The sushi conveyor belt of gay dating.

I liken the dating mentality of Gay Londoners to a sushi restaurant conveyor belt . If you don’t like the look of what’s in front of you, no problem, there’s another and another and another all queued up behind . But rather than taking the plate and trying the dish, they’re just sticking their finger in for a quick taste as it passes by, while they continue to sit there alone and single. What makes Gay Londoners think they have endless dating options and why do they think they can afford to be so fussy?

London is so gay.

London and it’s gay centric industries such as fashion , art and theatre have always been a gay magnet, attracting men from other UK cities as well as Europe and the wider world. They come because they can be themselves in a tolerant city, meet others like themselves and start exciting new lives. A 2017 survey revealed around 45000 gay men live in Greater London. That works out at around 70 gay men for every square mile.

Lonely in London.

With gay men tripping over each other in the streets – you would think there would be no need for dating apps; surely it should be easy to find a partner? It seems not. The huge volume of gay men in London may be part of the problem – it leads us to think that we have unlimited options; there’s no hurry, I’ll wait for someone better/ taller/ richer etc. But in the meantime, they remain alone, using sex to provide a kind of intimacy and mask loneliness. But that can end up as a vicious circle as guys get stuck in a sex rut. The gay speed dating events which I’ve been running for the last 12 years have never been busier and I keep hearing the same thing; ‘I can’t find a partner, nobody wants to go on dates.’ So if everyone is lonely but at the same time, nobody wants to go on dates, what’s going on?

Are Gay men scared to date?

Dating apps and smart phones have rewired our brains, reduced our concentration spans and our ability to interact socially and left us constantly checking our screens, in case there’s someone better. We’re never satisfied. Gay men (as well as the straights) may well be able to chat with hundreds of other guys in the same city – but they are lonelier than ever. This is not helped by the fact that gay Londoners have decided that they no longer need a ‘gay community’ or any physical bars or places to meet with each other face to face. They now prefer to sit home alone in the glow of their screens while gay venues close. With very little real life social skills among the under 30’s (who have been brought up with smart phones glued to their hands), the idea of having a phone conversation let alone actually meeting someone new for a date, has become quite scary and drastic- that means leaving the protection of Tindr/ Instagram (all happy faces, holiday snaps and perfect lives ) and it seems when guys do meet it’s for a quick shag with no talking. Door opens, get down to it, then leave. Perhaps it’s not a case of Gay Londoners not settling because they’re too picky, rather they’re terrified and just don’t know how to go about starting a relationship? It’s scary to stick your neck out and say to someone you like ‘actually, I really like you, I want to get to know you and have more than just sex’. That is uncool and ungay. The London way would be to pretend you’re cool with no more than sex and remain alone.

Dating apps killed dating.

The London gay scene exploded in the 1980’s with bars, cafes and shops where men could meet each other and be themselves without having to live undercover and in secrecy. If that had all been left to develop, I think gay society would have matured and blossomed and, possibly, men could have learnt how to date and be in relationships. But with the explosion of Gaydar and, later, Grindr, it allowed men to be overtaken by their hormones and reduce their interactions with each other to purely sexual. In the end, they shunned the physical community as they found quicker routes to the sex they wanted without even leaving the house. The growth of our community was stunted. Although many gay men find partners, the idea of meeting to get to know each other and start relationships never developed in our community, it was never the ‘norm’. Gay dating wasn’t killed – it never existed; how many men do you know who date? At least in 2018, we have the technology to help us learn – if we want to.

If you’re using a location based dating app in Slough, Pickering or any other small town, your nearest guy may be half a mile away and then the others would be further. In Central London you would see at least 50 guys within 1000 metres. The guys out in those small towns would make an effort to chat, meet and get to know the guys nearby as there is clearly a limited number of opportunities. But in London, with so much choice so close by – gay men are choosing to be fussy about who they want to be with (regardless of their own looks/ weight or age.) Instead of focusing on each potential mate as an interesting or attractive individual, they are seen as one in a line of a million potentials (this is further illustrated by guys who write ‘blonds/ muscles to the front of the queue‘ on their profiles.) The volume of users on these apps really makes them believe that they have a ‘queue’ of people lining up for them. So they sit there alone, rejecting other men who could be a great match. A quick ‘hi‘ and the convo is over – they expect to be chased and for the other person to keep the conversation going. A negative answer to a question such as ‘are you hung?/ do you host?’ means the other person would be blocked or ignored. If the other guy is not in the same street or neighbourhood? Bye. It seems the choice is endless and there’s no need to settle until they find perfection. Good luck with that.

Tindr also gives the impression that there is a never ending line of potential matches. But how many of those profiles are real or will swipe right on you? How many will unmatch you or go silent after exchanging a few words? How many are actually in another country but just checking out your city for fun? Most importantly, how many are single, looking for a relationship and actively ready to meet new men to date (as opposed to chatting because they are bored?) I have found that you can waste hours, even days on Tindr and end up never meeting anyone. Instead of Tindr being downloaded as a temporary help for single men (the idea being you would delete it when you find someone) it’s remaining permanently on the phones of most gay Londoners.

Can gays venture beyond zone 2?

