Are you a gay dating app sociopath?

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Reading time: 6 minutes

Much of the small talk that happens on gay dating apps is, in my experience, a preface to a request. 

“What you up to?” someone may ask, and behind this seemingly polite question, invisible gears are turning.

Maybe this stranger will hear my response and respond authentically, or maybe they will continue with the subterfuge of trying to gauge whether I’m willing and able to sustain a fantasy – or fulfill a desire.

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This is very much in keeping with the commodified, gamified nature of online dating, where chat apps involve little more than a mutual cranking of slot machine handles.

For someone who is seeking to build connections, these obvious attempts at assessing sexual eligibility can quickly become soul-sapping.

So the last time someone asked “What you up to?”, it was hardly any surprise that I responded with, “Getting a frontal lobotomy”.

I was in my own way trying to shake my chat partner out of automaticity, but all I got in return was the acronym “lol”. 

Clank, went the invisible gears, and within seconds, my chat partner was proceeding with his script. 

“Cool. You looking?”

Some people may describe this kind of attention as affirming. Personally? I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m being treated less as a human being, than as a prospective reward.

Apps are basically Skinner boxes

Previously I compared gay dating apps to Skinner boxes. For those of you who don’t know, Skinner boxes are small glass cages used by experimenters to teach animals how to perform certain actions, like hitting a lever.

These boxes reinforce desired behavior by dispensing a reward such as food, or punishment in the form of a shock from an electrified floor grid.

Andreas1/Wikimedia Commons

Skinner boxes are a perfect analogy for gay dating apps. The difference here is that messages, or more specifically, the attention they represent serves as the reward, while being ignored is a form of punishment, or negative reinforcement.

As app users, we maximize reward and minimize punishment using strategic and even deceptive self-presentation and engagement. We tailor profiles and our behavior in ways that will gain and sustain attention, even if they aren’t necessarily authentic

We may boast about our preferences or prowess, while using erotic photos as bait for our chat partners.

Some of us may go so far as to create fake profiles, or message someone exclusively with the aim of receiving a response. 

Messaging purely for attention, however, may be the first signs we’re developing a process addiction. Here’s why.

Why gay dating apps are addictive

At one point during his studies, the inventor of the Skinner box – American scientist B.F. Skinner – modified his boxes to dispense food pellets according to a random number of lever presses. 

His pigeon test subjects, rather than being deterred by the unpredictability of the exercise, quickly learned to press the lever at random, even when no pellet was immediately forthcoming. 

What Skinner realized was that this very same unpredictability had created a tension of expectations, which was released the moment the pigeon received their reward.

Skinner credits this tension-reward loop, also present in slot machines, as being the main driver behind addiction.

We can see that loop widely incorporated today in video games, social media, and even dating apps.

Consider the unpredictable nature of “rewards” on Grindr, Scruff or Tinder: users log on and off at random, and the rate of replies can vary completely, sometimes even within the span of a single conversation.

Meeting someone off the app may begin as a tantalizing fantasy, but it’s one that ultimately can’t compete with the dopamine seeking reward-loop offered by the back-and-forth of instant messaging.

The result is an experience that could be broadly described as ineffective, at least where it comes to generating face-to-face interactions.

Of course, if you were to canvas a group of gay men at random, I’m not sure a consensus would ever be reached on what constitutes an “effective” dating app chat session. 

After all, everyone’s definition of a reward will vary from interaction to interaction, day to day, sometimes minute to minute. Yes, humans are a fickle bunch. 

Dating apps don’t help, in that they all seem designed to facilitate any variety of interactions. Some may use the app with the intent to meet, while others are simply looking for distraction, or the thrill of erotic chat or photo exchanges. 

Suppose we come to the apps with a specific goal in mind. Gamification in many cases will nudge us towards abandoning specificity, towards being open to any and all interactions, if only for the momentary gratification they promise.

Our sole purpose thus becomes the maintenance of the tension-reward loop.

Sustained use will lead many users towards a nebulous middle ground, simultaneously craving all of the above, yet never finding true satisfaction. And yet we keep coming back. Why?

Notably, Skinner found that pigeons in his experiments continued to peck a lever even once their appetite had been sated. His conclusion: the action of cranking a lever had in and of itself become “fun”. 

You can see the same behavior among gay dating app users. Like edgy, risk-averse stockbrokers bidding in an incredibly volatile market, we hedge our bets, messaging indiscriminately just to see who will bite.

After firing off scores of messages to multiple chat partners, we wait for the replies to trickle in. 

