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Hookup Apps, Online Culture and the Buyer's Market

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We live in an era of GPS-enabled instant gratification -- or, really, flavorless satisfaction. Although one nighters, one after-nooners, one morningers, or the twenty-minute "coffee" break might sometimes be fun, when it comes time to start sweating even the hottest stud might turn out to be a dud. Depending on how desperate we are, we might "lower our standards" or "settle" for someone we deem easily attainable. I remember an episode of Queer as Folk where the accounted takes home a super hot guy. The next time the accountant sees him, the hot guy tells him he was a pity fuck, that out of the goodness of his heart the hot guy made sure to sleep with one schmuck per year as his way of giving back to the community.

I remember a profile on Manhunt in which some twink said, "Don't try to date out of your league." At first I thought, hmm...well, when I'm finished with my education I'll have a B.A. with a double major, a master's degree in opera, and a second master's degree and Ph.D in musicology. I'll have published at least one short-story anthology, hopefully my first and second novels, and be well on my way to writing my first academic book on the intersection of early psychopathology and audience reception in eighteenth-century opera. Who's out of whose league? I also remember a different twink from one of the schools I attended -- someone a decade younger than me at the time -- who felt the need to prove something to my friends and himself by saying how much better looking he was than I.

Most of us have had at least one experience like that. When we're young and not smart enough to know any better, it can hurt a lot. It can reinforce already low self-esteem. Depending on what app I'm on, I might only be a 4 out of 10, and then only because I have all my teeth and am not homeless. On another app, I might be an 8 or10, depending on who's online at that time of day or what city I'm in. Hookup apps and online culture have encouraged two interesting trends. First, we have all gotten used to selling ourselves up. This isn't anything new, but it has gotten more intense since hookup apps and sites became catalogues for advertising ourselves. And that leads to a second interesting trend -- the buyer's market. We're not just on display at the pickup bar anymore. Now guys can instantly scroll through dozens of profiles at a time. We get used to prioritizing physical features and sexual tastes, and trying to get the best product - hottest guy with the biggest dick -- for the lowest price -- the least amount of drama and attitude. Meanwhile, I've noticed many men on these apps have a false perception of their own value. While we act like buyers, we, too, are on display.

Maybe our warped perception of self is because we constantly sell ourselves up and overestimate our appearance or sexual prowess. Maybe we believed past hookups and partners who stroked our egos. Maybe it's a defense mechanism against the pervasive body dysmorphia in mainstream media -- and in gay male culture in particular. We celebrate six-packs, big dicks, a good tan and either neatly trimmed scruff or hairless skin. I joke with a friend that a lot of guys claim to want long-term relationships -- partners who are interesting, stable, who read and travel, guys who aren't boring and can hold a conversation -- as long as he has a six-pack and an eight-inch dick. I was at a gay marriage celebration recently and I told one of the grooms that they were a couple that gave me hope for my own chances at long-term happiness. He replied that too many gay men in relationships keep one eye out for something better rather than loving the person their with. We think it's a buyer's market and it is making a lot of us miserable.

I'm not saying we should feel obligated to fuck any passerby who shows an interest. We like what we like. The diversity of the apps for connecting with other guys -- often specializing in a particular "type" or community -- attests to the variety of what men find attractive. Yet, gay men only makeup about five percent of the population, we account for 42 percent of reported eating disorders according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Furthermore, we've known for a while that LGBT people are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs; which some people use to self-medicate or to escape reality. I can't help but partially attribute these statistics to the insane idealization of physical characteristics most people cannot maintain long term. Moreover, the fact that so many gay men are willing to go to dangerous lengths in order to get close to this warped fantasy of physical perfection should be cause for concern. It should concern us even more that we don't question why physical perfection and "healthy" are things not easily attainable, and certainly not easily attainable by those without enough money to join a gym, hire a trainer, have a nutritionist, or join a weight loss program.

In light of that, we should own up to a few things:

1. Our encouragement of unrealistic body expectations are literally hurting people.

2. Most of us won't ever have a six-pack or eight-inch dick, so we should reconsider what is important in finding a partner, even a sex partner.

3. Despite what gay and straight media might tell us, there are all kinds of people into all kinds of things, and many of us have something we want or need in a partner that isn't fulfilled by a Ken doll clone.

4. We sometimes use all of these requirements to hide our own shame, grief, or low self-esteem, or to put up barriers to prevent people from getting too close.

I guess what I'm saying is that while it's nice to think the hot college jock or sexy twink, or muscular daddy might be hot in bed or be a potential partner, it is just as likely that they're not. In the meantime we cut ourselves off from potentially great guys by ascribing to a buyer's market that sets us up to fail.