By Joseph Jones
The other day a friend of mine and I were sharing our past experiences with the social networking app called Grindr. Advertised as “the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people”, users can create profiles and provide basic information about themselves in order to, “chat, make friends, and meet up” with other users. Despite holding a less than favorable 2.5 rating on the Apple store, Grindr boasts over 3 million daily active users in 234 countries and territories, with logins averaging 18 times per day. Users spend roughly 50+ minutes on the app with each login and collectively are sending an estimated 228 million messages every day.
Grindr has a nasty reputation of being a breeding ground of impersonal casual sex. I won’t beat around the bush here, there is a degree of truth there. But, how many people use the app in that way? In 2015, grabhim.net conducted a study examining gay men’s dating and hookup app habits. They polled 4, 000 men and of those that they surveyed, 43 percent said they had not met anyone they met on the app in person within the last month, with only 24 percent stating they met someone in person within that same time frame. Of those who have arranged a meeting with someone, 45 percent of them don’t hookup at all. 45 percent said they prefer going on dates as opposed to hookups, while 24 percent responded that they are solely looking for hookups. A similar survey by Travel Gay Asia and Gay Star News found that 21% of users reported having had a short-term relationship, 15% have had at least one long-term relationship, and 52% have never had a relationship with someone they met on the app.
While the data seems to show the vast majority of people on Grindr are either purposefully not pursuing promiscuous sex, or perhaps seeking someone to share a long-term commitment, it is those with one lustful intention in mind which caused my friend, and many others to become jaded with Grindr. Although my friend is in a serious relationship and no longer requires the apps services, when he was active on the app, he constantly felt like he was being ranked. It seemed everyone he chatted with would talk to him until they got what they wanted and then move on to to find new prey. Hoping to use the app to end his loneliness, it only made him feel even lonelier.
My experience with Grindr has not been too much more rewarding. Everyday I pull up the app, eager to see who messaged me. But more often than not, I am met with what seems like a never-ending stream of unanswered messages I sent to guys I was hoping to connect with. Whenever I attempt to initiate conversations, I feel like a castaway stranded on an island, sending out messages in bottles, hoping someone will come rescue me from my isolation. But it seems my S.O.S is swept up in the current of rushing waves.
In the event a message manages to cut through the traffic, and is mirrored with a reply, the conversation usually doesn’t last very long. Either within a couple of minutes I go back to being ignored, or the next day the conversation doesn’t resume. Very rarely do I meet someone on Grindr I truly connect with. In fact, I have only met 7 people in person that I started talking to first on the app. And many of those people I hardly keep in contact with to this day. Frequently, I delete from my message box the conversations that didn’t go anywhere. Only to do another purge and cleanse a couple of weeks later.
I’ve only experienced two different occasions where someone flat out told me they weren’t interested in me. Both times I was able to brush it off and not take their turning me down too personally. But sometimes I wonder it was was about me which caused them to be so quick to dismiss me. Was my picture not flattering enough? Did I say something wrong? Do I fail to meet their standards for an ideal partner? The same goes for when someone blatantly disregards my message. Why didn’t give me a chance before deciding they wanted nothing to do with me?
Success on Grindr seems to be dependent on the person, and how they define success. For some hooking up is considered a sign of triumph, while for others, a couple of dates would be the more favorable outcome. For me, I would settle for a conversation that last longer than 48 hours, that eventually leads to meeting up. Unfortunately, when I have met up with someone, the chemistry I thought we had online, could not be replicated on the non-virtual plane of existence.
I know many people who seem to be constantly hitting home runs with Grindr, meanwhile I’m stuck on the bench waiting for my chance to run the bases. Then I start comparing myself to them. What do they have that I don’t? What is their secret to their success? Maybe if I had their features or charisma, I too could be an all-star like them.
A couple of times I became so disenchanted with Grindr that I deleted my profile and uninstalled the app, only to shamefully re-download and restart the whole painful process. After attempts to find a man without the aide of Grindr became futile, my odds seemed better by going with the devil I know. Like the lottery, I don’t feel like I have lady lucky on my side, but I can never win if I don’t play. Maybe I can find a prince charming hidden somewhere in the midst of headless torsos, blank profiles, and guys who are “looking” for “fun”. If he’s in there, he’s a diamond in the rough for sure.
Although Grindr has its flaws, it can be very empowering for people. By removing the face-to-face interaction, the app gives people the confidence to talk to someone online, that in person, they would never have the courage to muster up a simple “Hello”. And for those who live in areas with no gay scene or countries where homosexuality is is discouraged, or criminalized, they have a relatively safer way of interacting with others in their community. Former Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai was outspoken in is pride of the app in an interview with PinkNews.
“We make it very easy to meet people nearby. Some of them do hookup yet some of them become friends, boyfriends, and even roommates- and that’s just the natural way of life…I use this app myself as well, and I now millions of guys who use it whichever way is useful to them. So we’re very proud of it.”
Besides these benefits, there is a more scientific reason why Grindr is hard for people to completely tear themselves away from. In a piece about Grindr addiction from Gawker, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, Dr. David Greenfield explained why Grindr is so compelling.
“The internet is really the addictive medium. The power of the internet is the variable reinforcement ratio it provides. It gives you a reward in an unpredictable fashion in terms of when, what, and how. Even if you’re on the internet looking for information and just searching for news, or you’re looking at emails or text messages or you’re on an app on your phone, like Grindr or Tinder or whatever, you’re doing exactly the same thing. Every time you get one of those hits, you’re getting a microburst of dopamine in the mid-brain.”
This dopamine burst signifies reward in the form of pleasure, and the user keeps coming back for another helping of that reward each time. Every incoming message is a small dose of the fix the user craves, elevating their self-esteem as well. Personally, there is something so greedily enjoyably about receiving from someone, even if you are not mutually interested in that person. After all, who doesn’t like a little attention?
While I am not completely satisfied with Grindr, it has its merits. It can help you find the gay, bi, or queer people in your area and provide you with a platform for which you can connect on a common ground, if you so choose. Grindr has the ability to meet your needs, whether its for meeting friends, networking or hooking up, it is what you make it out to be. I will not adopt a holier-than-thou attitude towards Grindr and dictate to others how they should conduct themselves. I believe a person should have complete autonomy over their body, decisions, and behavior. The same is extended to Grindr. And while I personally have had a lackluster experience so far, I know I will continue to keep using it in the hopes that someday I find what I am “looking” for.