When 26-year-old Chris created an account in Blued, it was – he stressed – to look for a relationship. “I think this notion that (gay-centric geosocial networking) apps are just for finding sex is really not fair to so many people joining these apps whose purpose is to gain friends and, yes, find life-long partners,” he said, adding that this very belief automatically “invalidates those who are there who are not just aiming to find sex.”
This was Chris’ frame of mind when he was “approached” by 36-year-old Jong.
“I’m into older guys,” Chris smiled, adding that he was “flattered to have been given attention by someone, and even if that person was based all the way in Tarlac”.
Some chatting ensued, with Jong eventually asking Chris if he could pay him a visit in Metro Manila. Chris – again flattered that “Jong wanted to come to my place all the way from Tarlac because he wanted to meet me in person” – obliged, and the two met to have their first dinner together, joined by Chris’s friends who wanted to check Jong out.
Even then, Chris said he was already deeply attracted to Jong. “He took the effort (to be with me),” he said. “He traveled for almost six hours just to meet me. It made me realize that he was serious with wanting to be with me. That was sweet.”
Chris and Jong eventually decided to give being together a try.
“We are now in a long distance relationship,” Chris said, adding that “once a week, he (Jong) would come over to my place just so we can be together.”
Though they’ve only been together a relatively short period of time, Chris said that his experience may well show that “yes, finding your partner in life is possible via apps.” He even thinks that while “trying to find a BF in the physical world versus doing the same in virtual world are basically the same, I’d say the latter can even be easier because ‘approaching’ a person is a lot easier when done online. At least in my case, I can’t even talk to strangers I meet in a bar, for instance; but online, it’s a different game altogether.”
Chris said there will always be doubters, “but I have Jong whom I met online to prove me right.”
According to Evan Tan, Country Marketing Manager in the Philippines of Blued, there are people who look down on apps like Grindr, PlanetRomeo, Jack’d, Hornet, Tindr and – yes – Blued as just sources of sex partners. But he said that “no, this is not a fair observation. I think the platform can also set the context for the interactions that could happen.”
Tan said that for Blued, in particular, “we value our role in building connections of varying degrees. While we are sex-positive, we’ve seen different non-sexual connections that happen on Blued.”
The focus not just on sex is in the blueprint of Blued, which was launched in 2012 by Geng Le (a.k.a. Ma Baoli), a married former police officer in northern China. For 12 years, he secretly managed Danlan.org, a website for gay people. But his superiors discovered the website also in 2012, and Geng Le lost his family and job. It was this that drove him to create Blued.
Blued counts 27 million users (majority of them still in its country of origin, China), making it the largest gay social network in the world. Every day, Blued sees active use from 11 million pax.
“Blued actually allows you to add friends, join groups, and even broadcast your hobbies and interests to other people,” Tan said. “We encourage people to keep it wholesome, because ultimately, they can always go to other apps if they’re just solely looking for sex. We want Blued to be more than just that. We want it to be a safe space where people can be who they are, without fear of judgment or discrimination.”
Blued features include: verification to guarantee that people have been manually authenticated as genuine profiles by Blued’s moderation team; ability to go live within a community of peers and to show what life is like around them; feeds to allow users to scroll through a stream of photos or videos posted by guys they have chosen to follow; grid that displays nearby profiles by distance, and users can either follow those profiles or engage in one-to-one conversations; and – obviously – the groups that allow the online homosocialization to develop/happen.
Blued prides itself for being an app that “allows people to share their viewpoints and talents, and there are groups in the app where people interact with other people, without the intention of having sex.”
In fact, when Blued surveyed its users on their reason for creating an account, looking for the so-called “other half” was cited as the second most popular reason (with 11,092 users claiming this to be true), only coming second to making or finding friends to form a community (with 13,204 users citing this as reason for creating a Blued account). Looking for a sex partner came in last among the reasons (with only 6,094 users claiming this to be true).
Tan is cognizant that “there’s that initial hesitation that online interactions are less authentic. I beg to disagree. Personally, I’ve met a lot of good people online, who I could say have become ‘real’ friends. I’ve seen success stories of relationships that started online.”
Tan added that “also, even people you meet in the physical world can be inauthentic, so inauthenticity is not a problem solely encountered online.”
And so, “I think that as more people go online, we’ll be seeing the lines getting more and more blurred. We’re developing technology really quickly to come close to what we call as ‘physical’, and we see how people reinforce connections made in the virtual world with physical interactions (and vice versa).”
Yes, not everyone will immediately buy the idea that “real love can be found through these apps,” 21-year-old Jack Frost conceded. “Heck, even I wasn’t sold to that idea at first!”
In 2016, Jack started chatting with 30-year-old Ralph Boston in another app because “I wanted to find a drinking buddy,” he said. They met thrice as “ka-inuman (drinking buddies).”
But Jack could recall how, after their third meeting, “I realized there may be something special there,” he said. So he asked Ralph “if he was willing to give it a try since we liked each other a lot anyway.” Ralph agreed; and the two became an item.
For Jack, while it may be true that the initial intention when meeting a person from apps is to have sex, or – as in my case – find a drinking buddy, you do not always have control over what happens after. And this is what’s beautiful about this; that what you have can evolve into something different, something more beautiful.”
