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The Real Reason We're Addicted to Dating Apps

The epidemic of loneliness isn't a new topic in the gay community. We're seeing more and more research and articles addressing the growing trend among Gen-Xers and seniors - where it stems more from losing friends to age and illness or from a feeling of disconnection from a generation that's digitally connected in every aspect of life. With the millennials, we always get a dismissive explanation that we're lonely because we've become smartphone zombies and don't remember how to interact with other humans.


That explanation is a gross over-simplification that completely invalidates our feelings and the results of a universal gay experience. It's like they're saying we're not allowed to own our feelings of loneliness or anxiety about finding love in a society that is still, generally, against us. Our feelings aren't real because technology robbed us of the capacity to feel, in a sense.

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It's no secret that more and more of us are struggling to form lasting romantic relationships (or relationships at all, for that matter), and we hear more and more that technology and dating apps are to blame. It's partially true, but, like the internet, itself, dating apps didn't create anything in people that didn't already exist - it just gave it fertile ground to grow and spread without the pesky emotional fallout and guilt of expressing them in person. If you feel like the fuckboys have multiplied like cancerous cells lately, they haven't. The virtual world has just given them a place to lead others on and the easy out that will shut down your argument in one breath: "what did you think that app was for?"

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Honestly, though, why do we keep running back to the same disappointments? Does a bear step into a trap and then hobble over on three legs to poke its paw in another? Well, maybe...I mean, I don't know that bear's life and it seems like it's going through some dark $h*#.

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The reasons are a little more complex than you might think. Yes, on one hand, we have an instinctive drive to hold onto hope. "Maybe this time will be different," or "What if the One is on there and we miss each other because I'm not on the app?" These are, actually, variable reward systems built into the design of the app, which is one reason they become so addictive. Humans naturally have the drive to hunt and mate. The stress of anticipation of a reward (in this case, mating or finding that one gorgeous guy who might not be a total asshole) causes chemical releases similar to a fiending drug addict.

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You can't blame the developers, entirely, though. The reward has no appeal if there isn't a trigger. These are, generally, called negative valence states (it means you feel bad and want to escape the emotional pain), and, as LGBT individuals, we're the easiest to exploit. Most of us grow up with an oppressive need for validation that follows us into adulthood because we grow up in a society that tells us, constantly, that who we are isn't "good, "deserving" or worth being accepted or loved. Worse than that, institutions are very slow to catch up and address our specific needs (especially if you live in a conservative area).

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That kind of baggage leads us to seek acceptance from everyone and anyone, especially from our own community. The problem with that is we've carried some of these "you can't sit with us" mentalities with us and the natural competitive drive sometimes leads us to tear each other down, instead. This creates the same feelings of loneliness and isolation that we had as children and teens - so we tend to seek validation in other ways, like being sexually desired by our peers. But, just like the rewards in the app design, these things are temporary and fleeting, so we, inevitably, fall back into the same negative state and start seeking another "band-aid" or "high" to alleviate it. And, so, the cycle continues.

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None of us want to admit that we're needy or fragile, and that makes sense. Oftentimes our vulnerability left us exposed for others to kick us while we were down, so we put on fronts and build strong walls to protect ourselves. It's ok to be lonely, it's ok to want more than some NSA fun in your life; and it's ok to be hurt, disappointed or feel empty after a hookup turns out to be just a hookup.

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So what can you do when you're spending too much time on the apps or getting constantly disappointed? Here are some pointers:

Be Gentle with Yourself

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It isn't you. The vast majority of us, no matter how hot, talented, successful (or not) have deep-seated insecurities. One of the struggles of our community is learning how to communicate and handle those in each-other. But if you're striking out in love or sex, remind yourself of all the good things about yourself, tell yourself you're sexy and know that the right guy will come along.

Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company

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Another problem with us all being damaged people is that we're all looking for someone else to save and fix us. Two broken people can't fix each other, and no one can fix you but you. Spend some time learning to like spending time with yourself. Take up some old hobbies, explore your talents, and laugh at your own jokes. When you're no longer looking for someone to complete you, you'll have a much easier time finding the right type of people that fit into your life and complement you. Remember the dangers of filling a void with another person: if they leave, that void is empty again.

Be Clear and Don't Back Down from What you Want

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So, this has really focused on the people that are looking for more on the host of LGBT dating apps, but it is perfectly fine to not be looking for anything long-term. Maybe you're focusing on yourself right now or you just don't want any semblance of a relationship right now. Whatever it is, be clear about your expectations and what you want. Also, be responsible for upholding those. If a guy starts changing his tune, know to step away gracefully. Many of us cave and give other people what they want for short-term gains, but it almost always comes back in the form or resentment or drama. Be compassionate enough to say no if the other person is wishy-washy.

Don't Feel Guilty for Changing Your Mind

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With that said, you don't need to be 100% LTR or NSA all the time and you shouldn't beat yourself up if you just want some fun right now or a guy makes you start to question getting tied down. Just be conscious of the other person's wants. If he or she said they're strictly NSA or LTR, don't set yourself up for heartbreak. You can always pose the question, but don't be surprised if they stick to their guns.

Learn to Let Go

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This is the hardest of these suggestions because, too often, we take every negative thing as a personal attack on our self-worth. This is rooted in the universal LGBT experience since the world tends to attack who we are and devalue us, as people, because of it. Try not to dwell on disappointment. These things happen every day to everyone and it isn't a reflection of you. You deserve to be happy and loved, so take time after a disappointment to regroup. Just don't let yourself become paralyzed or fall into bad habits to recover from it - that normally just hooks us into the same things all over again and sets us up for defeat.

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