After my relationship ended in the middle of the first lockdown (perfect timing) it took me a year to get myself out there again and brave the dating apps – what other option do singles have during a pandemic? While it’s not like I’m a Tinder/ Hinge/ Bumble virgin, I had no idea how complicated and disheartening using these apps in 2021 had become.

Back in the day you would swipe and swipe until you had a match, you would chat with that person and arrange to meet up for a drink to see if there was a spark. But now there is no messaging. After that ‘You’ve got a match’ notification is deathly silence. Even after a ‘hi’ or ‘how’s it going? Nice tattoos/ hair/ dog’.  I can’t understand why anyone would spend time swiping through Tindr for fun as I don’t find it amusing in the slightest. I assumed the goal was to get matches then have a convo but I’m obviously sooooo 2015.  It seems collecting matches and not actually communicating with them is a hugely rewarding confidence boost to many (but irritating to everyone else).

Us Gays have always liked to divide ourselves into various sub-categories like bears, twinks, muscle marys , straight acting etc, which you could argue is limiting but is based on what the individual finds attractive so fair enough. However, the new vocabulary appearing on the dating apps now is truly mind boggling.

‘I’m sapio, poly., polygot,   pan,  a non monogamist, I’m demi,  polyromantic, demiboy. Are they writing that with a straight face? I can totally imagine Gwyneth Paltrow  using these words, but Londoners? Is it just me who never hears any of these words spoken anywhere else?

So what’s the issue you ask? We should be celebrating all the diverse ways that sexuality and attraction can exist.  Well, the problem is that gay men are already a marginalised part of society – we aren’t mainstream so there’s a much smaller pool for any single guys to choose from. If that pool gets drained into 10 smaller pools it makes it harder to find anyone and the more demanding and fussy you are about labelling yourself, the harder it will be to attract that specific person who wants a poly sapio geek. It’s easier and more logical to swim around a big pool of men who are attracted to men without any pigeon holing. Once you have that initial connection and interest, you can then discuss the finer details.

But pidgeon hole, they must. How many times have I seen ‘must love dogs’.  Or guys who tell you what and how you should be ‘be funny, be masculine and top’. ‘Make me laugh and be a foody’. Great way to stop someone swiping right but, also, I can’t help thinking that these guys are missing out on so many potentially great matches who maybe don’t love dogs or don’t consider themselves funny but would still be a great match. I advise everyone to break down what they’re looking for to the simplest form for example: loving, open minded, animal lover without being so specific that they are turning men away before there’s any interaction. Is it impossible for a foody to go out with someone who can’t cook? Have these guys not heard of opposites attract?

Another new phenomena are the single gay dads who’ve adopted or gone through surrogacy and then looking for a partner online. I have a friend with a 7 year old daughter who now finds himself excluded on these apps. He finds other guys just aren’t interested. These fathers would never regret the beautiful experience of having a child but I don’t think they realised how difficult it would be to find someone accepting of that. Going back to the pool analogy, straight people can have kids with several different partners and still find someone new who accepts that as there are millions more straight people than gay. It’s fantastic that gays and lesbians can legally adopt but, speaking as someone who doesn’t want kids, I can see how that would be a reason to swipe left.

A phrase I see again and again, which I find a bit disturbing is ‘I’m addicted to travel’ or ‘I’m addicted to the gym. I get it – they love travel and want to express that passion, but the word ‘addicted’ evokes an unhealthy relationship with whatever that passion may be. It may be that guys are just mimicking that phrase they keep seeing or it may be they are using language which reflects what they’re really feeling – addiction, which is all about loss of control. Although all kinds of addiction are very common in big cities it’s  not something you want to advertise on a dating app. Words like that are surely picked up on by our subconscious and may well be influencing users to swipe left.