In this sense, Jack stressed, “the app is just the tool to find someone. But how your relationship with that someone turns out is entirely up to you.”
For Mowneek Mabasa Muyargas, faculty of Psychology at the University of the Philippines (UP)-Visayas, the use of apps in developing more lasting relationships may reflect both “the changing times and, yes, evolving use of technology.”
“Social media has become the new and popular form or medium for meeting people,” said Muyargas, who is also a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP). “The social milieu allows for such new platforms of forming new relationships, rekindling old ones and facilitating some level of maintenance.”
But Muyargas added that “however useful and facilitative, love and relationships in this new venue may also entail its own share of advantages and disadvantages.” For instance, “sustainability and maintenance of romantic relationships may require more than the use of social media (since) intimacy, trust and commitment are among the variables necessary for relationship maintenance.”
And just as 21-year-old Jack realized in his use of an app to find a boyfriend, Muyargas also recognizes that “although social media may facilitate the relationship but it takes more effort and work for partners to make sure the relationship is stable, loving committed and passionate. These are the key features of a relatively successful relationship. So whether social media allows for that or becomes a barrier depends on the couple.”
NOT A BED OF ROSES
That whether relationships – no matter where they are formed – are “hard work” was admitted by Luigi, 26, who first “met” 39-year-old Australian Damian John from a gay app sometime in 2015.
“I messaged him,” Luigi said, after noting that “malapit lang location niya sa akin (his location was just near mine) at that time.”
Luigi admitted that “I was just looking for fun then.”
After chatting for three days, they decided to meet. That night ended with a roll in the hay.
But Damian John did not stop staying in touch with Luigi, with the Australian “greeting me ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good night’, and asking me out for dinner.” Not surprisingly, said Luigi, “after three months since I first chatted with him, I fell for him.”
Eventually, Damian John had to leave the country to work in Singapore. But “pinuntahan niya ako dito sa Pilipinas ng tatlong ulit (he came to the Philippines to visit me three times),” Luigi said. And on that third visit, “nag-propose siya sa akin ng kasal (he asked me to marry him).”
Luigi said yes; they now plan to get married sometime next year.
But Luigi said that “perhaps thinking that what we have is too good to be true”, some issues arise.
For instance, “there’s the trust issue,” he said. “At times I can’t help but think that perhaps he still actively uses these gay apps.”
To assuage Luigi’s suspiciousness, “he videocalls every night. Plus he visits me here (in the Philippines) twice a month,” Luigi said.
In this sense, the reputation of the apps, though already disproved by personal experience, still rears its ugly head to serve as the challenge that needs to be confronted.
Twenty-one year old Jack’s experience was similar to Luigi’s. “We agreed to uninstall the gay apps in our phones so we don’t get tempted to do something we both may regret,” he said. “Jealousy is not my thing, but he always brought up the possibility of me meeting others from the apps, in the same way that I met him.”
Jack and Ralph’s relationship didn’t last with the two eventually breaking up, though “we remain to be good friends now,” Jack said, adding that even this friendship “can be said to have been borne from the apps.”
IN SEARCH OF LOVE
Exactly because things turned out well for him and his partner, Luigi doesn’t mind recommending using apps to find one’s life partner. “It can be a tool to finding happiness,” he said.
But he is first to say that there are key points worth remembering.
For one, “be true to yourself,” he said. “If you’re just using the apps to have fun, then be frank about it. In the same way, if you want to use these apps to find a BF, then panindigan mo (show you’re serious about it).”
Blued’s Tan agreed. “Be honest about what you want. Don’t mislead people with false promises,” he said.
In his case, Jack recommended “being smart with using apps,” he said. “If in the physical world you have to go out on a regular date to get to know a person better, in the same way, don’t just immediately fall with the first person to chat with you through any app. This is common sense.”
“Like in the real world, it pays to pace yourself. Give people time to share stories about themselves, and show genuine interest in people,” Tan said.
Tan added: “Of course, be on the lookout for signs of abusive behavior or psychopathy. I think it helps to be hopeful but at the same time cautious. Don’t assume you’ll truly know someone only after a few hours of interaction. You would be crazy to fall in love with someone with just one date – What makes you think you can find love after just one day of talking to someone online?”
In the end, said UP-Visayas’ Muyargas, “numerous relationship theories consistently propose that for relationships to go on to the long-term phase require so much work.” And yes, “there are success stories (with relationships that started or were developed using apps); but it really does depend on the couple on how they effectively manage social media use for their relationship sustainability.
Twenty-six year old Chris and his still Tarlac-based boyfriend 36-year-old Jong are still together; and both still have Blued accounts. “Every now and then, I see him online. (Risking sounding like I’m stalking him) I ask why he’s there; he tells me he’s there not to pick up, but for other reasons (like chatting with friends he made from there, et cetera). I trust him,” Chris said.
There are people who tell him to keep an open mind, he said, and “I agree. Whenever going online, you have to always be careful… maraming manloloko at paasa (there are lots of people who may deceive you, or who will make you fall for them),” he said. But with the negatives “come the possibilities – particularly that if you open your heart and your mind, you may find love in these times of apps.”