Too much tension and frustration – not enough replies, significant delays or “inferior” rewards – and our sense of enjoyment will diminish. 

Our only recourse then is to either adjust our expectations, or spread our net more widely in order to maintain the loop. 

Profile grids and swipe stacks will come to resemble an ever-shifting buffet in what feels like a perpetual famine. 

Prolonged use of gay dating apps thus sees other users reduced to mere units in a digital meat market characterized by extreme scarcity. 

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Addiction creates gay dating app sociopaths

In the 10+ years in which I’ve used gay dating sites and apps, I’ve often caught myself logging in just to see who had messaged, less interested in the content of the communication than the sheer fact of its existence. 

It became clear to me that so long as I was caught up in tension-reward loop – in the split-second objectification, relational multitasking, devaluation, and dismissal that seems baked into digital modes of interaction – I could hardly expect to form healthy relationships with other gay men.

How, when I was treating chat partners as mere levers to be pulled for personal gratification?

The single-mindedness with which we perform this action, according to researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, is the antithesis of empathy:

“Single-minded” attention means we are thinking only about our own mind, our current thoughts or perceptions. “Double-minded” attention means we are keeping in mind someone else’s mind at the very same time… When empathy is switched off, we think only about our own interests. When empathy is switched on, we focus on other people’s interests too. 

It is in the absence of such empathy that we adopt sociopathic behavior. And just like the sociopath, many of us – consumed by our process addiction – will go to extreme lengths in the pursuit of satisfaction.

Consider these traits, as laid out in the seminal work on sociopathy, The Mask of Sanity

  • superficial charm
  • absence of anxiety or guilt
  • undependability, dishonesty, egocentricity
  • complete inability to form lasting intimate relationships 
  • failure to learn from punishment
  • absence of emotion
  • lack of insight into the impact of our behavior
  • failure to plan ahead

For those of you who have or continue to use gay dating apps, I ask you this: have you not experienced or dabbled yourself in superficial charm and unpredictability?

Or worse still: deceit, manipulation, and outright nastiness?

The system is hopelessly broken

Chances are you’re alone. Tragically, the addictive qualities of gay dating apps have created an environment where sociopathic behavior is now the status quo.

Strangers will issue demands and unsolicited erotic photos, interrogating our sexual preferences before blocking us at random.

While these tendencies are not specific to gay men, app-based reward loops positively reinforce these behaviors while failing to offer real accountability. 

The result is an endless chain of victimization in which bad behavior is normalized and internalized and we all unwittingly find ourselves either in the company of, or becoming, gay dating app sociopaths.

It’s no secret that gay dating apps aren’t designed to foster genuine, heartfelt connection, or for that matter to enforce personal accountability.

Their goal, rather, is to gamify interactions with the goal of sustaining use, indefinitely. But in so doing, they train us to associate self-worth with constant affirmation

In our pursuit of that affirmation, we will find ourselves pulling out all stops to feed it, even if it means completely disregarding and discarding others along the way.

The system may be broken, but it remains profitable for app makers, so there is little motivation for change. But as individual users, we can and must hold ourselves to a higher standard of personal conduct.

We can do this by:

  • Exercising self-awareness: curbing usage motivated only by the desire to get a “fix”. 
  • Empathizing, rather than objectifying: treating people with kindness, consideration and courtesy. Being honest and upfront with our intentions and not stringing people along when we aren’t interested in them. 
  • Voting with our feet: registering our protest by quitting and pursuing more wholesome forms of interaction, offline.

Takeaways

  • Gay dating apps employ a reward loop to keep us addicted.
  • Addiction leads to single-mindedness and a temporary loss of empathy.
  • In its absence, we may behave in antisocial ways.
  • Be self-aware and empathic. Be accountable for your own behavior.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

Four instances when gay men are justified in cutting a date short

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Reading time: 6 minutes

I like to think that if two gay men are willing and able, they can overlook their differences and find common ground. There are some instances, however, when such open-mindedness comes with mixed results.

So when Hayrik* approached me over a dating app asking to meet me for a hike and I saw he harbored political views diametrically opposed to mine, I decided nevertheless to try and bridge the divide. 

But when Hayrik showed up 30 minutes late for our date, with neither apology or explanation and looking at least 40 pounds heavier than he did in his photos, I knew something was off. 

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I considered confronting him about this but told myself that to do so would be rude. But as we set off on our hike, Hayrik’s dog in tow, doubt began to gnaw at me.

Some minutes later, the dog stopped to relieve himself. To my dismay, his owner made no attempt to pick up after him. 

