Every now and then I get an email from some dating site I joined up and lost interest in, telling me someone has left me a message. They're usually from Ghana or somewhere in the old USSR, telling me how much they loved my profile and that distance is no obstacle to our love - I don't even bother checking those emails now. But thanks guys anyhow. I've looked at, and joined, and forgotten, a lot of sites over the years.
Just how many gay dating sites are there? Here in New Zealand nzdating has things pretty well sewn up, but gaydar can get pretty busy. They're all a bit different, but with a fair amount of crossover too. Damn, admitting I know that shows how much time I spend on them. Well, I did do my MA on gay men's online sex-lives, I'm just maintaining my research interest, honest.
Let's see - what comes to mind first? - NZDating, Recon, Gaydar, Gay.com, Grindr, Manhunt, BearWWW, Hairy Turks, GayRomeo, Squirt, Silver Daddies, Adam4Adam - that's just a little list, and they all have their own characteristics.
Some seem to attract certain age groups, and some are designed to target certain groups. Some are more geographically specific, some are international. You can find sites for just about any kind of gay identity it seems: You're a gay Mormon? There's a dating site for you. You're in your 20s but like guys in their 50s & 60s? Try Silver Daddies. Have you moved beyond vanilla sex? Recon should do you just fine. You're a total Mac-geek? Grindr is already on your iPhone I'm sure. There are of course sites that deal only in bareback sex - you 'd better know what you're doing if you go to them.
And we tend to call them dating sites, but let's face it - most of the time they're not. NZDating is widely known as NZFucking for good reason. But sometimes people do meet up on them and fall, not just into bed, but in love, and create a relationship. I've known men fly across the world for someone they've met online - always a bold move, and not one that always plays out so well.
Then there are the sites like X-tube, not officially gay as such, and more about sexual display, but even there gay men reveal all sorts of strange things about themselves, often providing intimate glimpses into their lives and hearts along with the money-shot.
The net has changed so much of our social world. For gay men, I think it's been a two-eged sword. On the one hand, it's made it easier for a whole lot of guys in small isolated places to feel connected. It's also made it easier to hook up. And it's made it easier for a lot of guys who don't like the gay scene, or who are deeply in the closet, to get a bit of nooky in their lives. And there can be a sense of community online, but I think it's pretty thin. There are people on various sites I've been chatting to for ages, but will most likely never meet - I'm not sure I would want to spoil the illusion by letting reality intrude.
But I think it's also had the unintended consequence of weakening the gay world. It does seem harder for bars and clubs, the traditional centres of urban gay life, to keep going. Without the need to actually hang out with a bunch of other homos, we get less of a sense of ourselves I think, we become a bit more isolated, a bit more fragmented.
And sometimes it just seems so lonely and hopeless, seeing so many men out there with their impossible wish-lists for their perfect partner. So many men, sitting at home, typing out messages to each other, opening up their hearts at times, sometimes just their flies, but so often expressing a real desire for affection, for connection and for love to some stranger. And then they meet - and then? As I said, I know some happy stories, but they seem to be in the minority.
Apart from the lucky few, I don't think life online is going to bring those things. We get this false sense of intimacy when we're online, but you don't really get to know people unless they're sharing the same air as you, unless you can see them and hear them.
I won't be going off the grid, but I do wonder just what it's doing to us all at times.
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