For this queer writer and native Coloradan, moving to a greater LGBTQ hub does not guarantee a lack of trials and tribulations in the queer dating scene.
I grew up in Loveland in the 90s, just south of the booming and currently fourth-most-populous city in the state, Fort Collins. I was fully out at 16, and as a queer teenager and white, cis male with an upper-middle-class upbringing, my experience was, and is still, mostly comfortable and privileged. I’ve always felt fortunate to be queer in this state at this time in history.
I moved from Loveland to Fort Collins to be closer to school at 19, and while Fort Collins has plenty of LGBTQ culture compared to the majority of other places in the country, it always felt like an in-between that didn’t coincide with how I envisioned living as a queer, out, and proud adult. It was just big enough to feel safe and secure, but not so big that I ever felt very represented in my community.
Still, fresh-faced, 19-year-old Keegan took up all of the tools essential for any young, queer man in the dating scene, namely Grindr, Tinder, and OkCupid, though I typically saw the same 20 or so men across all the apps. I was never into the casual sex thing so much, so after wading through the d*ck pics and the “you looking?” messages, what was left felt like an oversaturated pool of queer men taking turns dating each other.
After a few too many failed first (and last) dates, drunkenly kissing a boy I randomly danced with at our sole gay bar, and enduring text conversations that never went anywhere, I spent my last couple of years in Fort Collins avoiding sex and dating. I’ve never been innately romantic, so it was almost a weight lifted.
I always knew it was bound to happen, but I finally made the move to Denver last July. I didn’t think much of moving to Capitol Hill, until I read on Wikipedia it was considered a very LGBTQ-friendly area and that the grocery store down the street was dubbed Queen Soopers.
After settling into my studio, dipping my toes into the city, and enduring a good few weeks of transitional depression, I got back into the dating game and embraced those three tools in my pocket. The same apps I frequented as a young adult in dismay were exciting, and a little scary, to open up at my Cap Hill apartment, where the first 10-or-so guys on my Grindr page generally registered within 500 feet of me. I joked to friends how, for all I know, some of these dudes are in my building.
I chatted, swiped, matched. About two months after moving cities, I went on my first date as a Denverite. He was from Lakewood, an art teacher at an elementary school, six years older than me. We were both water signs, but he didn’t seem keen on continuing our light text conversation after the date, so it clearly wasn’t written in the stars.
So far, the sheer amount of queer people, not only in digital space but in my day-to-day life living in a big city, feels comfortable, but as someone who’s rusty in the dating realm to begin with, it’s also overwhelming to navigate.
Toward the tail-end of the year, I embraced work and self care, got through the holidays, and went on a brief trip 500 miles east for my grandfather’s funeral the day after Christmas.
What happened next struck me as how people generally envision stumbling upon “the right person.” On December 28, after an eight-hour car ride from Lincoln to Loveland, and another hour down I-25 home, I barged into my studio exhausted. After sinking into my bed, I decided it had been a while since I had entertained those lingering apps on my phone, teasing the potential for a new endeavor.
I swiped until the app told me I was out of right swipes (which, by the way, I think is garbage, but this isn’t about my opinion on Tinder’s premium features). I matched with a guy, we’ll call him Seth, that evening and exchanged a few messages before I crashed for the night.
After work the next day, we chatted all afternoon. Seth was different than most and wanted to meet for dinner that night, not even a day after we matched. I’ve had one too many conversations online that remained annoyingly stagnant, and I would never end up with a face-to-face meeting to see if we were truly compatible. I told Seth I was in.
I’ve never had such instant chemistry during a first date. Seth seemed completely in sync with my personality. The waitress at the diner eventually told us to flag her down when we were ready, because every time she came back to the table, both of us were so focused on chatting, we barely even scanned the menu.
The date ended about six hours later following a night of adventures, and we turned around for a date the next evening. We texted constantly that week, telling each other how crazy it was and how wild that we’d known each other for so little time. I saw him a third time that first week before he went on a quick, weekend trip.
The night he got back, we watched a comedy special on Netflix at his apartment. Everything felt good. A couple days later, the catalyst: I got a morning text from Seth disclosing information that would have been a deal-breaker a week-and-a-half earlier with any other person.
Seth thought he might have an alcohol problem, and it’s something he had been dealing with for a while. I am sober and a recovering alcoholic.
While this was my first time dating as a queer man in a big city, it was also the first time I tackled dating as a sober person. Seeing the words “I feel like alcohol is controlling my life” hit a little too close to home. No wonder he reminded me of myself.
We confronted this with a disjointed, 15-minute phone conversation. I saw my past self talking to my parents and friends about my drinking as I talked to Seth. He shifted from scared and sad to laissez-faire and casual, suggesting he might take an alcohol break because he drinks a little too much wine before bed sometimes.
I was mad. After listening to him talk and keeping my thoughts largely to myself about the way he spoke, I capped out the conversation. I was somber but blunt about his dishonesty going on a date and entertaining a sober person to begin with while he hid his alcohol issues.
At this point, I knew as well as you do reading that this thing was over. We chatted the next day, even though in my body, the whole thing felt rotten. I thought about the number of times he’d brought up my sobriety or his use of alcohol unprompted the week before. The initial excitement of our bond was corrupted.
I told him to think about what he wanted to do on the date we already had planned for the next night, where I figured we could at least follow up face-to-face. Seth replied to me mid-afternoon the next day saying, “I’m not gonna lie, I’m still kinda turned off from the way you reacted to me the other day.”
“Kinda turned off” turned into “I can’t see myself romantically interested in you” a message later. He said our conversation had raised a red flag for him. I recalled a past conversation where I turned my mom’s no bullsh*t concern and frustration about my alcoholism into her lack of empathy for me and didn’t talk to her for a while.
As much as I latched onto our similarities and electric chemistry, it was clear that we were, indeed, both strangers just two weeks prior and still had a lot to learn about each other. I sarcastically posted “thank u, next” to my Instagram story after I sent him a final text in an interaction that concluded cordially, minus some honest and awkward blocks of text.
I angrily mulled over the thesis I could’ve written to him following our final interaction, the things I didn’t say, and how many warped, alcoholic behaviors I saw in his response, but instead, I deleted his contact information and blocked him on social media.
Getting used to dating and the queer culture in a new place is a hearty task. Even Seth said that our first date was his debut since he moved to Denver four months prior from a smaller city 900 miles away.
I love seeing queer people represented in my neighbors, my fellow shoppers at Queen Soopers, in the overwhelming abundance of unfamiliar faces staring back on me on any given app, or even this two-week fling that showed me how much I can compromise a new, crucial part of my life for someone I really like.
As Valentine’s Day nears, I’m usually one of the cynics scoffing and bringing up capitalism, but after meeting Seth, I’ll admit I was excited at the potential of casually celebrating a first, corny, greeting card holiday with a partner.
I am not actively using any of the apps essential to my dating tool belt. Right now, I’m eager to continue exploring everything Denver’s queer culture has to offer, knowing that ‘the right person’ is bound to show up, as so many insist they will.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all, from this queer boy who, even in a city alive with LGBTQ culture and opportunity, still has no idea how to navigate love.