The Grindr Network
IT IS WEEKS of witty rapport and loaded winky faces through Grindr chat bubbles before I am finally ready to meet my chosen stud. The app’s fast-food approach to sex generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but the glory of my Grindr guy’s tan and ripped body has now left me with, shall we say, an appetite.
I arrive in the suburbs fully prepared for a night of passion. Typical of the Grindr gestalt, I have thrown on the tightest fitted gray t-shirt I could find (you know the kind), then dabbed on my last few drops of Calvin Klein cologne. Done and done.
When my “date” opens the door and I give him the up-down, his self-described manly-man traits—including a chiseled chest you could sharpen knives on that I’d ogled in JPEG form—is, as is often the case in these situations, a tad … different. In this instance, a five-foot, lispy queen with a muffin top and a white-furred, red-sweater-wearing Yorkie at his feet. I don’t doubt his Arnold Schwarzenegger chest once existed, but that coffin was clearly nailed shut long before I showed up.
Of approximately 61,000 men on Grindr in Philadelphia, this is what I get? My libido deflates like a punctured balloon.
Two peppermint vodka concoctions and a bevy of Philadelphia insults later (he’s a former New Yorker who punctuates his criticisms with a quick, and unconvincing, “Not really, just kidding!”), we make our way from the kitchen into his lifeless living room. His precious royal-family-meets-Little Mermaid furniture makes me hesitant to sit down. Will he scream at me if I dare ruin it with the imprint of my butt cheeks?
So he sits at his desk, and I stand awkwardly, towering above him. We are two gay men, mid-conversation, now trying to figure out how to spend our time alone together.
“You don’t want to look at it, do you? No, you don’t,” he asks, fidgeting in his chair.
I really don’t, but succumbing to my oft-crippling level of curiosity, I oblige the offer.
“Well, you can look at it, but I want you to be honest—don’t bullshit me,” he says, his face becoming stern. Sitting at his desk, his face slightly flushed, he whips it out.
Having just moments earlier revealed my dabbling in Web design, I find myself planted at his desk, editing his new website, undoing copy errors instead of the button of his jeans. We end the night watching a Jennifer Aniston movie.
Two head-scratching realizations swirl through my mind as I walk away the following morning: We never actually had sex (maybe some mild cuddling); and, perhaps more importantly, I’d stumbled into what could have been a valuable networking experience had I been able to get over his blubber, purse pup, and all-around weirdness. All of this through an app notorious for simply being a hyper-sexualized Hollywood Squares for gay men.
Like Carrie Bradshaw before me, I couldn’t help but wonder …
Could I really “network” on Grindr?
THOUGH IN ITS terms of service Grindr explicitly prohibits using the app for “commercial” purposes, that’s not to say “happy accidents” don’t happen. Grindr’s founder, Joel Simkhai, fully embraces this. “I think, whether you’re looking to network or not—but especially in that case—the beauty of Grindr is that you find a lot of things you didn’t even know you were looking for,” he says. “That’s really the power of what we have.”
Simkhai insists he created the app in 2009 not as a “hookup” app, but merely a quick and painless way for gay men to meet other gay men, with no agenda attached. The name “Grindr,” he says, derives from the idea of the app being a sort of mixing pot, like a coffee grinder, the rough and menacing mask logo meant to affix Grindr guys with something primal and tribe-like. Simkhai says he’s used it to network himself, and even hired Grindr employees through it. “A good portion of the people who work [at our office] are Grindr members: our head of marketing, our sales guys, we met them through Grindr,” he says.
The very notion that Grindr could be compared to a “coffee grinder” (is anyone buying that?) or, worse, a “tribe,” is something a bit hard to swallow. But, as it turns out, Simkhai’s staff isn’t alone in nabbing a gig, rather than a snog, through Grindr.
When Cory* graduated from West Chester University last year with a mound of student debt, he knew he needed a job pronto. After a brief stint in Seattle, he moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to job hunt, and scheduled an interview for a restaurant host job. Deciding he didn’t want the gig, he blew off the interview—a decision that came back to haunt him two days later.
“I get on Grindr, and I’m talking to this guy, and I realize through the conversation that he’s the guy I stood up for the interview. He was like, ‘I think I was supposed to interview you—do you still want the job?’ And so I said yes,” Cory says. “Grindr was basically my job interview.”
Cory’s is but one of many oddball stories I encounter through the course of a month of non-stop “Grinding” (the things I do for journalism). I scour the city’s neighborhoods, from NoLibs to Chestnut Hill, Manayunk to University City, leaving no headless torso’s profile untapped in my attempt to exchange business cards in lieu of nude photos.
One such tap led me to Tobias, a 37-year-old college professor who began his Grindr journey in search of the clichés of love and eternal partnership. Instead, he found networks of fellow college professors, a student from Penn whose research paper he helped fine-tune, an entrepreneur whose start-up he contributed to, and a new employee for a theater production he managed for his university. “You never know what you’re going to get,” he says. “Grindr is especially nice when I’m at conferences, where it’s sometimes difficult to engage with someone, even if we have our profession in common. I’ve used
it several times to meet other gay people who work in my field.”
As my own intimate time with the app marches on, I learn that selecting the “Networking” option on my profile has the potential to be more than just a guise to look less pathetic, like ordering a Diet Coke with your Big Mac to mask the shame. I juggle salacious messages in one text box, and career chitter-chatter in the other. Who knew?
I’d met Justin a week earlier for coffee, learning as I sipped my latte that he was a radio talk-show host. Intrigued, confident, and eager to brush up on my lackluster broadcasting skills (and land a job in media), I asked to shadow him for a day at his radio station.
I spent two hours absorbing radio lingo, daydreaming about having my own talk show. I wasn’t going to get a job from this experience, but the possibility was certainly there—leaving me feeling satisfied that my Grindr networking ability had paid off.
Afterward, Justin offered to drive me back to the train station. Pulling into the parking lot, he waited on the platform with me, and stood beside me in the snowfall as we made journalistic small talk.
Standing next to him, experiencing a looking-glass moment, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I really could both tally and maintain a platonic, profession-based relationship with a Grindr encounter. Where I’d failed with nourishing my networking relationship with Grindr Stud No. 1, I was determined to succeed with Grindr Stud No. 2. Maybe, after overcoming my own Craigslist-Killer-inspired paranoia, the app could provide an unlikely window of opportunity I’d been unsuccessful in generating through traditional networking forums in the past.
Wearing a contented crescent-moon smile, I watched as my train chugged in from the distance.
“You should come back to my place and hang out,” Stud No. 2 suddenly blurted out as the train tooted toward us. “You know, if you’re not in a hurry …” he added, his eyes wide open, glimmering with hope and, well, you know.
Or maybe not.
In the end, did I find a job using Grindr? Well, no. But could I have found a job using Grindr? Well, yes.
I was able to turn it into more of my “little black book” for making business connections rather than sexting, despite the many overt sexual solicitations that came my way. My guess-and-check, chat-and-block research technique offered me more in the way of G-rated networking opportunities than I admittedly expected. Four weeks of chatting led me to a new hair stylist; a realtor; a journalist-turned-PR-pro; a New York-based fashion manager with connections to some illustrious general-interest magazines; and a teacher whose couch I now have permission to crash on if I ever travel to India.
Here’s my verdict: If you can sort through the sea of “dick pics” and “ASL” comments, you’ll notice connections that are far more lucrative than they are lubricated. And if you’re anything like me, you may just find a different kind of opportunity than you were expecting. Grindr is far from being the gay LinkedIn. But for now, it’ll do.