I started using hook-up apps while I was still in high school. Although I never dared to meet these men, I liked the feeling of being wanted, especially because I existed in spaces built to shame people like me. It’s no wonder that when I finally started hooking-up, I couldn’t stop. The personal autonomy I discovered after moving away from home made hooking-up more convenient. I could “host” or “travel” to as many “partners” as I wanted. I quickly learned that as a gay man, I have a variety of hook-up apps available to me that allow for all kinds of experiences with all kinds of people. From “bears” to “otters”, “twinks” to “jocks”, couples looking for thirds, the assortment is endless. My experiences with these apps made for interesting “tea-time” with my girls, who claimed to enjoy living vicariously through me.
Yet, with all of my hook-ups I found myself wanting more– but not in the “relationship” kind of way. I was on the search for a new me. I had just gotten out of a year-long relationship, and I wanted to prioritize my self-growth before fostering a new connection. This, of course, complicated things. I didn’t want to be tied down to one man, but I craved the emotional intensity that I thought could only be found in a relationship. I needed these sexual experiences to figure out who I was as a sexual being and partner, and what I wanted from a future partner. I don’t regret the hookups – well, maybe a couple. I carried on aimlessly from one sexual partner to the next looking for something more– I even generated a “one-fuck per person rule”.
I liked the power that came with knowing I never had to see that person again, it gave me some freedom and comfort during these hook-ups. I craved this sensation, and it filled the void that was created by the countless, meaningless hook-ups I had. Somehow, I convinced myself that this was the closest I would get to the emotional intensity I was missing, who was I becoming? I couldn’t answer that question but I also could not stop myself from continuously seeking it out.
In August of 2019, I finally found the connection I was yearning for. It came from a guy I met after a night out in the city. From the moment he picked me up on his hoverboard – yes, a hoverboard – I felt butterflies in my stomach, which I never felt with my other hook-ups. We spent all night talking, or as the cool kids say, “vibing”. He was open with me about his struggles with mental health which is something I heavily related to. We spoke about our life goals, I learned that he wanted to start his own fashion line and have a huge family so he could feel the love that he didn’t feel as a child. I told him about some of my grandest ambitions in life, ambitions my closest friends aren’t even aware of. Although I had only known him for 60 minutes it felt like I had known him for 60 years. I had never felt this intimate with a hook-up before.
This moment reaffirmed that all I was missing was the emotional connection, but a bond like this isn’t something that everyone can easily offer. Being emotionally vulnerable with someone you just met, someone you may never see again, can be frightening for many people. Yet, it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life so far. I find that within the gay community, we tend to crave exhilarating experiences that we can brag about rather than emotional connections. We use hook-up apps for convenient thrills– which I admit can be fantastic experiences– but these apps are designed for us to keep coming back. They slowly strip away our need for emotional connections so that when presented with one, we feel frightened, exposed, and uncomfortable at the thought of being intimate with someone. These connections are the basis of our platonic friendships and are the main ingredients for long-lasting relationships.
My experience with this guy made me realize that as humans, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to only two forms of relationships – platonic and romantic – as our only source of emotional connection. We need to reframe our understanding of relationships and see that we can find that level of emotional intimacy with anyone. Believe me, I didn’t expect to find it where I did, but I am happy I found it.
Now, I find myself seeking emotional connections with everyone I meet whether through being empathetic, or engaging in active listening. I always engage in these behaviors as I believe they are how I can build strong, long-lasting relationships or make a hook-up even more pleasurable. I’ve become what you could call an emotional sl*t, and being an emotional sl*t has made me more empathetic and caring to those around me. These are characteristics I believe everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, needs. We can acquire them and develop them when we begin to seek authentic emotional connections with one another, but that can only happen when we shift our focus away from physical pleasures.
To this day, whenever someone asks me about my favorite hook-up, I tell the story of the first time I felt emotionally connected to a complete stranger I met on an app. The best part is: we didn’t even have sex.