Some months ago, I sat across from two gay men who were on their first date. The great thing about a first date is that almost anything the other person says is the most fascinating thing you've ever heard -- because you want to have sex with him. Should you find yourself on a date with Hannibal Lecter, for instance, you might say, "Wow, skinning and eating people alive. How unusual. I've always wanted to know what that's like." (Have you seen the new Hannibal? That Mads Mikkelsen fellow can totally get it).
A first date is the time when you're supposed to hang on his every word like you're Angela Lansbury and investigating him for murder. After all, if it's a bad match and you weren't listening to vital clues, you might end up on a second date together.
On every first date, ask yourself: What would Jessica Fletcher do? A lot of Sid and Nancy situations could have have been avoided by answering this simple question.
However, it's not just that the guys next to me weren't taking notes. It was much worse: Both of them spent the entire date on their phones. In the hour and a half that I pretended to read Death in Venice next to them, they exchanged maybe a handful of pleasantries, while they gazed lovingly into their iPhone screens instead. You would have thought this was a Spike Jonze movie and they were on a double date with their devices. Were it completely clear that this date was a total stinker and not going anywhere, it might be understandable. They're just trying to get through a bad night. But if you've spent more time looking at Grindr than your date's face, how do you have any idea that you don't like him? You have to give these things time to fail in the old-fashioned way, in which you later obsess about him while binge eating ice cream and watching New Girl, waiting by the phone for a call that doesn't come.
But in today's dating world, he wouldn't even have the decency to call or send you a blow off text. You'd find out he's not that into you through a condolence Snapchat. I personally think that guys should have to contact you by tying a note to a Snowy Owl if they're going to blow you off. It's still a letdown, but at least you get a magic pet out of the deal.
It's easy to blame technology for our lack of connectedness, but the problem isn't Grindr. Grindr doesn't make you a bad date. The issue is not that we're dating our apps. We're dating our own egos. Neither of those two guys could get over themselves for long enough to look up from their phones, too busy complaining about the date over text message to actually have one. I once read an article where a guy live-tweeted going to the opening night premiere of The Great Gatsby, obsessively microblogging his thoughts to 3,000 of his closest friends. (On social media, the word "friends" is oddly synonymous with "total fucking strangers").
However, I kept wondering how he was actually processing the movie or even paying attention at all. When you're so busy staring at your phone, how do you ever get a chance to exist in the current moment? What view of the world do you get when all you see of it is a tiny screen? I had a feeling that if he had to explain the plot of the movie, he would simply say, "It was about the 1920s."
Can you imagine being the person sitting next to him in the theatre, the constant nagging light on his phone betraying the pristine darkness of the setting? We all hate the guy who is constantly on his phone, so much so that the previews actually warn you not to be "that person." Accordingly, every person I've told the "iPhone Double Date Story" to agrees that both of them deserve to die alone and half-eaten by wild dogs, with only the warmth of their 20th generation iSuppository for comfort. (In the future, we communicate through our butts).
I truly believe that there's a special place in hell for people who spend their entire date texting -- or the kind of guy who steps out to "take a quick call" and then ends up in an impromptu Camp David summit for 20 minutes. The "quick call" guys will share a circle with people who are rude to waiters, douches who take up two seats on the train, cat callers, and everyone who made The Blind Side a Best Picture nominee. Seriously, what's wrong with all of you?
However, if they are all going to hell, they should be prepared to take some of us with them. The problem is that we're all that guy we hate at some point, even if we don't have a smartphone. We're all too busy to pay attention, too busy to focus on the person across from us, and too busy to think up a better excuse than that we're too busy.
If you needed proof that we all suck sometimes, a study from Personal and Ubiquitous Computing is here to help. Research shows that an average person checks their phone 34 times a day, usually without realizing it. Ask yourself: How many times did you check it during work today? Did you check it while reading this article? Note that this number doesn't even factor in the amount of times you are actually on your phone, doing whatever it is people even do on Twitter. (Is it called twatting? Do users self-identify as "twits?" I still don't know what the deal is). Also, this figure records average use across all demographics, and my hunch is that gay men are likely to be above average phone checkers. Internet and mobile applications have become a ubiquitous part of gay life, with apps like Scruff becoming an integral part of how we stay connected.
As a gay man, you only meet guys through the Internet or by referral. Without Facebook, I have no idea how I would have gotten laid during college. It probably would involve a scenario in which I tricked him into thinking I was a Saudi oil heir or a long-lost prince with a rare case of amnesia that could only be cured by furious fellatio.
Today, gays live on the Internet, but what happens when we can't turn it off enough to find connection in real life? Your phone should help you become more in tune with the world around you, a way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones or find out what your significant other is doing right now. However, for too many of us, it's a tool of isolation, a way to avoid dealing with reality by burrowing yourself into the digital world that you've created for yourself. Let's be honest: Dating is the worst. It's absolutely fucking terrifying to put yourself out there on a first date to either get rejected or find out he a) collects life-size sex dolls he pretends are real; b) is a juggalo; c) talks like Corky St. Clair; or d) lives with the decaying corpse of his mother and wants you to come over for sandwiches.
Based on my previous dating experiences, all of those scenarios are surprisingly realistic. I once went on a mostly blind date to Mr. and Mrs. Smith with a guy who lived in his parents' basement and looked like Billy Corgan mated with a praying mantis. He had creepy skeleton fingers that caused me to instantly convulse the moment he tried to touch me. I faked explosive diarrhea to get him to take me home right after the movie ended. Somehow that was the best excuse I could think up on short notice. I'm not a great improviser, but hey, at least I gave it a shot.
When it comes to dating (and life in general), you will fail at almost everything. Unless you're one of those childhood sweetheart couples you only see on daytime talk shows (read: probably eunuchs), you will not end up with 99 percent of everyone you have ever liked or had a crush on. If that were the case, we would all be married to whoever we were in love with when we were 10, and I would be Mr. Jennifer Love Hewitt. That obviously didn't happen. Instead, you will endure years of heartache and suffering just to find someone you can be yourself around, which all looks a lot more glamorous in a Rachel McAdams movie. It might suck sometimes, but it's real life -- in all of its beautiful misery. You won't meet the love of your life on most days, but when you do, you've been through enough bullshit to appreciate it, all because you put down the phone long enough to fail with integrity. You've earned it.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Thomas Mann novel to pretend to finish. My Twitter friend tells me it's about Italy.
Follow Nico Lang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Nico_Lang