south.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

10 must-read books for gay men seeking growth, healing, and an escape from the struggle mindset

growth and healing Essy Knopf
Reading time: 8 minutes

The coronavirus lockdowns gave us time aplenty to stew and fret. Some of us however took it that time to play “life catch up” or even to undertake personal growth and healing.

As a gay man, I know that it’s precisely when life begins to slow down that I find both the time and the mental bandwidth to seek out the personal insights necessary to said growth.

At the time, I proposed the following reading list to help jumpstart the journey for anyone walking a similar path.

While the worst of the pandemic is largely behind us, the lifelong quest for self-knowledge continues. The following 10 self-help books I consider mandatory reading for this quest. Here’s why.

Essy Knopf growth and healing The Velvet Rage

Understanding the gay struggle – the first step towards growth and healing

“Something about growing up gay forced us to learn how to hide ugly realities behind a finely crafted façade. Why is this so? We hid because we learned that hiding is a means to survival.”
– Alan Downs, The Velvet Rage

Even as an out and proud gay man, I felt like I was still living a life of subterfuge. Only now it wasn’t my sexuality that I was hiding but my vulnerability

My dating experiences revealed I wasn’t the only one struggling with an entrenched sense of self-loathing and shame. More than a few of us had been left emotionally crippled by our experiences.

Not only were we incapable of building robust relationships—we were also prone to seeking relief through substance and process (behavior) addictions.

The Velvet Rage argues however that there is cause for hope. Author Alan Downs charts the journey gay men must take from self-loathing to self-acceptance before concluding with a raft of invaluable suggestions for how we can live happier and healthier lives.

growth and healing Daring Greatly Essy Knopf

Transforming your life through vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose.”
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

When I came out as gay, I was searching for connection and a sense of belonging. I was, in a way, looking for a replacement family for the one from which I had become alienated.

Initially, I looked for it at gay venues, like bars and clubs. I quickly learned that it was sex, not vulnerability, that many of the men I met were looking for.

These individuals might claim to have achieved self-acceptance, and yet their aversion to vulnerability was so total, the denial of shame so complete, that our relationships remained mired in superficiality.

Any invitation to be emotionally authentic was met with bewilderment, resistance, and even scorn. To those I encountered, being vulnerable was at best weak, at worst dangerous.

Daring Greatly author Brené Brown argues that this need not be our fate. “Shame,” she writes, “derives its power from being unspeakable. Shame keeps us small, resentful, and afraid”.

Her solution? Recognize it for what it is, understand its triggers, strive for critical awareness, and be willing to reach out to others and speak out about our shared experience of shame.

You can watch Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability here.

growth and healing The Body Keeps the Score Essy Knopf

Recognizing the influence of trauma

“Traumatized people are terrified to feel deeply. They are afraid to experience their emotions, because emotions lead to loss of control… Being traumatized is not just an issue of being stuck in the past; it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present.”
– Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

I was 12 when my family began to fall apart. My older brother’s daily battles with my parents, his drug use, and random acts of violence, lying, and thievery reduced our household to a warzone.

My parents eventually buckled under the strain of it all, withdrawing emotionally and giving my brother free rein to bully me. 

The experience left me stricken with an unrelenting sense of loneliness and worthlessness.

Trauma was a word I exclusively associated with veterans or victims of extreme abuse. But as I came to later learn, trauma can be entirely passive, like emotional neglect.

Trauma for gay children is an all too common experience. We face it when we are rejected, assaulted and even cast out for our sexuality.

Bessel van der Kolk’s comprehensive The Body Keeps the Score is a deep dive into the manifestations and mechanics of trauma.

Readers will come away from it with new insights not only into their own experiences with trauma but possible treatments as well.

growth and healing Learned optimism Essy Knopf

Adopting optimistic thinking

“An optimistic explanatory style stops helplessness, whereas a pessimistic explanatory style spreads helplessness. Your way of explaining events to yourself determines how helpless you can become, or how energized, when you encounter the everyday setbacks as well as momentous defeats.”
– Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism

While my family was disintegrating, I was also being bullied at school due to a then-undiagnosed disability, Asperger syndrome.