Most gay men prefer to live in zones 1 and 2, close to the action, the shopping, the nightlife or their jobs (gays don’t do commuting). When I match with a guy on Tindr and my suburban location comes up, his response is often ‘where? WHY would you live out there? ‘ Even though we’re in the same city. Three years ago, I made the decision to leave Central London and move out to (shock horror) zone 5. Property prices are cheaper, the air’s cleaner and I see trees and greenery all around me. I didn’t realise that 99% of my gay friends had self imposed ‘zone 1 and 2 travel restrictions’ – most of them never leave their bubbles of home/ work/ gym. I lost contact with most of my gay friends – they refused to come out to see me and I gave up making to effort to come into the centre to see them, any friendship has to be two-way.

The Age of Grindr

The other reason I decided to leave London was that just being gay in the city, let alone looking for a partner, seemed to have become joyless. Despite huge improvements throughout the UK (gay visibility, adoption rights and gay marriage), the age of Grindr heralded in a lonely, sex crazed existence for gays in big cities. The idea of getting to know someone or falling in love was totally alien. Some of the older guys may have become jaded and cold after many disappointments, but the younger guys were entering the arena adopting this same coldness.
There was nowhere to meet guys who wanted to date – so many bars and clubs had closed, the old ways of chatting someone up in a club were no longer valid, guys no longer approached each other or had the social skills to start a conversation with an attractive stranger. The art of flirting and eye contact was dead. If a group of guys went out to a club, they would stay in their group and not mix; all too scared to approach anyone.

On the other hand, casual sex became much easier to get with all the gay apps. So easy that men didn’t even feel the need to treat each other with any respect or politeness . It’s normal to send a complete stranger an intimate photo of your genitals, but it’s unthinkable to say ‘hi, how are you? Would you like to meet up?’ That would expose yourself to rejection and vulnerability – it’s not what cool gays do. We just show the world how attractive we are with our long list of conquests and bulging biceps.

The amount of men in the city combined with the illusion that you could have any one of them and their lives really were like their glamorous Instagram posts led to everyone making growing shopping list of demands. Even before a date, I would feel that pressure and know that it probably wouldn’t work – which made me give up on the whole thing.

Why I chose to avoid dating men from central London

In the last year I’ve been dipping my toe back into the dating waters and have been on several dates with guys based in Central London. But the ‘sushi belt‘ attitude prevails. I’ve felt that they haven’t made as much effort as they could have done. I’ve seen their fingers almost twitching as they suffer Grindr withdrawal symptoms. Even though we’ve had a laugh/ great conversations and had lots in common, they ghosted me straight after meeting. They didn’t want to discover more about me or make the effort to find out whether we would be a good match or even be friends. That didn’t do much to boost my confidence. But it’s a real achievement to even get to the ‘date’ stage in London- first you have to get through the ‘where are you/ what do you do/ show me your pics bla bla. If he hasn’t ghosted/ forgotten you and you tick his boxes and he actually finds time in his busy schedule to meet you that’s a remarkable thing.

Dating outside the ‘London’ filter.

So I decided to focus on meeting men who are based outside of London and I’ve found they have a completely different attitude. Their online demeanor is more polite, they value spending time together to meet up and chat, they suggest meeting up in the first place rather than chatting endlessly and, most importantly, they realise that there isn’t a never ending supply of potential partners; they seem more ready to settle. I don’t want to generalise as I’m sure there are plenty of lovely gay men in Central London (and plenty of zombies outside it), but I think Gay Londoners are viewing the whole dating process through a ‘London filter’. Outside the sheer stress of Central London, people have more time. It’s easier to meet someone if you don’t have to battle rush-hour on the tube to get there, spend 5 minutes waiting to cross a busy road in the rain or have to spend a day’s wage on a couple of upmarket coffees.

When a gay man lives near his family, friends or the town where he grew up , this seems to have a ‘normalising’ effect on how he looks for a mate. He has plenty of support, strong roots and examples of relationships (his parents, grandparents, straight friends etc). When you extract that same person and plant him in a central London environment devoid of that support but full of sex, drugs and rock n roll, this affects his attitude. Which leads us back to the pulling power of this gay Mecca and the hordes of newbies who rock up to start exciting new lives. They arrive without that support and take what they see (lots of sex crazed, lonely guys hiding behind their phones) to be the norm.

Those same sushi dishes you turned your nose up at, will be coming right back around because it’s not an endless conveyor belt – there is a limited number of gay men in London. After a couple of months on Tindr, users start to realise the same faces are going round and round. In the small town where I come from, there are at least a couple of gay and lesbian couples who live quite happily and are accepted by the neighbours and the community in general. My hope is that this tolerance and acceptance in smaller towns will lead to younger men no longer feeling the need to escape to the big city in order to be who they are; that they could find a partner locally and develop healthy relationships surrounded by the support of their friends and families.

Smart phone addiction in our society may be too far gone to even attempt to challenge, but I do think there is a realisation among many of us that our phones are not making our lives better. It’s time for gay Londoners to be start asking questions; what if the grass isn’t greener with that guy over there instead of this guy in front of me now? What if there isn’t a queue of men waiting for me? What if my fussy way of thinking is so entrenched that I may end up old and single? What exactly am I scared of? We have the choice to sit alone, endlessly watching the conveyor belt of men parade by, picking fault with each one, or, we can pick someone, be brave enough to meet them and learn to be vulnerable enough to put effort into building a relationship and finally delete all those apps on your phones together. That’s true romance in 2018.