How Are Gay Guys Supposed to Date in Today’s Hookup Culture?

I remember when Grindr first came out. Most gay guys bashed it: “That’s so trashy, I would never do that,” my friends used to say. Clearly, eight years later, we have all changed our tune.

Hooking up is no longer a secret. We embrace the fact that it’s everywhere, and most gay guys are no longer embarrassed or ashamed to be on it—it’s part of the culture now. But for those of us who’ve broken free of its spell, it’s hard stepping back into the dating scene when so many of us are living in a hookup mindset.

When I was 22, I had no qualms about being on Grindr. I had just come out of the closet and was living in Hollywood, where Grindr reigned supreme. I would hear the “buh-dupe” sound everywhere I went—the gym, Starbucks, I’d even hear it through my neighbor’s wall. It was no big deal.

For guys my age, this was our introduction to the gay community. We didn’t have to meet in parks or cruise on the streets. Sex was like online shopping. One click, two clicks, and suddenly our “man” was at our front door. We’d chat for a second, have sex, and then send him on his way. I’m surprised there wasn’t a ratings option.

Because this was all we knew, it become the construct of how to treated each other. We lost our ability to genuinely connect, and without that it’s next to impossible to sense true compatibility when we feel it.

We’re all victims of hookup etiquette. The years of viewing sex as disposable have trained our brains to look at it much differently than past years. We’ve built this habit ourselves, and it’s hard to break free. Asking someone on a date is too hard for us nowadays.

It takes a lot of guts to ask someone on a date, trust me, I know. I get anxious each and every time. We risk being humiliated and embarrassed, we basically throw ourselves at the mercy of his judgment. But with hookup apps, there is no need to worry. It’s convenient, and because it’s easier, most of us would rather have casual sex as if we’re in love than to fall in love and have meaningful sex.

Let me give you a quick example:

I asked this guy out once—total looker, had been flirting for weeks. I was really smitten with him, and seeing as I’m so inexperienced with asking someone out, it took a lot of guts. He said yes! We had a great time on the date, and we really connected—the best one I’ve had yet in fact. Once the date was over, he invited me to his apartment.

We started watching a movie and eventually started making out. After we had sex, which was awesome, he kissed me on the forehead and politely asked me to leave. And I was totally okay with it! I got up, helped him make his bed, and with little words spoken I snuck out into the hallway and down to the street: “Thanks for the date,” whispered.

When I turned the corner, I started to realize how unceremonious my exit was: we had sex, and with little notice he asked me to leave… and I was okay with it. We just had amazing sex! It dawned on me that while we both had a great time, we naturally veered into a routine of “one night stand” etiquette.

We were both so used to disposing a man after sex that it became natural for us. It didn’t matter that we had a great connection, our brains turned behavior into habit—habit that bestowed both of us. Later that week, we apologized for not being more sensitive. I think it shocked us both.

The more we depend on hookup apps to define our value and worth, the easier it will be to associate it with love and intimacy.

Love and sex live on parallel circuits in the brain. They’re incredibly close to each other, which is why it’s easy for us to confuse the two. When we have sex as if we’re in love, we torture ourselves into believing that love is only as real as sex, and has the same rules. It doesn’t!

Dating in today’s hookup culture requires us to stand firm in our value systems. Grindr itself isn’t a bad thing—let me get that point across. But if we’re on it incessantly, it can’t help but alter our psychological associations with men, sex and love in general. It’s neurologically impossible. That’s a brain, for you.

For those of us who want to break free of hookup culture etiquette, it starts by making one drastic decision…

We need to ask ourselves what we want in the moment: Is it sex? Is it the “hunt” Grindr provides? Is it love? Is it comfort? Is it temporary companionship? Is it just to get off? (you can do that on your own).

If you’re looking to enter the dating scene, you have to understand that the rules must be different than Grindr. While it might be okay to talk to men like objects on Grindr, it should never transfer into the real world. Anonymous conversation is different from real life.

Dating requires us to think outside ourselves, while Grindr has no choice but to think inside our shared impulses. Hookup apps unleash animalistic qualities, and takes advantage of evolutionary instincts we buried years ago. That mindset can live on its own, but it should never seep into reality.

Realize that we are not how we’re treated on Grindr, which has desensitized our understanding of intimacy. It’s time to relearn what it means to be a human being, and to recreate the divide in our brain between the circuits of love and sex—they are not the same.

Once we get it, we have a better chance.

David Artavia


David is an award-winning journalist and editor at The Advocate, Plus, and Chill magazines. His work also appears at and OutTraveler. He lives in Los Angeles where he lives vicariously through his friends.

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