My resulting depression and anxiety led to what Learned Optimism author Martin Seligman calls a “pessimistic explanatory style”. 

In moments of difficulty, I would resort to self-blame, telling myself I was unlovable and entirely deserving of my misfortune. These explanations came at a great cost to my mental wellbeing.

Learned Optimism argues that we can correct this chain of thinking by identifying the adversity we’ve experienced, the existing beliefs they trigger, and their consequences. By disputing these beliefs, we can alter the impact they have on us.

You can discover your own explanatory style with the help of this quiz devised by Seligman.

growth and healing Self-Compassion Essy Knopf

Being kinder to yourself

“Self-compassion provides an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment so that we can finally stop asking, ‘Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?’”
– Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion

Previously I’ve discussed the burden of “grandiosity”, a defense used by gay men against feelings of inferiority or covert depression.

The one thing I’ve found key to my recovery as a workaholic perfectionist is the very thing I’ve denied myself: self-compassion.

When our attachment as children to our primary caregivers is disrupted (more on this below), we fail to develop critical self-soothing skills.

This may cause us to neglect our own needs during times of stress or suffering. We may even seek distraction in grandiose or self-destructive behaviors, like addiction.

Self-Compassion author Kristin Neff offers a third alternative: practicing self-soothing through mindfulness, being aware of our emotional states, and responding appropriately to them with words and acts of compassion.

growth and healing Mindset Essy Knopf

Adopting a ‘growth’ mindset

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over… Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”
– Carol S. Dweck, Mindset

Those fixed in their thinking, like grandiose gay men, are stricken by a fear of failure and imperfection. 

As such, they seek success in the place of growth, superiority rather than self-acceptance.

But, as in the words of Mindset author Carol S. Dweck: “If you’re somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?” The fall from such heights can be devastating. 

The opposite of a fixed mindset is the growth mindset, which calls for us to suspend constant judgment of ourselves and others. A growth mindset makes us more likely to seek out personal change and development.

The good news is we don’t have to be born with a growth mindset to enjoy the benefits. We learn to adopt one through practice.

growth and healing Boundaries Essy Knopf

Setting clear boundaries

“Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences.”
– Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries

Boundaries are crucial for all gay men because our right to choose how we live is one that often comes under the scrutiny and judgment of others, especially our own families.

As a gay man who enjoys a close relationship with my mother, I can safely say that it was one arrived at through continual negotiation, and a willingness to defend my personal boundaries. 

My transition to independent adulthood was predictably rough. My mother, for reasons that were perfectly logical to her at the time, would insist on trying to control or judge aspects of my life even after I left home. 

My decision to get a mini-mohawk, for example, would result in the silent treatment. Piercing my ears resulted in her nagging for me to “take them out”.

In moments of weakness, I would kowtow to her will, at the cost of mutual respect.

Renegotiating boundaries with our parents can be a particularly thorny process, yet it is critical to the longevity of your relationship as well as those that follow.

While the non-religious may struggle with Boundaries’ numerous Biblical references, Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s classic remains a vital guide to establishing better relations with our loved ones.

growth and healing Attached Essy Knopf

Understanding your relationship needs better 

“People have very different capacities for intimacy. And when one person’s need for closeness is met with another person’s need for independence and distance, a lot of unhappiness ensues.”  
– Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, Attached

Dating for me has historically been an uneven game of push-pull; a mismatch of varying needs and expectations.

It was only when a friend introduced to me the concept of attachment styles that the cause was at last brought into focus.

Our relationships with our primary caregivers from our childhood onward serve as a template for how secure we feel in the world. It also forms the basis for how we “attach” to others. 

Attachment falls into three categories: secure, anxious, or avoidant. Anxious people seek closeness and affirmation, avoidants seek distance and independence. 

Secures typically have no difficulty bonding with either type and thus serve as an ideal partner for anxious and avoidants.

While this all sounds rather formulaic, being able to recognize your own needs as well as that of your romantic partner is a guaranteed way to save both of you a lot of difficulty—and heartache—down the road.

