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"Load more guys feelings attached"

Sat 25 Jan 2014 In: Our Communities View at NDHA

“How do I meet guys somewhere other than online?” This is a question I am often asked by my gay male clients. At the risk of sounding trite, the internet has, in its twenty-odd years of popular existence, immeasurably altered the way we interact and socialise with our fellow human beings. Almost by default, many of us now use online dating services and social media to meet people, both in cyberspace itself and potentially beyond. Gone are the days of the humble personal ad in the newspaper: today it’s all about profiles, self-promotion and likeability. Three things have led me to write this article. Firstly, a blog entry caught my eye. Written in mid-2012, it strongly bemoans the loss of community within gay male circles, citing online dating applications as hindering our development as authentic human beings. Secondly, another interesting article, this time written at the end of 2013, describes its author as resolving to ditch applications such as Grindr in favour of now physically meeting men in the “real world”. Thirdly, a friend’s somewhat courageous online dating profile has prompted some curiosity on my part, and inspired me to write. I wanted to highlight the role of internet dating in some issues facing gay men who wish to use it. I found myself agreeing with many of the points in the articles: the dissociation sometimes experienced in online interactions, the dehumanisation some feel when faced with the prospect (and, some might say, obligation) of having to build an online dating profile, and, inevitably, the overbearing emphasis on physique, or coming across to others in “the right way”. These aspects can lead to real anxiety in some people. In one of the articles, the author speaks of how we tend to shelve our own emotional needs in favour of appearing to prefer “no strings attachments”. It’s as if displaying one’s true desires for a stable loving relationship actually represents a shameful revealing of some inherent “neediness”. But how can it be needy to simply want true, loving connection with someone we’re attracted to? More importantly, shouldn’t we actually be troubled by the fact that we can so readily give away this part of ourselves? And all in order to achieve some kind of “closeness” with someone, at any cost? Don’t misunderstand me: the occasional guilt-free hookup can be grand, but we seem to be so instantly categorised today, reduced to short nuance-free statements such as “hung top seeking hungry power-bottom”. We have become online products in our own right, hidden behind the curtain that is the internet, our vaguely disingenuous profiles inviting and encouraging the type of intimacies that might otherwise terrify us. An emphasis on the physical, a de-emphasis on the emotional. This is, seemingly, the way we’re obliged to interact nowadays in order to secure a relationship. Paul Letham Internet dating and social media environments represent to me a beguiling paradox. They are both the maintainers and destroyers of self-esteem. They may seem overwhelming to a person who has decided to start exploring their feelings of same-sex attraction, or has decided to seek out a mate: Scruff, Hornet, Grindr, NZ Dating, FindSomeone and so on. How does one behave? After all, these are social spaces in their own right, and every social space has its own rules. We need to learn the lingo, and fast, it seems. We often feel the need to eschew our genuine emotional needs and enter into the bargaining pit: top, bottom, GWM, GAM, vers for vers…the list goes on. How can this not be polarising or disheartening? Where’s your true self in all of this? The fortysomething friend I mentioned earlier has been present on NZ Dating periodically now for about ten years. He’s made some great friends through it, and has dated some marvellous men, but, ironically enough, this has been due solely to his conscious efforts to be upfront about his emotional needs in his profile: he’s not interested in hook-ups, he doesn’t want to know the size of your genitals…you get the picture. The sighs of relief from people who wrote to him was often almost audible: words like “nice guy” and “authentic” were often bandied around, and genuine friendships, whether purely online or otherwise, sometimes developed. Sadly, my friend is the exception rather than the rule. For many, it’s simply seen as too much of a disincentive to reveal that you’re actually “looking for love”, not “looking for hook-ups”. Sure, the latter works fine for some guys, but I for one often don’t completely believe their protestations of “I’m not looking for a relationship.” Internet dating sites are tempting places. Their attractions are limitless. You can be faceless on them if needed, and they can serve to temporarily assuage any loneliness you may feel. But this particular effect wears off, and it can be depressing to realise that, for whatever reason, you’re not achieving the results you want. Being upfront about your needs can take courage. Being open about yourself on a dating site can be daunting. What parts of myself do I show? How do I want to be perceived? How useful is it to reduce myself to just a few labels? I myself have not been immune to these concerns in the past – yes, therapists are human too. Online relationships often keenly reflect the relationship we have with ourselves. We may find ourselves interacting in ways we otherwise would not. If we feel alone, depressed, or lacking in self-worth, we may react badly to an online rejection (anyone else remember the days of IRC and the ubiquitous phrase “so-and-so has left private chat or is ignoring you”?). But who has been rejected? The real you? Or the persona you created? After all, we’re behind that relatively anonymous screen called the internet - we can be whomsoever we wish. But it can cost us our authenticity. It can disallow and discourage real face-to-face interaction, and we may find ourselves becoming something we don’t like, simply to feel secure. It can become a compulsive activity: just click the button and load more guys, no strings, looking for that ubiquitous “fun” - but don’t you dare reveal those feelings of yours… Paul Letham is a counsellor and therapist at Auckland’s Mind Your Head Counselling. He specialises in depression, anxiety, identity issues, sex/sexuality, relationship problems, GLBT issues, self-esteem, and existential concerns. You can find him on Facebook here and on Twitter here.  Paul Letham - 25th January 2014    

Credit: Paul Letham

First published: Saturday, 25th January 2014 - 9:45am

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