When pressed, Hayrik complained that he’d forgotten to bring a bag. Offering a shrug and a lopsided smile, he said: “I’m just a bad dog owner”. 

I considered whether or not to cut the date short. If I turned on my heel and left, I had no way of knowing how Hayrik might react. Fear of conflict forced me to bite my tongue. 

Hayrik made some small talk, slowly steering the conversation towards politics. When I made our differences of opinion known, he responded with a gleeful aside, attacking my beliefs. 

By this point, we were at the hike’s halfway mark, so excusing myself now seemed almost pointless. What was I going to do? Overtake Hayrik and storm back to my car?

I tried to change the subject, only for Hayrik to drop an incendiary comment, the kind you might expect from a troll sowing chaos in an online comments thread. 

I fell silent, and sensing I’d quit the game, my date quickly ran out of steam. An awkward silence prevailed.

What to look for when dating other gay men

In choosing not to end the date prematurely, in choosing to save face, I’d been forced to tolerate Hayrik’s behavior, thereby inadvertently endorsing it. 

Had I identified some guideposts for what I expected when dating gay men – and also what constituted a violation of these expectations – in advance, the situation might’ve turned out quite differently. 

But what are reasonable guideposts, and when is it appropriate to quit a date?

1. Discrepancies

I didn’t believe that the disparity between Hayrik’s physical appearance and his photos was cause enough to end our interaction then and there. Yet the disparity was one he was surely aware of. 

Dating profiles are the personal equivalent of marketing materials. It’s in our interest to put our best foot forward, so we all “curate” our personal presentation to some lesser or greater degree. There is however a clear difference between selective presentation and active deception.

Gay men who for example list themselves as being one age on their profile, when in reality they are at least 10 years older, are another example of this. 

No matter how youthful someone might look, such behavior points to a fundamental lack of trustworthiness. And without trust, there is no basis for a relationship.

2. Causes for concern

Unmanaged Mental Health Issues: As someone who has battled anxiety and depression, do I advocate intolerance of such people? Definitely not. The keyword here is “unmanaged”. 

If this person is not actively seeking or receiving help for their problems, trying to establish a romantic relationship with this person may put you in an untenable position. 

You may find for example that in trying to help, you become a codependent “fixer” who prevents your partner from taking charge of their situation. Or you may find yourself forced to keep the other person at arm’s length as a matter of self-preservation. This is not fair for either party. 

Addiction: Unless gay men are seeking help for an addiction, whether it is substance- or process-related, the concerns are very similar to those outlined above. For most addicts, their habit will almost always come first, and often at a significant cost to their personal relationships. 

Even if you feel you are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tolerance required to deal with an addiction problem, you still run the risk of becoming an enabler or being dragged into their habit.

Personality Disorders: When left untreated, personality disorders can wreak devastation not only on the lives of gay men but on those in their immediate vicinity.

A full list of diagnostic criteria is beyond the scope of this article, but here are some telltale signs you could be dealing with someone with a personality disorder:

  • Ongoing emotional instability
  • Chronic temper problems
  • Excessive self-involvement 
  • Excessive neediness
  • Callous disregard for your feelings or wellbeing
  • Deceptive, manipulative, exploitative or destructive behavior

Again, I am not attempting to dissuade you from dating someone with a personality disorder, but rather flagging the possibility that, should you decide to go down that path, there may be some rough terrain ahead.

3. Irreconcilable differences

There are differing tastes in music, and then there are incompatible value systems

Had there been some value overlap between Hayrik’s political views and my own, things might have gone okay. As it stood, there was not. Our value systems were incompatible.

Even the most casual behaviors can be telling in this regard. Watch, for example, how your date addresses the restaurant server. Is he polite? Patronizing, or cutting without cause? 

How does he behave when he encounters an aggressive driver? Does he laugh it off? Or does he fly into a rage, vowing retribution? 

If you’re a person who values treating others with kindness and courtesy no matter the circumstances, a person who acts this way does not share your values

gay men dating

4. Dealbreakers

These are myriad and often subjective. You may not be justified in ending dates when these arise, however they should give you pause. Here are some telling examples.

Aggression: Everyone has their triggers, but gay men with a hair-trigger are people you should definitely steer clear of.

Meanspiritedness: If someone intentionally attacks or puts you down on the first date, don’t stick it out. That said, this person could be having a bad day. If it happens once, be on alert. If it happens twice, be on your way. Leaving sends a clear message that you have personal boundaries and are willing to protect them. 