Those interested in identifying their’s or other’s attachment styles can try this brief quiz by authors Amir Levine and Rachel Heller.

growth and healing Full Catastrophe Living Essy Knopf

Learning to meditate

“Mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of agency, control, and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacity for paying attention and on the awareness, insight, and compassion that naturally arise from paying attention in specific ways.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living

In Full Catastrophe Living, author Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that while stress may be an unavoidable feature of life, how to deal with it or not deal with it is ultimately our choice.

For example, the trauma I experienced growing up was hardcoded into the behavioral circuitry of my brain. I found that later conflicts would invariably trigger them.

The resulting fight-or-flight response was often destructive to my relationships.

It was possible however to reprogram my brain to judge and react to every stimulus. This is the essence of self-awareness.

By practicing exercises like diaphragmatic breathing and meditation, we can learn to be present with our experience. Through mindfulness, we can learn to be aware of our feelings, rather than controlled by them.

Improving emotional intelligence

“People with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”
– Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

The skills described above – self-awareness (knowing one’s own emotions) and self-compassion (managing those emotions), as well as self-motivation, empathy, and relationship management – are all critical to what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional intelligence”.

Emotional intelligence is a meta-ability that governs how successful we are in all aspects of our lives, from relationships to our wellbeing, to personal effectiveness and productivity.

My discovery of Daniel Goleman’s seminal work served in this sense as a catalyst for confronting my own trauma and seeking a fresh perspective on my struggles.

I accomplished this with the help of therapy, reading self-help and psychology books, opening up dialogues with others, and yes, undertaking meditation.

While some sections and theoretical discussions may not be relevant to all readers, Emotional Intelligence is an essential read for all gay men on the path of self-improvement.

Five reasons gay dating apps are bad for you

Essy Knopf gay dating apps
Reading time: 4 minutes

Being time-poor is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. Using gay dating apps seems, on the face of it, easier and less time-consuming than more traditional forms of dating.

On the apps, the pool of potential partners is infinitely bigger. The ease of use trumps the complications of in-person interactions.

You can do your vetting anywhere, be it the comfort of your bed or a bathroom stall.

Text-based communication allows you to reply at your own convenience. To bask in the attention of multiple apparent suitors.

Present your ultra-refined, whip-smart, sexy, side-cracking funny ideal self. Never face the pain of real rejection. 

But all of this comes at a considerable cost. Countless a think piece has lamented the effect dating apps have had on interpersonal connection.

Namely, they create an environment that fosters judgment rather than true vulnerability. This diminishes our chances of being truly known and embraced by another human being.

Then there’s the fact that the efficiency we so value is an illusion. Rather than saving time, we may ultimately be squandering it.

gay dating apps

1. Gay dating apps ask us to forgo being authentic

Out of necessity, we change to suit our audience. We become whoever we need to be, curating images and text in order to secure whatever it is we want at that moment of time, be it company for dinner or a bedfellow for the hour.

In doing so, we avoid the risks involved with being vulnerable. But we also lose touch with our fundamental desire to be seen, recognized, and accepted for our authentic selves.

gay dating apps

2. They force us to trade our deeper needs for transitory wants

Gay dating apps ask us to select romantic or sexual partners on the basis of specific traits.

While this is supposed to help us narrow our vast options, it forces us to take a very limited view. We prematurely choose or reject candidates on the basis of our current, often superficial ideas of what we think we want.

But what we “want” is not necessarily consistent, but contextual and ever-changing. For example, we all have our dealbreakers, but we also have “negotiables”.

Depending on our mood or appetite, we might be open to one trait today, and another tomorrow.

My point is this: by treating online dating as a game of elimination, fixating on a preset “shopping list”, we lose sight of what we are all truly need and are seeking: meaningful connection.

gay dating apps

3. Gay dating apps leave us stuck in a state of perpetual ‘looking’

Keeping interactions going on the apps can often feel like a war of attrition, with our conversational partners appearing and disappearing suddenly and often without reason.

So we are forced to participate in relational multitasking, maintaining multiple interactions at the same time. This guarantees us a stream of almost constant attention, and therefore validation.

In order to sustain the game of juggling candidates, we have to cast our nets wide and keep our options open.

We become as much motivated by desire as by fear: fear of missing out (FOMO), and fear of better options (FOBO)

By focusing on the process of searching at the expense of actual discovery, we may lose all internal bearings.

