Face, Time

by Matt Siegel


I used to roll my eyes and semi-hate an acquaintance of mine who would regularly brag on Facebook about quitting the apps — those apps, the mostly-sex apps: Grindr, Scruff, and whatever other horribly named services (“Boy Ahoy,” anyone?) exist for gay men to meet for mostly sex. This past July, though, still sad about a break-up, and in bed scanning the grid of forty percent faces and sixty percent torsos, I realized they were no longer titillating and, more alarmingly, inciting emotional distress.

I know that the apps are not necessarily just for fucking: While some people are straightforwardly there for NSA (not the government organization, but “no strings attached”) sex, some small fraction of people state that they are only seeking dates (“no hookups!”), and others say that they are there for “networking,” which might be construed as filler for those who are open to any possibility. Still, whatever our intentions, conscious or otherwise, many are inclined toward an instantaneous sexual encounter — and although lust is what often drives the hunt, the vast majority of us are open to, if not actively seeking, emotional connection with another person, in whatever form that may take. Regardless, the entire process, from app sign-in to each person deleting any trace of the other, is laborious, even for an only mildly discerning person.

First, you must pass the pic test. That is, you both must sign off on each other’s photos. And these days, people are savvy; you need to send a bevy of pics from all angles. Shirtless. Cock. Ass. Without sunglasses. Candid photo. Selfie. Eyes closed. Eyes Open. One eye winking. Tongue out. (Why does like every gay man have a pic of themselves with their tongues out? I don’t want to see your thrushy white tongue.)

Once you’re onto the next round, expect questions regarding every physical aspect of yourself, especially anything that is not addressed in your pics or profile. Besides the height, weight, and age basics, there’s the body hair question, the dick-size question, the what-are-you-into question, the can-you-host question, and everything that comes in between. “You’re vers but do you prefer top or bottom?” (Fair question, really.) And unless both people are staring at this one conversation and pouncing on every response, the courting and arranging process alone can easily take hours, if not days. And lest we forget, for all the time and thought expended, there’s no guarantee that the encounter will come to fruition.

I find at-home sex with a stranger to be more anxiety-provoking than, say, sex with a stranger at a club because the stakes are higher; you can’t simply communicate via eyes and scurry off to the next man, dissipating into the sex club ether. We all know that heart and stomach tremor as we make approach:

Is that it? Check our phone. He wrote 341 but is it south or north? How weird would it be to knock on a stranger’s door without knowing a name to ask for? What is his name? Better come up with a fake name in case we knock on the wrong door so that we don’t look totally bizarre fumbling for names when some old lady answers. We’ll settle on…hmmm…Eric. Could he be watching from a window already sizing us up? Oh, that’s the house, yes, the one with the gray truck in the driveway — he had said there’d be a gray truck in the driveway. Approach the door. Knock on it. Hear presumably ugly, annoying dogs yipping as they crowd the doorway. Emotionally prepare ourselves for the possibility of hearing, “Sorry, not a match.” Emotionally prepare ourselves for the possibility of saying, “Sorry, not a match.”

I am relieved to be free of the all-too-often-consuming desire for sex with another person, and, as a result, free of the micro-rejections that are frequently experienced on the apps. The simple non-response to a message sent, which might ultimately translate to you as, “Something about me is off-putting, unattractive, or, just… not enough.” I obviously don’t have a thick skin; I envy those do. Oh, and how about the particularly stinging rejection when the person you’ve spent a half hour chatting with either stops responding or blocks you in response to more pics of yourself? How about that? Never experienced it? I envy you, too. (Perhaps the handsome Mark Joseph Stern would argue that my inability to endure what I interpret to be rejection indicates that I am not yet an adult, in which case, dress me in a bonnet and hand me a rattle.)

This is not to say that I have not been the rejecter. But I am very cognizant of the potential effects of rejection. I usually say something complimentary (“Cute!”), casually move on to another subject, and let the conversation gently smother itself to death. Or I might find another reason to kill it quickly: “Oh, we’re both tops☹.” That is an instant and painless conversation decimator that leaves no trace of one’s disinterest. The goal for me has always been to keep the other person’s self-esteem intact, honesty being less noble than preserving a fellow human’s dignity.

So what is the alternative? The time-saver. The face-saver. Masturbation, of course.

Boom, and you move on to your next chore.I don’t want sex — or the quest for it — to be the main event of my day. Additionally, you risk neither STIs nor the psychological consequences of rejection. Porn don’t care. It’s free. You don’t have to get in your car or on the subway or bus to get to it. Even without computer access, you can use that 3G, 4G, or LTE on your phone — though, have you ever tried to jerk off to porn while holding an iPhone? You need something to prop it on and it’s hard to find the right angle and distance from your eyes. (Attention Shark Tank investors: I think I’m onto something.)

What I miss most about the apps is the sense of possibility that maybe I’d meet someone substantial, someone I’d connect with. It’s not a ridiculous notion. It happened to me once before, but in a more commonly-perceived-as debauched virtual setting than the apps. I wonder where and how I’ll meet men without them. It seems that statistically my chances are lower because I’ve got less eyes on me; I’m not “out there.” But then again, are you ever really “out there” on these apps? Or is that thumbnail on the grid just some empty, confused facsimile of yourself until the other person shows up anxious at your door?

Photo by OrganicXO

Save Yourself is the Awl’s farewell to 2015.