I’m sure I’m not the only single gay guy perusing hookup apps while in quarantine, but after being alone for a significant period of time like the isolation we’re going through now, touching ourselves to images on a screen just won’t cut it. Sooner or later, we ache for something real, a touch that only another human can provide.
Recently, I reunited with an old fling I met on Grindr. We talked for what felt like hours. He was impressive. He spoke four languages, was born and raised in the West Village before living in Tel Aviv for eight years and is now a Hebrew schoolteacher in Los Angeles (cute, right?). Turns out, we lived five blocks from each other but for some reason hadn’t found a moment to meet in person.
We made plans to go for a walk while respecting a six-foot distance. He spoke about his experiences traveling the world. I was dazzled by the accuracy he had in adopting accents. He would shift from Italian, to Yiddish, to Spanish, to Russian. He was super funny, and yes, it was super hot. But we also seemed to have a real connection, something deeper than lust.
He and I were OK with not hooking up given the current pandemic. In fact, we spoke at length about how it wasn’t cool for the media to share positive messages about casual sex during the health crisis. Naturally, we felt obligated to stand by our convictions. But that’s easier said than done.
In the following weeks, we messaged basically every hour and Facetimed nightly. The sexual tension was palpable through the screen and I started to daydream about all the things we’d do to each other. Eventually I became desperate to see him in person. We arranged to meet halfway between our streets, at 12:30 a.m.
It was a cross between Contagion and The Notebook. We spoke more about our lives as we sat on a stranger’s curb. The screen didn’t do him justice. Beneath dimly lit streetlamps, I noticed how white his teeth were, and the subtle curve at the edge of his bang that swooped inward to the tip of his brow. Just feeling the warmth from his breath was soothing.
I couldn’t wait another second. I edged closer to him and hovered my lips over his as if to kiss. It felt taboo and dangerous. It was risky to be so close to another person, to breath the same air. But it was also exciting. We fell into each other like in the movies. He pulled my jacket toward him and I caressed the curve of his bang. We touched.
We touched but we didn’t kiss. He buried his head into my arms as I wrapped the side of my jacket around him, and I felt his lips gently kiss my forearm. They were warm and moist.
As the night unfolded, we realized we were fighting a losing game. We both knew we weren’t truly going to let ourselves go. We wouldn’t be having sex—not any time soon at least. And maybe all we wanted was another person’s touch. It didn’t satisfy us fully, didn’t fully release our shared misery, but we were—at least temporarily—satiated.
Still, my heart ached that we had to deny ourselves from fulfilling our desires, imprisoned by a global contagion. The parallels with history were undeniable. Nearly 40 years ago, during another viral crisis, a generation of gay and bisexual men came to view physical intimacy as inherently dangerous. In the decade that followed, thousands of queer men had denied themselves as a shield from contraction. Some defied the risks, others found creative ways to experience intimacy in the midst of a plague.
I had taken human touch for granted before the pandemic. I wouldn’t again. Musing on my walk home, I realized that even without the hookup, my former fling and I had still been using each other to satisfy our own urges; our screens created a world inside our heads that provided escapism, but without the gift of a payoff. Grindr had magnified our desire for relief— from crushing loneliness and fear of the pandemic—and reflected it back to us. The comfort we felt in each other’s arms was fleeting. We both knew it.
While Grindr had allowed me to believe I was making a real connection, the only fantasy I was living was the one in my head. Still, in the middle of a pandemic, fantasies can be the only thing we have to cling to. I guess I’m OK with that.
David Artavia is an award-winning writer andco-editor in chief of The Advocate magazine. Follow his adventures @DMArtavia.
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