Ade: I’m really looking forward to our conversation, as the subject is one I am sure many gay men can relate to. I think a good place to start is the recent survey by Grindr, which said that — “Out of 2,000+ respondents, an overwhelming 77% of them [gay men] want to get married someday (and 4% of respondents already are married)….” What were your initial thoughts when you saw that?
Francois: I get stuck here: “an overwhelming 77% of them want to get married someday”. This clearly shows that gay guys are looking for a lasting connection with one other person, which is in stark contrast of the image of gay men in the gay-and-mainstream media depicted as a bunch of half-naked exhibitionists who party hard 4 days of the week and having numerous sexual partners.
However, it will be interesting to know if those who participated in the survey hoped to meet their potential life partners on an app like Grindr, or on other similar gay hook-up sites.
Ade: I was surprised it was that high – not surprised about the fact that many gay men wanted to get married someday, but that many gay men on Grindr said that. I guess it goes to highlight one of the things that Brene Brown says which is that ‘we are all hardwired for connection’, and for many I suspect that ‘marriage’ (or long term relationships) is seen as an indicator of that connection.
The main thing that strikes me is how many of us deep down really want intimacy, but often misinterpret that on a surface level as a desire to have sex. And I think Grindr and many other online dating (hook-up) sites/apps exploit that desire… It provides a quick fix and distracts many from what they truly want intimacy; connection. Or maybe that’s too simplistic?
Francois: I actually think you are spot on, Ade. I have no rules (judgements) or fixed ideas in my head about hook-up sites and apps. I always say, “Whatever works.” In the past, I know I have used those platforms for something that I thought ‘worked’ for me: Hooking up to meet guys and, of course, to have sex.
It’s been a while since I’ve had an online profile, because for me the veneer came off and that empty void just kept getting bigger. I eventually realised, that what I really wanted was intimacy and a connection… One forgets about that deeper longing when you stare at a screen displaying beautiful bare chests (and more!) and perfect smiling faces.
Having said that, for many guys it starts out to be just about sex and eventually some do make genuine connections. That’s a good thing.
Ade: I remember being introduced to Grindr a few years ago, I had mentioned to a friend that I was ready to be in a relationship and it was suggested. The first guy I met was really nice, but appeared reluctant to engage emotionally — for example I’d send him a text and he’d respond back via Grindr. When a few weeks later, I met my now partner and told the other guy that I would not be seeing him anymore, he said something that really shook me, he said “I had thought something more will happen between us…. it just takes me a bit longer to show more of myself”. At which point he shared more of himself and his story. What really struck me by all that was, the online/apps ‘dating’ scene moves so fast and if there was no immediate engagement (connection), we are very quickly on to the next one – as George Michael would say ‘Fast Love’. With this guy, he had only shown an interest in sex, but in that conversation he said he had wanted more, but at that stage it was too late — I had moved on, without being curious to explore!
When I think about it now, I have to ponder on where do we as gay men (and the gay children coming after us) learn dating skills. When you look at the media — TV and Movies, there are so many narratives for ‘straight love’, but ‘gay love’ is mostly depicted as sex, sex and more sex… so I guess many of us grow up speaking that language… but deep down wanting much more….
Francois: It’s the ‘Fast Love’ that got to me. Looking at my own behaviour while I had my online profiles I certainly revealed a lot of flesh, but very little soul.
I once met a guy online who was really lovely. Our first meeting was just sexual and we both understood this from the onset. In fact, things went so well that we started seeing each other regularly… every Sunday. We became ‘fuck buddies’. I was very clear about the boundaries. We’d always meet at his house and I’d only stay for a few hours. I didn’t communicate with him during the week – not even when he sent me text messages or called. I drew a clear line between my life in the week and seeing him every Sunday.
After a year of Sunday engagements, he sent me a text message in the middle of the week, which said something like: “Just want to let you know I’m moving to Spain and I will no longer be around on Sundays. It was lovely meeting you and good luck in your quest to find love.”
That was it. I never heard from him again. And I realised that I have been sexually very intimate with this guy for a year and yet he never mentioned anything personal – like moving to Spain – ever to me. Then again, I also did not allow him to get to know me on a deeper level… It’s not possible to just have sex. Feelings do get involved.
Regarding dating skills, Ade. It’s a tricky one, because I think men in general can be a little bit inept when it comes to our dating skills and expressing love… I did not learn a lot from my father and I doubt that even if I was straight, he would’ve taught me much about courting the ladies.
Ade: Ouch! Don’t know what to say to that. I guess many people (gay and straight) are able to put Sex in one box and Emotional Intimacy in another box.
I suspect that when it comes to apps/online stuff, when the two people meet, each person does not necessarily put his cards on the table and even when they do, what is being said might not be the deep truth. For example I have been with guys who from the beginning have said ‘I don’t want a relationship’, but I’d go along with whatever came my way, secretly hoping that they would change their mind. And like the Grindr guy I mentioned, I never did say to him that I wanted more – I simply hoped he’d translate it from my actions.