Rather than self-reflecting, we become caught up in the chemical thrill of pursuing or being pursued.

If we are not careful, we may find ourselves relationshopping, going from cultivating our options to selecting, engaging, sampling and disposing.

Having revised our ever-shifting tastes, we then rinse and repeat, in a neverending cycle.

gay dating apps

4. They trivialize ourselves, and others

Admit it: the apps have at one point made you feel this way. Some of us even actively engage in such trivializing, advising other users to “relax, it’s just Grindr” while professing to “not take this app too seriously”.

It’s true that for many, gay dating apps are just – and will only ever be – a means of fun distraction. Got a few minutes to burn?

Hop on, ping a few cute strangers, trade some banter, swap a few photos, before inevitably turning your attention back to real life.

Gay dating apps in this sense are part of a smartphone and social media-inspired design shift towards casual gaming.

They employ mechanisms to keep you entertained and to reward engagement, be it through audible notifications, features like “woofs”, “taps”, or other apparent acknowledgments of your worth or attractiveness.

These mechanisms trivialize interactions, resulting in the following shift in our priorities:

Seeking connection → Seeking entertainment
“I want to forge a genuine connection with another human being.” “I’ll treat interactions as just fun and games, and other people as a means for personal validation.”
Being focused → Seeking distraction
“I would like to pursue a single, valued person on the basis of a connection and compatibility.” “I’ll put my eggs in a few baskets, with minimum investment, and no specific, consistent goal in mind.”
Being purpose-driven Being opportunistic 
“I am seeking the companionship of another person to help satisfy my need for connection.” “I’ll seek whatever I want, according to my current desires and the options on hand.”

Seeking entertainment and distraction opportunistically guarantees you some amount of “fun”…but not a whole lot else.

gay dating apps

5. They foster dependency

Gay dating apps put us in a state of imbalance. In order to keep conversations going, we must lend them our attention across the day and night.

Continued use means continued validation. Our self-value may become contingent upon positive reinforcement from others.

Over time, the stress of having to constantly seek this reinforcement compounds, corroding our sense of wellbeing and feeding anxiety and depression.

If your gay dating app experience is proving toxic for your mental health, here are some steps you can take to kick the habit.

gay dating apps

Takeaways

  • When using gay dating apps, we “curate”, concealing our authentic selves.
  • These apps encourage us to “look” outwards, rather than practice introspection about what we most need.
  • The nature of our interactions on gay dating apps is trivializing and often demeaning.
  • We may learn to depend on app-based validation – and suffer when we don’t receive it.

How to quit gay dating apps and take back control of your life

Essy Knopf gay dating apps
Reading time: 4 minutes

About a year ago, I vowed to never use gay dating apps again. Too many nights spent engaging in rapid-fire exchanges with perfect strangers who would vanish by morning had left me feeling spent.

Initially, I’d accepted the duty of replying to incessant messages as part of the territory. Always being “connected” is a necessary evil of our age, especially when it comes to online dating, but Grindr’s old slogan “get on, get off” seemed more than ever like a bait-and-switch.

Any wonder. Dating app makers clearly profit by our continued use of them, deploying strategies to keep us engaged, so they can then sell us premium features.

Take for example Tinder’s addictive swipe-based mechanic, or the even more mundane – and equally rewarding – system of push notifications. 

For someone who prides themselves in being efficient, I’ve found gay dating apps to be anything but. The sense of never quite being finished – of there always being one more person to reply to – has always nagged at me.

For someone who already struggles with anxiety, it was only a matter of time before I hit a peak and decided to ditch the gay dating apps. Tinder, Scruff, and Grindr – deleted in one fell swoop. But for how long, exactly?

1. Don’t quit gay dating apps cold turkey

A grand total of six months, to be precise. After downloading the apps again, I (surprise!) found myself once more caught up in the drudgery of fielding lifeless small talk.

It’s a pattern we’re all too familiar with: left weary by the sterile objectification, the kinetic five-minute conversations that fizzle for no perceptible reason, we pack it in. Swear off the gay dating apps for good.

