I didn’t give much thought to what Grindr might look like in a city of 20,000 people until I found myself living in one and curiosity got the better of me.
I’d used the gay hook-up app in Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New York City but never in a city that you’d miss if you blinked while speeding down the 401.
Like many guys, there are certain images I associate with Grindr: big cities, resort towns, muscular profile pictures and twinks for days. But there’s a whole other world out there, with gay men in small cities across Canada and across the world also looking to connect. In the digital age, this should be a relatively simple task, but in Eastern Ontario, at least, the online options don’t bear much fruit. (I did go on a date with the one other guy under 30 in my city on OkCupid.)
I wasn’t sure if Grindr would be any less solitary, but I decided to check and, one afternoon in a coffee shop, waited nervously for the familiar orange loading screen to show me who else was looking for a connection.
The first men to populate my screen were located across the St Lawrence River in upstate New York, and as far as omens go, this wasn’t encouraging. Border-town etiquette, I’ve learned, involves making reference to your side in your profile and then sticking to it. Though it was an affront to my national pride to see “USA Only” time and time again, it’s entirely understandable. Crossing an international border for a hookup is a certain type of desperation that you wish on nobody.
The next time I logged on was more promising. As my screen filled with men, I was taken aback by how many options my tiny city could provide. Perhaps, I thought, I had completely misjudged the situation.
As I sifted through profiles, it became clear that most of the guys were nowhere near me. I’d always assumed that Grindr has geographical limits of some sort, but it doesn’t. It shows you users in order of their proximity. In a dense city with many users, you’re going to find lots of guys nearby. In the city I’m in, you’re going to see guys from an hour away in just about every direction, including across the US border.
Though the geographic mix varies, on the best of days, only 10 to 15 percent of guys shown are within a reasonable distance. Filtering, while efficient in the city, became a masochistic exercise here. Once when trying to find a peer, I applied the 30-and-under filter and was left (again) with only one other option in town.
Guys who use Grindr around here seem to be looking more for romance than sex. The puritan reputation of Eastern Ontario is not unmerited, as hardly anyone admits to looking for “right now.” One guy went so far as to pointedly declare in his profile that if you were looking to hook up you’d best go to a brothel. Not everyone’s a nun — I’ve had men who’ve asked to use my beard as a seat — but one of the two guys I actually met up with used the flimsy pretence of having me over for coffee at 10:30pm.
There are obviously gay people out here, but they’re not easy to find. Maybe you have to put down some roots and seek out guys in the offline world, but that isn’t easy, and with other commitments, there isn’t always time. When you’re used to having a surfeit of nearby men at your fingertips, this can be a bit of a shock.
Sometimes it’s nice to look at the screen and see dozens of men close by and know that you might make a connection or, at the very least, that you’re not alone.
I still log on to Grindr, though with less frequency and tempered expectations. Now it’s nothing more than me trying to be positive — hoping beyond hope that someone new and interesting might appear against the odds. It’s not even about misplaced romantic hopes or having sex. It would just be nice to be surprised.
My stay here has ended earlier than expected, which carries with it a certain relief. I can put an end to this story before resigning myself to guys who merely suffice or having to reconsider the big question: whether I’d break rank and become desperate enough to cross the border for a hookup.
I suppose I could have tried a new approach and tried to meet men in real life, but it would be just as uncertain and, to be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to start.