Does anyone spend more time online than gay men do? I mean, when was the last time you met a gay man who didn’t have an email address?Most of us have more than one. We’re accustomed to shopping online, buying airline tickets over the net, staying in touch with friends and ex-lovers via instant messaging and in general being the most connected people, ever.
Small wonder, then, that so many of us would turn to the web to look for other guys. Looking for a boyfriend? Online dating services are standing by with thousands of matches for your inspection. Looking for more immediate gratification? Other web sites offer even more guys who are looking for sex, some even searchable by who’s online from your zip code, right now.
Everything, it seems, is available online. So now that we’re all connected via cyberspace we’ve gotten rid of loneliness and isolation, right? New friends and boyfriends are surely be right around the corner. We must be having better sex and more romantic connections than ever thanks to all this technology….
Well, maybe not.
Life in cyberspace is different. For one thing, the number of choices available can leave us paralyzed. There are thousands of profiles online from gay men in any large American city; even many rural areas have a few dozen. With numbers like that, how do you choose between one match and another? We end up screening candidates out based on trivia: this one misspelled two words in his profile, that one sounds a little too perfect. How many otherwise-appealing men get eliminated because they had a photo with an ugly old sofa in the background?
It’s the same dilemma job seekers face: you can be in the top ten percent of someone’s choices and still not make the cut.
If scanning profiles offer an over-abundance of choices, chat rooms pose other challenges. Online conversations make a certain level of intimacy fairly quick and easy. In the absence of other information, IM responses look like Rorschach inkblots. Some are a turnoff and we sign-off. Others look empathic and make us think “Yes! What a great guy. He’s really something special.”
At least until we lose contact with him because he’s having the same conversation with guys in three other states at the same moment. Sometimes quick and easy is…too quick and easy.
Cruising for sex online is at least more straightforward. Your stats get his; photos get exchanged. A little talk about sexual preferences and you’re ready to get it on. Small wonder that many of us spend hours at a time looking for sex online, even when we’re not all that horny.
Connecting online can be wonderful, but many of us lose our way in the cyberspace wilderness. We feel like we’re starving in a land of plenty, caught in a maze where familiar signposts are missing. What to do?
Here are some guidelines: If you’re looking at profiles, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Your goal is to meet an interesting guy worth spending a night out with, right? You don’t need to meet the perfect one out of all 1105 profiles available. You’re looking for someone worth inviting out for coffee. After you’ve found a few guys who interest you, explore them a bit after you make contact. Don’t be so quick to troll for more matches that you put someone in the “no” file before you truly get to know them.
Remember that a profile is only a brief snapshot of an actual living, breathing human being. Don’t be so quick to move on to the next guy that you run through lots of profiles without ever really getting to know the guys behind them.
Don’t mistake good conversational skills for really getting to know someone. The combination of online chats and email volleys can be a hothouse that allows connections to grow quickly – without much substance. Getting to know someone takes time.
Recently I spoke with someone who said, “I wasn’t sure if he had read my profile or if I was actually going to have to talk with him about who I am.” Not too long ago, boys and girls, we lived without profiles. Yes! If you wanted to get to know someone in those days, you had to talk with him/her. And even though some of us regularly Google our dates ahead of time these days, you still have to talk face-to-face with someone in order to really get to know them.
It’s not unusual nowadays to hear about someone deciding to move to a distant city to be with a guy they literally haven’t met. That’s generally a terrible idea. Slow things down. Don’t get ahead of yourself and imagine there is a commitment when you’re really still getting to know someone. Rushing online connections isn’t any better strategy for happiness than hurrying through dating would be.
Sex is easy online; intimacy isn’t. Online life has been called the “Home Cruising Network.” Hookin’ up is quick and easy. That can be lots of fun. It can also lead to wasting lots of time, distracting yourself from what you most deeply want and self-destructive, compulsive patterns.
Cyberspace hook-ups have become associated with rising rates of STD infections. Cruising online can become compulsive (some would say addictive) in ways that create real problems for the guys involved. The problem is that cruising electronically can be so pleasurable that it takes over more and more of a person’s life. See if it works to set limits regarding how much time you allow yourself online. Don’t let your online life squeeze out time for making time with friends and dates.
Following common sense guidelines can help you avoid getting lost in cyberspace. Be mindful of what you really want, and don’t let the bright lights of Cyber City distract you from getting what you really want in life.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.