When I came onto the gay scene in my late 20s, I never knew what the dating culture was. It was simply ‘watch and learn’ and I guess for many that is the case … we make it up as we go along… and in addition to that, many of us carry unhealed emotional wounds from childhood which also gets in the way of us navigating healthy relationships; limiting beliefs like – I am not good enough, I am unlovable and I am not worthy, creep up and sadly sabotage the thing that deep down we really desire.
Francois: I used to be one of those ‘I don’t want a relationship’ guys… and yet, I took the bait as soon as someone I was ‘seeing’ wanted more. Sadly, for me, I responded based on my physical attraction to them and not on the fact that we had anything in else in common.
Similar to you, I had no mentor when I entered the gay scene. Gosh, I wasn’t even sure how gay sex worked; I learned all of that from porn (so you can imagine the sexual expectations and performance pressure I put on myself!). Talk about watch and learn!
I think times are changing, younger gay guys are more media savvy and apps etc is something, I believe, that they navigate better because they are growing up with it…
Of course, I am also fully aware that all this technology does not make it any easier for a gay kid (or anyone out there) who is lonely and who craves love and acceptance. For him it could be a hornet’s nest. I know, for me, looking at some of those uber-sexy-ultra-buffed bodies online, made me feel very fat and ugly unlovable and imperfect (and really I am not). So it can be a negative trigger in terms of old wounds.
Ade: At the workshop we ran last weekend, we spent some time looking at ‘self-defeating habits’ — those things we do that take us away from what we really want. I think sometimes for many of us because we have done something for a long time, it becomes so familiar that we sometimes mistaken that as doing something we want — when in fact, our behaviour or habit is moving us away to something we do not want, which might lead to immediate gratification or release…. and then we move on to the next fix….. and the next fix….
During the exploration over the weekend, I was conscious that for many of us we simply don’t know what we want and for those of us who do, there might be the issue of ‘how do I express my authentic needs, when deep down I am afraid of rejection’ (or have all these limiting beliefs) — I know that was the case for me.
Yes, there are more visible images of ‘gay love’ and I think the passing of the same-sex marriage bill here in the UK and in a few other pockets of the world, will have a positive impact. Although there is then the issue of what happens after we get married – because that in itself brings more of our unhealed stuff to the table. What words of wisdom would you give to those out there who are also pondering on this whole issue of sex, intimacy and online dating and hook ups?
Francois: You can sometimes ask me such tricky questions, Ade. I like that about you.
I think the passing of the same-sex marriage bill is great, however I think (in fact, I know) many of us may think marriage is the answer to all our problems. And with problems I refer to all the stuff (pain, shame and unhealed wounds) that lies underneath the surface.
Now, I may not have been married before, but I do know that a ring on my finger is not going to make everything go away… It may help to create some superficial sense of security and belonging, but ultimately if the stuff is there it will surface again with or without the wedding cake and marriage certificate.
You and I both know that relationships are a perfect platform to bring out all those triggers. So I guess, for me, it’s all about intentions. When I go on a date, I ask myself before I go: What do I want from this experience? Is it just sex? Am I really that interested that I want something more? Do I really want something more with anyone?
If you know what you really want and you are clear about your own intentions and motivations, then you have already created a safe inner environment from which you can communicate your needs and wants with confidence. Having healthy relationships (on whatever level) starts with you.
Ade: I deeply agree, we need to be clear about our intentions and check in to see if our behaviours are moving us towards that intention. So for me, when I met my partner a couple of years ago – after the first Grindr guy I mentioned — I initiated a conversation on our first date about our relationship triggers and had such rich beneath the surface conversation, I had never done that before and would previously only have such conversations when I felt a bit more comfortable and secure in the ‘relationship’ – on this occasion as far as I was concerned if nothing happened, at least I would have had a rich and lovely conversation, with a nice guy.
Yes, the marriage certificate will not take away all that stuff we are running away from. A quote I have been reciting a lot recently goes – “The pain of the past is often held in suspension until we are ready for it to find us”. Well, once we are in relationship, that pain of the past will find us and if we have never faced it, we might just find ourselves running to find something to numb the pain back into suspension!
So, it’s been a rich confab and there is much more we can say on this issue. Any final words?
Francois: You know Ade, we can talk about this for hours. There is so much to say and share.
I love your quote, and in a way it makes me wonder: What will my next relationship teach me about myself?
But in the same sense, I also honour all my previous relationships (even the fuck buddies) for showing me things about my wounds, my motivations, intentions and also my capacity to love, that I may not have been fully even aware of.
My mantra at the moment is: My mind is open. My body is healthy. I am ready. Teach me and show me my gifts. Thank you for a lovely conversation.
Ade: Yes, we could certainly go on for ages on this subject. I noticed that the survey also said “41% of respondents believe in open relationships (although only 8% are currently in an open relationship)….” So, let’s have a follow up conversation at some point on that issue – which is another hot potato!
For now, I will embrace your mantra. And thanks for the lovely conversation!