When I packed my belongings and escaped Los Angeles for my hometown, I needed a break. A break from an unhealthy and dysfunctional life. A break from a failed relationship hanging on by codependency and a beautiful condominium. I needed to get healthy and find myself before I could hope for a stable relationship. We loved each other dearly, still do in fact, but it was time to let go and rebuild from the bottom up. I was ready to go it alone and was in no rush to date again. This included sex, but seemingly gone were the days of a hook-up for me—I desired real intimacy before I got off. The rules had changed.
Dating in the age of the Internet held no attraction for me anyway. In my salad days, I loved nothing more than going to a bar or club and engaging in the hunt. A sense of a man’s personality and history were always necessary for me. I needed an exchange of ideas, a man’s scent, an idea of who he was and what drove him, a real idea of his physicality as well as his personality. This could be quick and furtive when it needed to be but it needed to happen to get me off. If we could engage in some pre-game spit swapping, all the better. The way a man kisses says a lot about how he’ll be in bed. So, I took a long four-and-a-half years going it alone. Not a date, not a trick, nary a conversation with a man I found attractive. I found myself in a city with a dearth of date or sex-worthy gay men so the temptation wasn’t overwhelming. And frankly, the idea of meeting men online scared me. It was so far out of my comfort zone.
Then, a year ago this past fall, it was time. I was ready to date, battle-scarred, but confident. And, to put it mildly, I was horny. Seriously horny. I could imagine hooking up for some good, old-fashioned anonymous sex. Or, a date. My messages were seriously mixed, but I knew one thing for sure: I was ready to take the plunge. It was time. There was a major obstacle though, the world of meeting other men for love, sex, or something in between had undergone a technological revolution. Further complicating matters, I hadn’t been in a gay bar or club in about eight years; I had no desire to. And, if I did, it wouldn’t be in this small city, no way. I was a card-carrying circuit boy in my earlier years and my standards were high and my snobbery an albatross. What’s a guy to do? I had just recently broken down and purchased a smart phone! I’m also a bit tech-phobic. It was a much younger gay friend who wore me down and patiently explained what a social app was and did in the first place. He made it crystal clear for me. If I didn’t get on one of these apps, and soon, I was destined to die celibate and alone far past my sell-by date. The time had come for action!
First thing on the schedule, pictures. I’ve never been comfortable in front of a camera to say the least. So my young friend (I’ll call him Ed) got together at my place with a couple of bottles of Chardonnay. We actually did ok. Months of a low carb diet and a brutal running schedule had paid dividends. We kept it fairly clean, some shirtless pics and a shot or two of what men say is my best feature, my bubble butt. Again, those runs had done well by me. I had already experimented with some selfies and had figured out some good facial angles. My new beard, I felt, would be quite a hit. Everyone loved it.
Then Ed showed me the apps. I felt I should ease my way in. Grindr scared the living daylights out of me. I didn’t see many guys beyond the age of twenty-five. I knew enough to know that forty-five year-olds like me were undergoing a renaissance. GROWLR looked interesting. I had always been a bear by default and there were plenty of men around my own age. Standards weren’t unrealistic either, it was as good a place as any to start on my self-imposed social experiment. Then, the proverbial other shoe drops. It’s not just fun and games anymore. I’m HIV-positive, no small thing. When does that enter the conversation, and how? It’s a scary new world in more ways than one.
To be continued…
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for twelve years. Follow John on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.