Disrespect: This can take many forms. Personally, I consider a lack of punctuality on a first date a form of disrespect. Of course, your date could have gotten stuck in a traffic jam, an accident, or can’t find parking and forgot or was unable to communicate. You can offer some leeway here.

But if it happens more than once, there is a good chance this person is lacking basic consideration for others.

When Hayrik, for example, failed to clean up after his dog, he wasn’t just shirking personal responsibility. He was signaling a lack of basic respect for other people. 

Complainers and bad-mouthers: Complaining, blame-mongering, and backbiting should set off internal alarms. Why? Because it often speaks to serious self-esteem problems. Ask yourself if this is a trait you’re willing to stomach in the long term. Chances are it isn’t.

Immaturity/Game playing: Personal interactions shouldn’t be treated like a game. Hayrik’s attempt to lure me into an unwinnable political debate spoke to an immature desire to prove his intellectual superiority – and not a desire to connect as equals. Without such equality, any kind of healthy relationship will be impossible.

Your mileage may vary

This article is not meant to be treated as a definitive list, but rather as a jumping-off point for identifying your personal limits. The message is: know your deal-breakers, and know that you have the right to walk once one has been identified.

If revelations are made mid-date that bring to light fundamental incompatibilities, you have grounds to end the interaction. There are perfectly polite ways of doing this. 

One I swear by is setting a timer on my phone and only feeding my parking meter for that period of time. This gives me a legitimate reason to get up and leave, no charade required.

How long should you set your timer? For a first date, one hour is more than adequate. When the alarm goes off, explain you have another commitment you need to get to. Thank the person for their time, pay for your bill, and leave.

This tactic can also be useful for those instances when you haven’t identified any dealbreakers but the interaction leaves something wanting. 

Sometimes the repartee is listless, the other person is nervous to the point of paralysis, or they may say something that rubs you the wrong way. If the interest – and effort – is mutual, these challenges can be overcome. 

Takeaways

  • Keep an eye out for discrepancies, causes for concern and irreconcilable differences.
  • Know your dealbreakers and what you’re willing to tolerate.
  • Have an exit strategy in place, should the date go south.

Have dating tips of your own you’d like to share? Comment below, or send me a message.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all individuals discussed in this article.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.

How gay dating apps have sparked a vulnerability crisis

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Reading time: 5 minutes

My first real contact with the gay community was not through gay dating apps, but one of their predecessors: the website Gaydar. 

Aged 17, I had just left the family home and moved to a new city where I knew no one. Being not yet of legal age, I was unable to attend gay nightclubs, so Gaydar swiftly became my exclusive means of contact with other gay men. 

Similar to the Scruff of today, Gaydar allowed users to set up a profile along with a private gallery. 

Occasionally I’d get a notification that another had unlocked theirs for me. I’d brace myself, dreading what the invitation must inevitably hold. And sure enough, the moment I clicked through, I’d receive a barrage of “anatomical exam” photos.

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For many people I’ve talked to, these nude photos swaps are more mundane than titillating. 

Gay dating apps demand that we market ourselves as a commodity, as an ingredient in a fantasy that can then be mentally reconfigured at will. When we are presented as just another face or torso in a sea of countless others, we have to take any chance we can to stand out. 

If you subscribe to that logic, “showing the goods” is a necessary requirement for a “sale”. I have always questioned however whether this is a tactic that results in face-to-face encounters. 

In-person interactions it seems have become an increasingly pallid substitute for the heightened reality of app-based instant gratification. Exchanging sexual messages and photos with multiple dating app suitors is undeniably fun, especially given it carries none of the effort or consequences of real-life – and double the reward. 

These apps by design promote self-objectification and the validation that inevitably follows. They encourage us to respond to others not merely in order to maintain a conversation, but for the inherent reward of receiving a reply

That reply by implication is an acknowledgment of our romantic or sexual appeal. The positive neural feedback we receive when someone messages or sends us photos reinforces the desire to be objectified, which in turn keeps us coming back for more. 

But if we are not mindful, we can develop a single-minded focus on “winning”, leading in some cases to a gay dating app process addiction. 

In such cases, the process of dating becomes entirely divorced from its proclaimed purpose: to facilitate real-life relationships.

Gay dating apps demand we sacrifice vulnerability

Gay dating apps discourage exclusivity and encourage the fielding of multiple suitors. It’s a juggling act that necessitates efficiency. With so many options on hand, selecting a romantic or sexual partner must inevitably become a game of elimination. 