So the gay app users are putting up so many barriers, labels and restrictions on what and who they want but the dating app companies are not just sitting on the sidelines watching innocently. I think they are actively encouraging these divisions. Tinder’s own slogan is ‘the worlds most popular dating app, the place to meet new people!’  But, from what I can see, at least from a gay perspective, nobody is meeting anyone.  We have to remember what these dating apps business models are – to keep you online eternally (preferably paying a subscription), watching the adverts which makes them money. It’s not in their interest for you to meet a boyfriend and leave the app, in fact that’s the last thing they want. So you can see why Tinder’s international option allows you to swipe in Brazil or Australia as if you’re a local – it will look like there’s new guys in that location but when the locals see you’re thousands of miles away it’s a really frustrating user experience. It also makes sense that Bumble offers you 73 options you can select as your gender. Sub categorising makes it more likely you will stay on the app, frustrated.  20 years ago, I used to think being gay was complicated enough and finding a partner wasn’t easy when you’re part of a marginal group. Back then, you were either straight, gay or bi. Full stop. So what hope do these millennials have?

The last couple of years has turned society on its head and huge divisions have ripped through families, friendships and communities worldwide. Trump, Brexit, Left v Right, The Great Reset, #me too movement, # black lives matter, #trans lives matter, #extinction rebellion, more censorship v freedom of speech in media/ social media and universities and more centralisation v decentralisation. It seems everyone is angry about something. Last Saturday just in London alone, the city hosted a rally for millions of anti-lockdown protesters, trans rights protesters, support Palestine march, a march against paedophiles in Parliament, a march for Extinction Rebellion and another for socialism. Any onlookers in central London that day would be confused at what exactly they were witnessing; people holding banners on a myriad of subjects all heading different directions. We’re clearly witnessing huge anger, discontent and potentially the start of a break down of society with so many people taking to the streets to vent their anger. So it makes sense that this anger would spill over into people’s personal and dating lives. But I’ve never seen Tinder bios screaming:

‘If you’re a Brexiteer don’t even think about contacting me’

‘If you don’t support BLM, swipe left’

‘No Tory voter scum!’ 

‘No Trump supporters!’

And what about the ‘I’m fully vaccinated’ logo you can select to show on your photos? There is no option to select one that says ‘I won’t be getting vaccinated’.  Anyone who doesn’t go along with the mainstream narrative or who is unable to take the jab for health or religious reasons will find it difficult to swipe right when they see that icon, even if they are attracted to someone’s photo.

The dating apps have become politicised. In a way maybe it’s good that citizens are expressing opinions and speaking up for what they believe in – but, just like the sexual orientation labels, this is divisive. And we cannot expect to form new friendships and relationships by dividing each other up. Society has become black and white – you support one side or the other rather than trying to understand and tolerate or even respect opposing views. I believe in this kind of politics or lifestyle and if you don’t then stay away, I don’t want to interact with you. What if you had a  gorgeous guy with every trait and attribute you desired, who was really interested in getting to know you but he did not share your view on A, B or C? Would you walk away? Or have a conversation? I know the answer to that, unfortunately that’s just the tumultuous time we’re currently living  and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon but I feel sorry for the young folk who are living this compared to the much simpler, straight forward way that guys used to meet and get together back in the day. In the year 2000, us gays were overjoyed to be able to interact with other guys on Gaydar from our own homes – it was such a huge breakthrough to be able to contact other men without having to approach them in a bar and risk rejection or make the effort to go to a bar in the first place. Nobody cared who you voted for or insisted on you being a dog lover. Back then, we understood we were a minority and options were limited and we seized the opportunity.

But society has now given the gays so many options and sold them a lifestyle offering unlimited relationship opportunities, just like the straights, but that’s false. Your girlfriends/ sister/ female colleagues can be super picky on these apps and use all the labels and demands they want and still they will get matches and dates because there’s millions of straight men and women playing this online game and any one given time. But there are far less gay men around so the idea that you will find another gay who understands and accepts your polydemisexuality or your children or your demands for a perfect cook starts to go pear shape when reality hits. So my advice is for everyone to chill out, be kind and realistic and accept others have different views than you but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends (unless you want to be sat there, still swiping in 5 years time). It took a long time and many battles for gay men to be tolerated and then accepted so those two concepts should be in the forefront of every gay man’s mind when they’re searching for a partner.