Then, in a moment of boredom and loneliness, we hop back on, just to see who’s around and if anything has changed. If we’re lucky, the app will have undergone a snazzy redesign.

Our previous exchanges will have been wiped, so no need to dwell on our many unsuccessful interactions.

Maybe the people around us will have forgotten us too. The novelty of our profile photo in the search grid will be renewed, and the affirming messages will begin to flood in.

We’ll feel momentarily buoyed by the realization that yes, we are still very much attractive, and that there will always be an anonymous mass of strangers waiting to objectify us. 

So, we decide to stay a little while, and before long we’re back to lurking, replying, refreshing. And the cycle begins anew.

essy knopf gay dating apps

Falling back into the habit is a very real hazard of quitting anything addictive cold turkey. But for those of us genuinely seeking connection, going back to the dating apps is shooting ourselves in the foot.

We know, after all, that “dating app” is a misnomer and that most gay men use Grindr and its brethren for hookups.

Admittedly, there is a certain comfort in knowing the adoration of another man is just a tap away.

So if you’re not quite ready to cut the cord, but you’re feeling overdue for a gay dating app detox, here are some steps you could consider taking:

2. Disable push notifications

This way, you choose when you engage – and not at the prompting of the app.

3. Limit your app usage

Trial an app-blocking service. These allow you to schedule specific days and times for usage while preventing you from accessing designated apps outside of that window.

4. Delay your replies

Sure, in the fast-paced world of ping-pong messaging, you risk losing the other person’s interest. But slowing down the interaction can help weed out people who weren’t really all that interested in you in the first place.

It’s important to remember that many gay dating app users are simply “playing the numbers game”, texting countless others just to see who will bite.

5. Ask to meet

Just because someone is available on a gay dating app, doesn’t mean they are necessarily available to meet you, if ever. This may seem contrary, given they somehow find time to engage in protracted back-and-forths.

I operate under the assumption that if someone can find the time to chat and both of you live in the same city, you can take 30 minutes to grab a coffee in person.

If you’ve requested to meet and it hasn’t happened after two weeks, you are well within your rights to disengage.

6. Have a cut-off point

Let’s be honest: unless you’re in it just for validation, endless chatting can become tedious. If you’re scoping the other person for facetime eligibility, then it’s perfectly acceptable to set a cut-off point for messaging.

We all obviously need to engage in preliminary screening to get a feel for the other person, their motivations, and their general vibe, so it’s difficult to settle on a hard number of exchanges.

But based on my experience, if neither person has broached the subject of meeting in person and set plans in stone by the 30-message mark, there’s a good chance that neither has any intention of doing so.

This is an opportunity to ask yourself why you are sustaining the exchange, and whether you might be better off investing your time and energy elsewhere.

7. Wipe your profile

If more extreme measures are required, consider temporarily wiping your profile before deleting each app from your phone. The effort required to download, log back in, and set the profile back up can serve as a good deterrent.

8. Take a hiatus

Obviously, there are no silver-bullet solutions. Gay dating apps have become a permanent part of the landscape, so permanently quitting them can seem not only daunting but unrealistic.

But too often feeding this time-hungry monster begins to feel like a hopeless, joyless, never-ending task. Like the legend of the Greek king Sisyphus, we feel condemned to keep rolling a boulder up a hill for all eternity.

Unlike Sisyphus however, we have the right to opt-out. If you need a break and a chance to recharge, your priority as a thoughtful gay man should be to take it. It may just be a question of when and how – and sometimes how long.

If you do decide to take a hiatus, bravo. Remember that the apps won’t vanish. Your romantic prospects will not suffer a fatal decline. And best of all, you’ll feel all the better for it.

Check out this post for some self-care tips. And if you’re still not convinced you should give the gay dating apps the kick, consider these five arguments.

Takeaways

  • Switch off gay dating app notifications and stop the reward mechanism that keeps you coming back.
  • If you’re struggling with self-discipline, consider using an app-blocker.
  • Weed out people who are messaging for the wrong reasons by delaying your replies.
  • Choose a cut-off point for number of messages exchanged and stick to it.
  • If the other person is vague or noncommittal about meeting, walk away.