We screen people, dishing out and receiving rejection over and over again. In order to protect our egos, we give up making genuine approaches. Instead of being present with the person we’re speaking with, we slip into safe automaticity: talk round and round in talk circles, replace sentences with monosyllables, prompt people for information we have demanded from countless others before them. 

We list requirements and apply filters as if our tastes will maximize our gains and shield us not against failed connection, but an apparently far greater loss: suboptimal pleasure.

In effect, we trade connection for selection, and authenticity for subterfuge. In order to shield our feelings against the possibility of being hurt, we often disengage them entirely. 

gay dating apps nude photos

Why you should say no to nudes

We play it cool, we play it sexy, but we don’t play our complicated, nuanced selves. Why? Because of the inherent limitations of instant messaging, the high levels of scrutiny to which it subjects us, and the wide latitude for misunderstanding.

Our conversations consequently become the rapid informational relay of stockbrokers. Stuck in the emotional deep freeze of gay dating apps, we fall to assessing, objectifying, categorizing and rejecting, arranging and manipulating people as if they were chess pieces, rather than living and breathing beings. 

We devalue both our humanness and that of others, and vulnerability dies a quiet death.

The irony is that to be naked is, in a very real, physical sense, to be vulnerable. Exchanging nude photos asks us to put ourselves on display for summary judgment by strangers

It forces us to be mercenary in our attitudes towards our chat partners, and cavalier about exposing ourselves in a way we normally reserve for intimate occasions. 

Arguably one of our primary needs as human beings is to connect with others. To connect, we need to be vulnerable. By sending nude photos, we are denying ourselves that right. 

In most cases, my app-based interactions have died in the water the moment I refused to exchange nude photos. To me, others’ demands were reductive and objectifying. 

It seemed to be that complying meant becoming yet another item on the app buffet menu. It also rewarded what I saw as unconscious, addictive “lever-pulling” behavior, the kind of thing you would expect of a rat trapped in a Skinner box

I am sad to report that after such refusals, my chat partners almost always chose not to meet me “sight unseen”. Instead, they continued to linger online, hedging their bets and scoping out all the available options. 

Many I suspect never intended to “choose” in the first place, preferring instead to forestall meeting anyone, often for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Consider the example of the much-maligned “pic collector”, who lurks on the app for the sole gratification of collecting sexual photos.

gay dating apps

Be valued – on your terms

Gay dating apps only add to the pressure we face as gay men to conform to a certain ideal image of masculinity, which is often used as the basis for how we are assessed and treated by our romantic or sexual partners. 

But this oft-celebrated ideal – perfect cheekbones, chiseled jaws and an athletic, muscular build – is problematic on several fronts.

First of all, this image is for, at least for a majority of gay men, simply unattainable. 

Even those of us blessed with good genetics would still be required to invest a significant effort and time into crafting a picture-perfect physique. This is effort and time that most of us are unwilling, or unable, to spare.

Secondly, I believe this image is part and parcel with a toxic cultural perception of masculinity. Namely one in which men are unemotional, self-reliant ubermensch, impervious to any harm.

Beyond popular representations by TV and movie stars, such men do not, and never have, existed.

Thirdly, subscribing to this ideal asks that we divorce ourselves from our inner emotional selves – the same selves for which we crave acceptance.

It follows that the more we try to displace this need in favor of objectifying ourselves on gay dating apps, the more unhappy we are likely to feel. 

With such pressures, it’s any surprise that we are living in the midst of a slow-churning mental health epidemic. Gay men are more than twice as likely than their heterosexual counterparts to suffer from a mental health condition. They are also at a higher risk than the general population for suicide. 

For this reason, it’s crucial we avoid activities that are likely to put our sense of wellbeing in harm’s way. Choosing not to expose our naked selves to total strangers before meeting them is not an act of defiance. It’s an act of self-preservation.

Nudity should be an earned privilege that should occur in an atmosphere of mutual respect, not summary judgment. 

By refusing to send nude photos, we are reclaiming the right to be valued – on our own terms.

Takeaways

  • Gay dating apps keep us trapped in a never-ending cycle of trying to maximize gains.
  • The positive reinforcement they offer may lead to a cycle of automatic behavior.
  • This cycle may cause us to lose touch with vulnerability and our desire to connect.
  • Nude photo exchanges allows strangers to hold our bodies up against some unattainable ideal.
  • By not swapping nude photos, we are safeguarding our mental health.

Have dating tips of your own you’d like to share? Comment below, or send me a message.

© Ehsan Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the TheThoughtfulGay.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.