His date had been loud and arrogant throughout dinner, but Harrison Levy, 26, was still surprised when the man whose photographs and messages had seemed so enticing raised his “outside voice” another level, drawing stares from the rest of the patio. “He yelled something about masturbating, or about someone's dick, and there were like people all around us, and even kids,” Harrison remembers, over a month later. “I just didn't really react. I kind of said to myself in my head, this guy is not getting a second date.”
Intimidated and uncomfortable with the West Hollywood scene, Harrison turned to online dating shortly after graduating college and soon met a boy on J-Date, the site for Jewish singles, whom he dated for three years. After they broke up five months ago, Harrison quickly dove back into dating, this time through the popular free site OkCupid, spending so much time scrolling through profiles and scheduling so many hikes and coffees and dinners that his roommate recently told him he's dated more than anyone she's ever known.
Despite an exaggerated stereotype that gay men are online looking only for sex, most are actually looking for something more serious, and conversations with numerous twenty-something Angelenos reveal that the negative stigma attached to finding a relationship online is far less prevalent among gay guys than it is among straights.
In Nick Paumgarten's recent piece on online dating in The New Yorker, he wrote, “For many people in their twenties, Internet dating is no less natural a way to meet than the night-club-bathroom line.” But the article itself gave few details about what it is like to be dating online in your twenties, and in Los Angeles, at least, many young straight people, especially straight men, believe online dating is a last resort for divorcés with limited options, people over thirty who are ready to get married, sketchy predators and the shy and socially awkward.
“I just have never met someone who was a straight 25 year-old man who admitted to online dating,” says Paul Leal, a 23 year-old straight guy who works for the Fund for the Public Interest.
Among gay men, however, the quality of guys available online is allegedly a lot higher, as far more people feel comfortable using the Internet as matchmaker.
“I'm thinking about my gay friends right now and I'm trying to think of someone who's not online dating or doesn't have a profile,” Harrison says. “I can't really think of anyone.”
Stereotypes perpetuated in the popular imagination, and sometimes even among gays themselves, often imply gay men are sexually indiscriminate and promiscuous. However, according to OkCupid's in-house analysis of over 3.2 million users, 45 percent of gay people have slept with five or fewer people (vs. 44 percent for straights), and 98 percent have slept with fewer than twenty (vs. 99 percent for straights). That final two percent, like Harrison's uncouth dinner date, manage to speak for the population quite loudly, with their behavior accounting for 23 percent of the “total reported gay sex,” according to OkCupid's research.
“We don't hear as much about commitment with gay people as we'd like because society doesn't like that,” one gay guy told me.
But even if 98% of gay guys are looking for something more serious than a hookup, why can't they meet-cute in an elevator or slip a phone number to a hot waiter to find a boyfriend, like everyone else? The numbers are simply against them. “I assume most people I meet are straight, because there's less of us,” Harrison said, explaining that he rarely approaches other men in public. “I just feel like straight people could go to a coffee shop and meet somebody there. I don't think that's an option for us.”
Due to the high concentration of gay men in West Hollywood — about 40 percent of the population is gay — trading flirty glances at Millions of Milkshakes or Fiesta Cantina is still a possibility for those who make the trek or can afford to live nearby, but gays are just as skeptical as straights when it comes to the prospect of finding true love in one of the area's many bars and clubs.
I met Markus Hill, a 26 year-old production coordinator, one Friday night around 1 a.m. outside the weekly dance party Popstarz at Factory, a popular West Hollywood gay nightclub that happens to have a black nightclub parallel universe on the other side of the building (Parking lot stares abound). As we chatted in the crowded smoking area, one of Markus' friends flirted behind us with a blonde massage therapist while the other, who had ended a serious relationship earlier that day, sat perched on a potted plant, alternately crying and texting his ex. Markus tried to explain to me why the Internet, and not the sea of men in front of us, was his best chance at fulfilling his small-town dreams of monogamy.
“[This club is] perfect for pretty people to come, hook up with each other, network, socialize, get drunk, whatever, but if we wanted to be in a relationship and we wanted to meet a decent guy, I don't think this is the best place to be,” he said. “These guys are on drugs, and they're fucked up; they just want to hook up. That's not our goal. We want to settle down, but where else will we find guys but the Internet?”
Ashing his cigarette nearby, Marcus Pimentel, a 30 year-old gay event planner, agreed that there are few options for gay men looking for something serious in L.A. But apparently not every gay guy feels comfortable admitting to his friends that he likes to spend hours in front of a screen, tearing through profiles in search of the One.
“There are gay guys that feel that they're above it,” Marcus said. “Those are the guys that are lying and using fake profiles,” He explained that gay men who are condescending about online dating in public will alter personal details on their profiles to avoid detection by friends or colleagues perusing the same site.
“We're at a stage where it's like, in order to connect in some way, you have to do it online,” Marcus said.
Just as those who initially sneered at Facebook were semi-forced by the site's sheer ubiquity to come around, Marcus' perspective indicates a Internet takeover of gay dating, with even those who dislike it participating because that's where everybody else is. Young gays in L.A. seem to have achieved something straights cannot: widespread faith in the quality available at the biggest meat market in town.
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