The summer of 2013 read like a sexy, sleazy romance novel: Fashion assistant by day, online hookup fiend by night. It was my after work drink, my 7 p.m. ritual. I'd come home, open up Grindr, exchange hundreds of salacious messages, and wait to see who wanted to “cuddle” with a 21-year-old kid living in Alphabet City.
That summer, I let strangers into my apartment. I followed several into seedy, disgusting neighborhoods. I toyed with the boundaries of safe sex. Was it fun? Absolutely. Was it gross? Without a doubt. Once, I met a 30-something-year-old lawyer living in Chinatown for a second late-night encounter. We talked. We flirted. We quickly ran past all the bases. When I put my clothes back on and reached for my subway pass, he slipped me a $50 and called a black car to get me home.
Was I seriously just confused for an escort? Or was this guy a keeper, a gentleman who was more concerned with my safety and well-being? For my own confidence, let's say he was trying to be friendly. But the next morning I experienced a tremendous sense of guilt. It wasn’t the last time a casual hookup would leave me feeling that way.
For the uninitiated, Grindr is a self-described “gay social network app” used primarily by men who identify as gay to find others nearby. Its GPS data allows you to track down guys as close to “0 feet away.” And using it is simple. You upload a photo, enter your weight, your height, your kinks, and, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can write up a few blurbs about what you're looking for.
Men online are predominantly straightforward. If they want sex, they’ll tell you. If they’re looking for a date, they’ll tell you. If you’re looking for a date and they’re looking for sex, they’ll bark at you and then block your profile. Conversations typically read as follows:
“Top or bottom?”
“Nice. Me too. Looking?”
“Yep, you? Pics?”
“Can you host?”
“Yep, but not tonight. When you free?”
It’s essentially gay code for I think you’re really hot and want to sleep with you–now. There are dozens of sub-cultures within the gay community (twinks, daddies, bears, and otters, for starters) that can help you narrow your search, too. Point blank: If you want to explore your wildest erotic fantasies at any time of day, anywhere, you can do so on Grindr. Chances of meeting someone who’s looking for a long walk on the beach? They’re low.
Somewhere between seeing another lawyer and getting lost between Cobble and Boerum Hill in Brooklyn that summer, I met a guy that named Greg*. Greg was one year younger than me, interning in the city, and, in my pathetically naïve little head, the man of my dreams. Our summer lovin’ felt like Sandy and Danny’s. When it was time for him to return home for his final semester of college, I wept, I felt lonely, and I opened up Grindr.
Would I ever find a guy who would prefer a real human connection over a shirtless photo? Probably not, but I insisted on looking. Dating takes practice, and to find love, you have to put in the work. And so I did.
“Nm. Bored at work, you?”
“Ugh, same. What’s your name?”
The first few words John and I exchanged contained less depth than a toddler’s inflatable pool. We followed routine Grindr protocol and exchanged photos, politely complimented each other, and proceeded to unearth trivial facts. What are you doing tonight? Where do you live? Do you have a boyfriend? You’re cute.
I added him to the app’s “Favorites” section and said hello each time he was online. Like any true tale of modern romance, things didn’t move quickly from there. We exchanged phone numbers early on, but John was not giving me the time of day. We’d talk, we’d flirt, we’d sext. And then he’d disappear. “Busy working,” he’d say.
Sometime in September, we finally met in person. Truthfully, I didn’t meet with the intention of hooking up. Something about this 22-year-old wide-eyed boy felt different. Before we met, we grew to know enough about each other to trust that, for better or worse, our interaction would be safe.
When I walked into John’s apartment that Saturday night, he was wearing a black shirt colored with a red rose, black skinny jeans, and socks. He welcomed me into his home, offered me a glass of wine, and we talked like two friends who had known each other for years. One, two, maybe three bottles of wine later, we were still on the couch.
In my experience, the couch is where you’ll determine how far you’ll take it with your hookup, which base you’re both willing to cross, but for John and me, none of that was on our minds. Instead, we focused on getting to know each other. We turned on his TV and watched Scream, laughed at Drew Barrymore, and made out. Did I sleep over the first night I met him? Yes, but it was very PG.
Over the next few weeks, we followed a similar routine inside his apartment. The soundtrack was Miley Cyrus's “We Can’t Stop" and we blasted it as loud as his speakers allowed. I’d come over, we’d dance, we’d flirt, I’d sleep over, and I’d leave. Sometimes we’d go to a restaurant. Sometimes we’d go to a bar. Sometimes he’d meet my friends. In December, he became my boyfriend.
Three years later, John and I now live together. We’re still dancing to the same stupid albums, still drinking too much wine, and still very much in love.