queer in yesteryear

Older gays tell young’uns what dating & hooking up was like before the apps took over

Two smiling men embracing

Nowadays, you can find relationships, regular hookups, or just a lunch-hour diversion with a few taps on your smartphone. But it wasn’t so long ago that dating—and diddling—took more doing.

And the gays who lived and loved during those times recalled their experiences on Reddit recently—after one user asked what dating was like before Grindr and other apps hit the scene in 2009. Of course, Reddit tends to be a younger person’s platform, so many of the more mature gays offering responses relied on pre-Grindr social networks, even if doing so meant using dial-up —or actually leaving the house!

Here are some of those recollections, abridged for brevity and edited for readability.

“It really wasn’t that mysterious. You met at a bar or wherever and hooked up or exchanged numbers. It was certainly easier in places like San Francisco, where you could assume everyone else at the grocery was gay. The difference, I would say, is that you had to have the courage to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself and express interest.”

“You had to meet out doing things. I met gay people as a teen working at the mall. I met gay people in college through the gay student group. I met gay people through gay rights groups. And then I moved to San Francisco and met gay people everywhere.”

“There were AOL chat rooms. Then there was Craigslist. And Gay.com. Then Manhunt. The ancient, man-to-man dating you’re talking about is really pre-1998. Grindr was super innovative, but didn’t fundamentally change how you met guys because everyone was online already—some were too embarrassed to admit it. You would still shoot your shot at the bar, and then try again on Manhunt when you got home. Now, you do that at 11 a.m. at work.”

“I remember being in Provincetown when Grindr got critical mass, and within one weekend, you would see everyone glued to their phones. But even then, it was the same profiles with the same pictures as on Manhunt. It was just cool to see they’re 60 feet away at the house next door. I was with an older friend, 45-ish, and he couldn’t figure out why everyone turned to zombies where conversation died in groups. That was the future of social media, and I didn’t recognize it at the time.”

“A lot more going out and socializing. Large friendship networks. Lesbians! I miss lesbians. Parties. Music. Subculture. Clubbing. Local gay bar ‘where everybody knows your name.’ Community.”

“In 2005, I entered college, and online chats were the way to go. mIRC, Guys4Men (now Romeo), MSN, AOL, Yahoo!—there were gay group chats to join and converse with other gay men. It’s basically Tinder and Grinder online. Then you meet in real life and hook up or date. There was also Multiply and Friendster to socialize with other gay people.”

“I lived through the transition when I was coming out. I met my first few guys on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels, but also starting going to bars and meeting people there, which was the most usual way, as very few people had the Internet. In bars, there were also newsletters or magazines, which were useful to find out about events or even groups that were organizing different activities. Then a few websites starting popping up by the early 2000s, like Gaydar, Manhunt, etc.”

“When I was in high school and college, we used Craigslist. It was a lot like Grindr hookups are, except much lower-tech. You’d check the ads people put up in your area, email or text them, and meet up. There was a lot more anonymity, and sharing your location with a friend didn’t exist yet. PrEP really wasn’t a thing yet, nor the idea of being undetectable, nor especially the knowledge that undetectable means untransmittable. So in some ways, it was scarier. I had some fun, though, and met my first boyfriend from a Craigslist hookup.”

“Pre-Internet, there were gay bars and clubs; gay organizations, community centers, and events, including Pride-related activities, AIDS-related educational workshops and protests (beginning in the ‘80s), and gay art, film, and music festivals; public outdoor cruising areas; adult bookstores and arcades; gay bath houses; personal ads in newspapers, especially weekly gay papers in bigger cities; and telephone gay sex/personals/dating lines. For dating and making friends, it was mostly gay bars, which were also a good place for hookups if you went near closing time and invited someone back to your place or vice versa.”

“There was no Craigslist then, of course, and by the time Craigslist appeared and people had access to the web, dating sites started popping up, too, though they were generally viewed as shady and were not really private, and not that many people used them. Honestly, it was better in many ways, and there were fewer negative experiences because you always met someone in person before hooking up. There was not nearly the same level of ghosting, flaking, and downright abuse that people are subjected to regularly through the online/app experience. On the other hand, there weren’t the opportunities there are now to meet so many people, including those a bit further away, that you wouldn’t otherwise run into.”

“Actual dating was better. There were known cruising sites, if that was what you were looking for, with the added bonus of everyone knowing it was a one-off thing. It’s sad to watch guys looking for something serious on hookup apps nowadays. If you wanted something serious back then, you had to put in the work of actually getting to know someone and make it work. It seems to be a lost skill now.”

“You met a guy somewhere—bar, behind a dumpster, in a park. You f*cked and then decided if you ever wanted to talk. If post-f*cking talk happened, you might have become f*ck buddies or best sisters or, you know, dated, until the next walk in the park.”

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