MY IPHONE IS not well. It tuckers out in less than two hours and despite what the Apple Genius Bar studs say, I know what ails my beloved friend: Grindr.
I’m a thirtysomething gay man in a long-term, not-open relationship. I love my partner and we have a wonderful life together, but we’ve got issues.
To the uninitiated, Grindr is an app that allows gay men to cruise using GPS technology. Users upload a photo, an alias and whatever personal info they want. Grindr indicates the proximity of another dude. For example: Lonnie69 (36, 6-foot, 160 lbs., vers bottom, looking for friends or more) is 800 feet away. The boundaries are broad and customizable: guys chat, trade pics and sometimes meet up.
Bored and horny, I downloaded the app, uploaded a sexy self-portrait and surveyed the landscape.
At first, I simply flirted with hot guys when my live-in boyfriend wasn’t around. Because I wasn’t meeting any of these boys in person, I rationalized the Grind-ing as safe.
Then a redhead (1,132 feet away) said hello. He was a cheerful and polite Midwesterner. Attractive, but not intimidatingly so. He waited half an hour before requesting a snapshot of my nether regions. It was very old-fashioned.
What was novel about this redhead— we’ll call him Gingerbread—was that our friendly chitchat engaged me as much as the smuttier stuff. It was fun to charm him with my bon mots, but his wholesome demeanor belied a darker side: He had sex with multiple guys a week via Grindr. This contradiction intrigued me.
For weeks, Gingerbread suggested we meet for a drink. I demurred, until finally I confessed that I was spoken for. I explained my situation. He wasn’t angry. Instead, we resolved to meet up soon—just as friends.
My boyfriend went away on business and I scheduled drinks with Gingerbread. We even exchanged cell phone numbers, a major step in the Grindr world.
We rendezvoused at a local bar with lots of straight people. He was cuter than his Grindr snapshots; slightly taller than me, and huskier. Despite his packed schedule of anonymous sex, he still exuded that corn-fed, aw-shucks quality.
“I really want to make out with you,” he said softly. “But I purposely didn’t clean up my apartment out of respect for your relationship.”
“That’s sweet,” I replied. And after two glasses of wine each, we decided that I should check out his messy bachelor pad after all.
As he unlocked his door, I laid down my ground-rules: We would only make out. No clothing removed.
Once inside his apartment, Gingerbread dimmed the lights and cranked up the weepy Bon Iver album For Emma, Forever Ago on the stereo.
And so, on his white couch, the kissing commenced. Denim-covered bulges were felt, faces were caressed, sweet smiles and tight hugs were exchanged. As he began to whisper about how my dick might feel in his mouth, I got up to leave. It was hard. So was I.
After a few attempts, I successfully departed, no fluids expelled.
We continued to communicate over the next several days. We befriended one another on Facebook, where I could ogle his freckles. My partner was back in town, so it was difficult to plan another round of drinks.
Then the nightmare began. About five days after my encounter, I woke up with a funny-looking pucker. Two angry, horn-like zits grazed my lower lip, with several smaller, flatter sores of various hues elsewhere on my mouth. A quick WebMD crash course confirmed the obvious: oral herpes!
I texted Gingerbread frantically. “Oh no!” he wrote back with a frowny face. “I have been feeling sick with a cold sore too! I’m a whore, and I turned you into a monster.”
Oddly, my partner wasn’t suspicious, despite my symptoms. Thanks to my
research, I had a plausible excuse: A majority of Americans contract oral herpes in their lifetime, often in childhood. The virus can lie dormant for years and be triggered by sunlight exposure, a cold or stress.
I made a doctor’s appointment and explained my dalliance to the resident examining me. He confirmed that, indeed, it appeared I’d contracted oral herpes—likely through kissing. Happily, the sores were already resolving themselves. He nevertheless prescribed me a day’s worth of Valtrex and suggested I invest in some ointment.
Still leaving out the Gingerbread element of my tale, I told my boyfriend the dormant-herpes-have-awoken story. He bought it, given my convincing medical explanation. I felt like a monster.
All the while, Gingerbread and I continued texting. Though he was contrite about complicating my life, we continued to flirt. I vacillated, pathetically, between anger and infatuation.
One night, when I was feeling my worst physically, he texted me. He suggested, since we were both contagious, that we hook up again. I was disgusted and tried to tell him so. We ended up texting for several hours more. He told me that there was something different and special about me. I was a good guy; I had a great heart. He wanted me back on his couch so we could just hold each other and listen to one another breathe.
He was a duplicitous, herpesbequeathing, cliché-spewing idiot, but I was smitten anyway.
But then my partner started feeling not-so-hot. No sores on his mouth or
anywhere else, but an onand-off burning sensation when he peed.
I panicked. We’d kissed and had sex recently—could I have transmitted something?
He made a doctor’s appointment, and I stupidly suggested telling his doctor about my outbreak. During his appointment, while I sat in the waiting room, his doctor asked if he was certain that his partner was monogamous. Despite my boyfriend’s assurances, the doctors suggested he undergo a battery of tests for STDs.
My boyfriend was distraught after the appointment, and interrogated me about any indiscretions. Following several rounds of denials, I confessed the whole story.
He was devastated, and terrified about his test results. Although he didn’t throw me out on the street, we spoke seriously about parting ways for good.
The night of that conversation, I emailed Gingerbread with an update.
His reply? “Well, then we need to say goodbye. I’m terribly sorry that I put you into this position.”
After a few curt back-and-forths, it really was over. At work the next day, I logged onto Facebook to get a final look at Gingerbread, and made another shattering discovery: he had de-Friended me! This was the point where I went to my empty office bathroom and wept. The intrigue and sexy possibilities were over.
A week later, tests announced that my boyfriend was herpes- and STD-free. His burning sensation had dissipated within days and we both resolved, despite my treachery, to stay together. I’m still in the doghouse, but we love each other too much to walk away. I’m on a search for a therapist.
Still, the karma of my Grindr fiasco angers me: a one-time, sex-free makeout session turned me into a herp-lipped gargoyle for three weeks, traumatized my partner and nearly ended our relationship.
I’ve deleted Grindr from my iPhone.
I’m thinking of investing in a 99-cent Tetris app to pass the time.