You know the old story: boy breaks up with boy. Boy, single, downloads a dating app at the suggestion of his ex. Boy stays single for three years but at least get a lot of writing material out of being single, writes a lot about simultaneously pooping and sexting. Boy meets boy on the app. Boy invites boy to visit, and boys fall in love and start a relationship. Boys discuss deleting app, but then boys do something unexpected: they stay on the app.
And that’s where this story catches up to the present. When David and I met in person (okay, but sidenote: wouldn’t it be awesome if David wasn’t even real? If I was actually still single and this is just the next level of my lonely psychosis?), the chemistry was powerful and instant, and we had the conversation to be exclusive relatively early. Shortly after that we talked about the dating apps we were using: in addition to Scruff, he had had Grindr in the past, and was on Tinder. I was also still on Scruff and still had Tinder and the OKCupid app. We talked about it, and decided that we would delete everything…except one app: Scruff. This experiment could have been a recipe for disaster, and risky for the relationship. This is the story of how that experiment actually went.
Now I know what you’re saying: “Hey, you have bad breath, and here’s a mint. But also, if you’re in an exclusive monogamous relationship, why would you keep that app, which is for dating?” Well, the answer is pretty simple: it’s not *just* that. Hear me out:
- I keep in touch with friends on it. In the past three years, I’ve met a lot of swell guys on the app. Some I went on a date or two with. Some, we both determined pretty quickly that we were going to just be friends. Others I dated for months and then afterwards have become great friends with. The thing is, the way it’s set up, I’ll occasionally run across their faces and message them, or vice versa. We’ll catch up, dish on what’s been happening in our lives. This is something I could not do on other apps.
- People have found my writing and art through the app. In the last three years I was single, I wrote about Scruff a lot, and I’ve gotten feedback that it’s helped some people process the loneliness and isolation that can come with being single. Dating apps can exaggerate that feeling, and I’m happy to share my experiences with other guys. My private gallery of pictures is devoid of any pictures of my genitals, instead it has pictures of me being a jackass.
- Transparency, dummy. If you’re only looking for “workout buddies” or Instagram followers, just be honest and say so, otherwise you’ll probably have a lot of disappointing experiences. Don’t be a dick to someone who’s trying to start a conversation, if you only want fans, followers, and silent admirers. You truly get out of the experience what you put into it, and if you misrepresent your intentions then you’ll have a bunch of horny, headless torsos frustrated with you. Above all else, be honest about what you expect to get out of interactions you initiate.
This last point is, unsurprisingly, a source of a lot of hostility I’ve encountered since I’ve been in a relationship on the app. I’ve been a big advocate for treating people online the way you would treat them in real life. As a matter of fact I’m not a fan of meeting someone in person, starting a conversation, and then having them unzip and wave their junk in my face as I’m asking what they do for a living (or maybe that was their answer to the question!).
Years ago, Scruff started as a hookup app, but the founders have increasingly backed away from that label and even started marketing it as a new form of social media. In a big way, it is. No, it’ll never be LinkedIn, and I think it’s obviously weird to want to network and make friends with only gay men, but the next version goes even farther from the “hookup app” label. Full disclosure: I’m currently beta testing the next version of it. In the next version, there are options to connect Airbnb listings, link other social media, and provide tips and help for travelers in unfamiliar cities. While no one- or everyone – was looking, Scruff grew up and became more than the sum of its parts.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t an advertisement for Scruff. Yeah, I’ve had more positive than negative experiences on it, but it’s still an imperfect tool (“that’s what she said”). Yes, these dating apps often reward you just like video games and provide dopamine bursts, stroking your need for validation. Yes, they’re a haven for trolls and there’s no real way to ensure that the person who you’re chatting with isn’t catfishing you. There’s a reason some people confide, with a sigh of relief, “oh yeah, I had to delete that app.”
But once in awhile, there’s something good, even great that comes out of them. Like my good friend Zak in San Francisco. Like the brave guys with anonymous profiles in the middle east. Like the dude at McMurdo station in Antarctica who I’ve chatted with. Once in a while, you make a connection that lasts, make a new friend, learn something new. And once in a while, if you’re lucky, you meet the guy you’re going to fall deeply in love with. It all starts with a message: