Swiping right: The intricacies of online dating in Miami

Gerardo Barcenas was 16 years old the first time he met up with a match on Grindr. Grindr is a geosocial dating app, matching users based on location-based data. It is marketed to gay and bisexual men as well as transgender people. 

“He picked me up and we went to his apartment,” said Barcenas, recalling it being a long drive. “And he got really rough with me.”

Like all dating apps, it requires users to be at least 18 years old. Barcenas’ family was at the time unaccepting of his sexuality, leaving him with little to no guidance on engaging with a world he was unfamiliar with. He turned to the easy-access app. 

Most social media platforms do not have a way of strictly verifying the ages of users. With Grindr’s reputation for anonymity, plus its sheer popularity as the queer male dating app, it’s not uncommon to hear stories similar to Barcenas’.

For Barcenas, lacking positive queer role models and support from family, was what led him to be encompassed in the world of fast, easy and potentially dangerous hookups at the start of his search for love.

Professor Julia Carter is a PhD in Sociology who specializes in marriage and relationships, families and personal life, and gender and sexuality argues that “Love is more than just an emotion, that it encompasses a morality and an ethics that goes beyond the individual and re-embeds them into wider communities of shared moral practices.”

When those seekers of love and community use these online platforms, it can lead to a common disillusionment about love. Barcenas himself goes as far as saying that he believes that love itself is just a fantasy altogether.

Julia Carter is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of the West of England. She took an interest in dating when she was starting university in the early 2000s when a friend of hers got engaged to her boyfriend before school began. 

“I was kind of interested in that because that seemed very young to me and too soon to be making that sort of commitment”, said Carter.

That instance left her with a lasting interest in the topic of dating and marriage when studying for her degree. She learned that people are getting married less than before and is partly because many couples move in together before marriage and that expression of commitment can sometimes replace a formal marriage.

Her findings left her wondering: “Why do people still get married? Especially young women when it seemed like something that was restricting their lives in a lot of ways when in this day in age we have more freedom than ever.” This made her interested in the gendered dynamics of love and relationships which is reflected in her 2022 publication Intersections of Intimacies and Inequalities.

Twenty-one-year-old Melanie Sequeda has met her fair share of potential love interests through Instagram, but has realized that online, people can paint a specific picture of what they want others to know about them, even if they are lies.

“People have found my Cashapp and sent me $5 requesting that I answer their direct messages,” said Sequeda “It’s scary.”

Working in the hospitality industry, where there are constant cycles of new workers, Sequeda recalls hitting it off with one of her coworkers who messaged her on Instagram. They began interacting online frequently before finally spending time together in person.

Some red flags started to alarm her when in person, it seemed like he had no knowledge of any of the interests he told her they shared during their conversations on Instagram. She later realized everything she thought she knew about him was all a facade.

“He would post pictures in front of mansions and expensive cars and I then found out he was actually homeless and it was his friends’ homes and cars,” said Sequeda. She later found out that he reached out to one of her friends who were unaware of Sequeda and his relationship, to whom he also lied.

This individual was seemingly running his own small-scale version of the exxploits of the Tinder swindler, which is the given moniker of a man who was getting into relationships with women using the Tinder dating app and extorting thousands of dollars from them until he was finally arrested in 2019.

MTV’s Catfish, which follows individuals who have fallen in love with strangers online who are not who they claim to be, helps show that finding “the one” on the internet can prove to be an even bigger challenge than meeting people in person with the ease of crafting false narratives.

Though Sequeda finds more solace in meeting people in person, being in such a large dating pool like Miami’s presents its own slew of problems in finding anyone who wants to be monogamous. 

“There’s so many options that you never know who anyone else is talking to. It’s the fact that there’s so much opportunity in the city from new arrivals and tourists,” said Sequeda. 

“Guys have said to me ‘There’s so many flavors, it’s hard to stick with one.’ It’s so gross and I’ve had to try not to fall into the mindset that all guys are like that. Unfaithfulness is a problem.”

Studies that Dr. Carter has referenced show that although younger individuals have been more accepting of non-heteronormative relationships and sex before marriage, they are also increasingly unaccepting of non-monogamy. In many instances, it is the main thing that ends relationships.

“I think there’s a tension,” said Carter. “People are very against non-monogamy in monogamous relationships but alongside that, people are experiencing non-monogamy all the time and it’s always been the case.”

A frequent phenomenon that is made possible thanks to meetings through social media is the concept of “ghosting”, where individuals simply break contact with others without any warning or explanation. The rise of ghosting can be chalked up to the separation that is offered through online interaction where it’s easier for individuals to not view who they interact with as people but more as online entities.

The lack of physical third spaces, meaning places outside of the workplace and homes of people has contributed to the rise in seeking connections online, which has become a sort of digital third space of its own, especially in the post-COVID world.

“[Third spaces] are not lost, they have just been moved online,” said Carter. “Online worlds give many people a sense of that third space that they otherwise wouldn’t have got because they couldn’t get out of the house or didn’t have time or for whatever reason.”

Carter believes there is room for optimism with online dating. It has commonalities with in-person interactions. She points out going to a bar with a group of friends to meet people can be a similar experience to being with a group of friends hanging out at home and scrolling through potential matches on dating apps.

Hennessy Sepulveda is an FIU student who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree
in Digital Journalism. She obtained an associates in arts in Mass Communications/Journalism
from Miami Dade College. She has also worked as a contributing writer for PantherNow.