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There’s a picture on my fridge of a man called Eggsy. The nickname’s apt, as he does look a lot like an egg, if eggs wore plaid shirts and hit on guys half their age.
Eggsy entered my life several months ago, after he took to pestering my flatmate on Grindr. Something about his optimistic determination and charmingly unflattering choice of screen-name made him stick in the mind, and it didn’t take long before ‘eggsy’ became our shorthand for a certain kind of tragic desperation that all single people, but single gay guys in particular, can be prone to.
Getting blotto on Tesco own-brand wine and messaging your ex in the hope of one last night together? That’s a little bit eggsy. Going out to a club you hate, on a work night, because you think it might be your only chance of getting laid this month? Definitely eggsy. Sending unsolicited pictures of your bum to strangers and expecting an enthusiastic response? If it was any eggsier you could dip little bits of toast in it. (The metaphorical egg, I mean. Not your bum. Ick.)
It’s to prevent exactly this sort of behaviour that we made a sort of motivational poster, bearing a screenshot of Eggsy’s Grindr profile above the starkly-lettered legend ‘DON’T BE EGGSY’. At first it was amusing. Now, though, after several months of confronting this cautionary figure every time I go to get the milk, it’s starting to make me think.
Eggsy: an artist’s impression. (It was that or blur his face, and that just looked creepy. Trust me when I say this is pretty much bang-on – guys who look like eggs are easy to draw.)
We talk a lot about Grindr on Vada. It’s not a surprise, given its ubiquity in Western gay culture at the moment and the powerful feelings of ambivalence it tends to provoke in its users. On the one hand, it’s great that technology can help overcome some of the hitches of being in a sexual minority, and I know people who find it great for finding both casual hookups and long-term partners. On the other, it serves up a warts-and-all portrait of one’s local ‘gay community’ which can get quite grim after a while.
There’s the closet cases and the femme-bashers, the covert racists and overt racists, the beautiful men who aren’t interested – and hundreds and hundreds of Eggsies. I’m sure practically every guy under 30 who’s used Grindr even a handful of times is familiar with the rise of expectation and subsequent disappointment which comes with logging on, noticing you have new messages, and then realising that all of them are from guys old enough to be your dad.
It starts off being funny/horrifying/flattering (delete as applicable), but cumulatively it’s both fascinating and depressing. I don’t know which option makes me sadder: the thought of there being so many lonely men out there firing off messages to every guy on their screen between 18 and 30, or the thought that these schlubby middle-aged blokes looking for anonymous sex with guys who could be their sons are actually getting what they’re looking for and are, therefore, doing a lot better than I am. Were I a braver man I’d interview some of them and ask how well their tactics worked – as it is, though, my hunch is that while there may be a few eager twentysomethings who’d love nothing better than to get noshed off in a lay-by by a truck driver called Tony, the demand must far outstrip the supply.
Was it always thus? How did those closeted married guys looking for ‘discreet hotel fun’ advertise their availability before wi-fi – smoke signals? Semaphore? When cottaging was a commonplace activity, did men saunter down to Hampstead Heath, find the place entirely full of slavering pensioners, and trudge back home again to have a cup of Bovril and a little bit of a cry? Has the age of using your phone to browse a selection of men like you’re shopping for furniture from the Argos catalogue made us all shallow and complacent, or did those who weren’t handsome, confident and well-connected resign themselves to a life of celibacy?
The non-Eggsy remainder of Grindr, in a nutshell.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Eggsy. It’s very easy to judge from behind the safe barrier of a phone or computer screen, but it’s not easy finding a partner, and it was even harder when Eggsy’s generation were my age. And I’m no spring chicken either, after all.
When I first left home, when I was young and naive and still thrilled by the novelty of being somewhere that had any kind of gay scene at all, my friends and I laughingly referred to 25 as being ‘dead in gay years’. I’m going to be 25 in a few months’ time, and while I might have learned many things (money management, cookery skills, that wearing a trilby makes me look like a tit), I’m still as clueless about relationships as I ever was, and beginning to feel a bit like I’ve missed the boat. Getting drunk and going home with strangers is for students. My peers, of whatever sexuality, are now almost all in long-term relationships; they’re starting to get married, to get mortgages, to acquire pets and cars and all the other trappings of being Proper Adults.
Our culture is obsessed with novelty and youth. Throughout your teens you get sold the fantasy of being an adult, finally free to do your own thing and have adventures – and then you’re an adult, and you have to do what your boss says and there isn’t time for adventures, and the TV and the movies are full of teenagers doing stuff that you were too uncoordinated and self-conscious to do when you were that age. Gay culture amplifies that, because the standard to which we hold our partners is also the standard by which we’re measuring ourselves. Everyone seems to be looking for an impossible ideal, while mocking others for doing likewise. The end result? A lot of lonely old guys, and a lot of lonely young guys making fun of them before ending up in exactly the same situation.
Having Eggsy’s visage staring out across my kitchen/living room like a Poundland Big Brother is intended to serve as a reminder that life is short, and that finding someone takes work. If I don’t want to be alone and ovoid, I can’t just assume that people will come to me or that I’m entitled to anyone I like; I have to make myself into someone worth dating. That includes overcoming the arrogance that makes me dismiss people out of hand, and the insecurity that makes me reluctant to approach people I like. It also means getting out of the house more.
The same technology that’s made us more connected than ever has also given us a greater capacity for loneliness. It works for some people – the kind of people, frankly, who didn’t need help meeting people anyway – but it can also be distancing. Even at a terrible club there’s dancing and socialising and the chance to get to know multiple people over the course of a night; with social networking, there’s just you, alone behind the screen, exchanging character-limited banalities with people you only know from a photograph and a few lines of description. It’s easy to ignore someone when there’s no social penalty for it; easy, too, to miss getting to know someone you might have liked if you’d met them face to face.
In the unlikely event that you’re reading this, Eggsy, I’m sorry. You didn’t intend to become a metaphor and I genuinely wish you all the luck in the world in finding your partner, or at the very least finding that young slip of a thing who’s up for no-strings fun with men named after groceries.
Likewise, dear reader, if you find Grindr and the likes work perfectly well for your purposes, then keep on doing whatever it is you’re doing right. But for those, like me, who sometimes need a bit of nudging in the right direction – be self-aware, but also be aware of others. Be tolerant, be open-minded, be excellent to each other and party on. And if you can help it, don’t be Eggsy.