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April 01, 2020

Me, My Shelf And I: Dating Apps

Text by Vivek Tejuja. Illustrations by Harjyot Khalsa

The columnist takes us through his stirring journey of left and right swiping on dating apps, and the long-term effects of it on his approach to food

While I was growing up, one of my favourite movies was A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Leigh was a star, according to me. She still is. The one line that drew me to this movie over and over again, and I watched it as many times as it aired on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), is: ‘…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’ [said by Blanche (Leigh) at the end of the film]. It struck me deep and hard. I felt I could relate to it on so many levels, and I didn’t understand why or how, till I did.

Growing up, I struggled with food. My relationship with food has been directly proportionate to how people behave with me on dating/hook-up apps. I know it shouldn’t be the case. I know it shouldn’t define who I am, but it does. Let me backtrack a little. The world of gay men is a strange one. Everything almost depends on how you look, at least to begin with. Yes, we are a superficial, hollow lot, but then again who isn’t? I only speak from my experiences. I hope you’ve had better ones.

“At least lose some weight…if not for health reasons, then so that men will hit on you.”

Guys4Men, which merged with PlanetRomeo later, entered my life in about 2004 or so. Before that I chatted with men on Yahoo Messenger (yes, it was a thing), or ICQ (Please google it, you won’t be disappointed) or, even better, the good old Gay.com. There was nothing different about these sites. Nothing at all. The same old — A/S/L. But I think all the men just wanted to know one thing: the ‘S’, statistics. How tall are you? And given your height, what is your weight? Eighty-four kilos didn’t seem that bad if you were six feet tall or more. It did, however, seem terrible if you were shorter. They all didn’t want one thing: fat, or chubby, or overweight, and they said it in so many words. They still do. Though some love it. They want someone of a ‘certain size’. They specify it in their bio. As if that is going to make you feel any better.

“Sorry. You’re too fat. Ping me when you lose some weight.”

It can be mentally and emotionally draining for someone like me to be on such apps. Yet, I delete them, I reinstall them, I chat again, I swipe again, and I let all my self-worth go for a toss. Don’t mistake me for a saint. We all have our ‘types’. We all want something or the other when we are on those apps. We all look for someone who ‘fits the bill’. Having said that, there is a very thin line between making someone feel terrible about themselves and politely declining a move.

“What’s your weight? Is it in proportion to your height? Are you a chub?”

I ate after every rejection. Then I ate some more. Was it a crutch? Sure. Was it emotional eating? Perhaps. Was it all of it? Damn right, it was! The fact of the matter is: food replaced the thoughtlessness of strangers. It was kind. It did not judge. It didn’t want anything in return, except it was an unhealthy relationship for sure. I didn’t eat because I was happy. I ate because I was miserable. I ate because I wanted validation, and I didn’t get any. I ate because I wanted a man in bed with me, holding me and telling me how awesome I was, and that never happened. Well, it did a couple of times, but it never seemed like enough.

I have tried them all — the ways to lose weight. Working out, the innumerable diets, the agonising nights when all I wanted to do was stuff my face and instead sipped on hot water. All for what? I needed the answer. For what? For whom? For myself? My health? Or because I wanted to get laid? Because we live in a world where waist size is of more importance than what’s in your heart and how you feel about a certain movie or book. I wanted to do this for people who were, perhaps, as shallow as I was.

I am not trying to victimise myself here. Neither am I sermonising. I am speaking my truth, and this is what it is. The endless conversations that are so interesting get washed away when we share pictures, because we judge too hard. All of us. Even the ones who claim they don’t. Your pancreas need not be pretty, but you sure need to work out or be fit. What if I detest working out? What if I hate going to the gym? Does that make me ineligible for a hook-up app? I love my food (or so I think). I love to eat. Does that make me repulsive? Do my curves bother you? Do my moobs make you want to throw up? How do you feel when you see me? Do you want to set me up with a ‘gay friend’? Do you wish to see me disappointed yet again?

I don’t know when this vicious cycle will end. I guess it will end with me. When, as they say so easily, I learn to love myself. Trust me, if I knew how to, I would have by now and I wouldn’t need anyone else. Isn’t it? Isn’t that how it works? Or, by loving myself, will I send out signals to the universe and he will receive them and immediately come and get me?

“You aren’t my type, but we don’t have to go all the way. I don’t mind making out with you. Nothing else.”

I honestly don’t have the answers. All I know is that I don’t give up. I swipe. I eat. I hope we meet. I hope he likes me enough to stay. I look for validation all over again. I eat some more. I diet. I look for options. I go to my therapist and cry. I am that privileged. I go back to these apps, looking for the kindness of strangers, and I always end up with a cheese dosa in my hand.

MORAL OF THE STORY

The way to a man’s stomach is through his heart.

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