Instant gratification: Addiction and anxiety in online dating
By: Jonathan Homsey
It bubbles. The sensation in my ear is just like the pop rocks mixed with Pepsi I had as a kid – explosive, intense and overwhelming. That percolating noise my phone makes when the other person is typing a message to me is my kryptonite. The simple circular shapes as someone is typing their message is like acid to my eyes, burning me until, after a wait that’s almost unendurable, that message appears.
Online dating and meeting people now, especially in the gay community, is a new realm. Men can instantly search for who they are looking for, with whatever intention they have. It is a world where a gay man can easily find their next fix, and so now it’s a world of addicts.
The drug is validation; our romantic interests are our dealers.
Earlier this year I was getting on a plane from Los Angeles to Melbourne. It was probably the bittersweet Jack Daniels and dry with two lime wedges I was sipping on before my flight that led me to a spiral of no return. I was currently ‘talking’ with a guy named Max*. We all know what ‘talking’ is like, this area of purgatory where you have not met them yet after swiping right on your app of choice. You become infatuated with each other and can only articulate your affection through one medium – words.
The words accumulate and the words become an addiction of sorts. The anecdotes pile up and we become enamoured by the idea of an ‘us,’ a future with him, and the prospect of falling in love.
I could see he was online on Facebook…
Do I message him?
It’s been 18 hours since the last message, shouldn’t I wait 24?
If I send a gif with Sailormoon doing a wink is that suffocating?
Anxiety springboards the questions, and the scenarios are soon infinite. With the time difference Max would have been at work or on the tram. My heart was racing, I had the urge; I messaged him. I saw he read it – I could see that microscopic version of his face. I knew he was there.
I messaged and messaged, hoping I could get a reply. A fix.
I did not get one.
With this level of accessibility, many are losing the virtues of courtship and patience – including myself. Living with anxiety can lead you to be attached to your smart phone as a safety net. You will always be connected with your phone by your side, everyone is at your fingertips – theoretically. In order to escape this addiction, I had to put myself into a situation that kept me away from my phone.
That was making art.
Making art made me more present, helped me steer away from a path of anxiety, and prevented me from using my phone as a safety net. I have always danced, but it wasn’t until I had the intention of being fully present in the artistic process that a shift happened.. Having an outlet to express myself transformed my art into my own avenue of art therapy.
Through creating Sanctuary, a dance/film installation exploring the image of drowning in text messages, I realised how absurd yet seductive it is to be attached to your phone. I threw out the theory of how long I need to wait between messages, and stopped worrying how I was projecting myself through the keyboard. I knew the medicine was not on my phone screen.
Online dating will not change, the accessibility and GPS tracking of what attractive men are nearby will only escalate. It is us, the users of the app, who have to make the change. Everyone will have their different antidote for this drug. What helped me was implementing a routine of analogue activities – such as making art and meditation – that brought sanity back into my anxious mind, and changed my perception about what a smart phone is.
I will always wonder about the idea of Max and I. I still question what would’ve happened if I didn’t drown in my former anxiety and addiction, and drown him in messages. Maybe we would have gone to the beach, held hands, and exchanged more Spotify playlists. I will never know what would have been, but I’m grateful that I’ve recovered from that addiction.
I’m also thankful the bubbles now just sound like fingers tapping on a keyboard – those pop rocks were full on.
*Not his real name.
Jonathan Homsey is a choreographer striving to create work that connects the movement of hip hop dance with conceptual practice. Born in Hong Kong and raised in USA, Jonathan moved to Melbourne in 2010. He has just completed Vessel, an installation using aroma and sound therapy juxtaposed with street dance movement to explore how a performance can have medicinal properties as part of City of Maribrynong. He is currently working on the film installation Sanctuary which exhibits in Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku November 2016.