I am a 25-year-old gay guy who has been feeling increasingly tethered to my phone, so that I can check up on my handful of hook-up apps. I know many guys who joke about their constant use of grindr, scruff, etc., but I feel like something more serious is going on with me. I spend a lot of nights constantly chatting with different guys, and it does feel good to get noticed. But the next day, I always end up feeling lousy. But then I go back and do it again anyway!
The chats are fun and flirty, but I know they aren’t meaningful. And, to make it worse, I can even have difficulty getting to bed at a reasonable hour, because I can’t turn off my phone. How do I get rid of my hook-up-app fixation?
Your question highlights a perfect storm of factors that really affect a lot of gay guys. So many of us grew up feeling unworthy and inadequate, and now we can constantly seek out and offer each other endless woofs, winks and ur-hots through myriad hook-up apps and sites. It’s like a giant validation buffet: We can eat until we’re stuffed, then wait a day to head back with a new empty plate.
But clearly, if this fleeting external validation were truly fulfilling, you wouldn’t keep needing more of it. Constant access to technology, especially via smartphones, has given us the option of never being still for a moment, never having to face ourselves or anything uncomfortable hiding under all our artificial busy-ness.
We can be proud of the LGBT histories that have paved the way for open and frank sexual expression and communication. But sex, or the promise of it being available at any moment, can make it difficult to discern whether we’re connecting with our true sexuality or just tapping into an unending stream of sexual energy for subconscious reasons. A very good rule of thumb when it comes to hook-up apps (or alcohol, shopping and other potential addictions) is this: Go online and hook up when you’re already feeling good and not to generate good feelings or wipe out difficult ones. Amorousness and arousal are complex states that can temporarily override feelings we’d rather not experience. The danger is that those other feelings get pushed down when they actually need our attention.
You won’t cure them with a hook-up-app addiction.
Unhooking yourself from this fixation is going to take some work and perseverance. A simple strategy is to delay the amount of time between your initial impulse to reach for your phone, and actually logging on. This way you strengthen your muscles of resistance and have an opportunity to see what might be happening for you in those moments: Are you actually horny? Or just bored or lonely or angry?
It’s going to be challenging to notice those emotions that have been getting eclipsed by the smartphone daze. So to conclude my recommendation, if you want to catch up on some sleep and rid yourself of that glazed-over expression, you’ll have to occasionally disconnect from your phone and connect with yourself instead.
Adam Segal, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health question at firstname.lastname@example.org.