The Sex Lives of Bruins: Dating Apps and Labels
(Maleeha Zaman/Daily Bruin)
By Phoebe Brous
Feb. 6, 2023 5:40 p.m.
In this episode of “The Sex Lives of Bruins,” a Daily Bruin podcast about sex and relationships at UCLA, Podcasts contributor Phoebe Brous talks with students about dating as a queer person at UCLA.
Phoebe Brous: Hey y’all and welcome to The Sex Life of Bruins. I’m Phoebe. I’m a News reporter and Podcasts contributor for the Daily Bruin. This series explores how sex and relationships in college impact our growth and our understanding of self. We talk to a whole host of Bruins on different issues. But most importantly, we’re trying to understand how we can better advocate for ourselves, especially as it relates to safe sex, consent and communication. Today, I’m with my friends Jayden and Windell, and we talk about dating apps, being queer at UCLA, and most importantly, knowing what you want before entering a relationship. Hope you enjoy!
J: I feel like sex and relationships, they’ve come to a point where it’s two distinct things. We’ve– it’s either just sex or it’s either a relationship. I think before when we were younger, I thought of like, okay, with the relationship comes sex. But now it’s–
W: I feel like the relationship comes after sex now.
J: Right? Yeah. I feel like they’re two different things now.
PB: Is that how you viewed it in high school as well? Or did it take coming to college to realize that?
W: Coming into college.
PB: Yeah, I don’t know. Why do you think that’s a thing? Is that a generational thing? Has it always been like that?
W: That’s definitely a generational thing. I feel like because our generation– we don’t really treasure premarital sex as much. I mean, like, postmarital sex, because not that it’s a big thing, who cares if you’re having you’re saving your sex, and then who cares if you’re not if you’re having sex, pre marital or post marital? It doesn’t matter. We don’t need to bash people.
PB: Right? Yeah. So I think that’s a good point. There’s a revolution in sex liberation, or whatever.
J: I also feel like we are more free willed. Like okay, let’s just make our own decisions, f*** it. We’re just going to do it because we want to and it makes us happy. It makes us feel pleasure. This is something that satisfies me, I’m just gonna do it. I don’t care about societal norms, but then that bleeds into the focus of, okay, that’s been made a societal norm, sex before relationship.
PB: Also, something that is interesting with the de-stigma part of sex is the increase of dating apps and the way that people meet each other nowadays to have sex; our parents didn’t have Tinder, or whatever.
W: I feel like that comes with the fact that the Internet became a thing. A lot of people want to bash dating apps. They want to be like, oh, why are you— you met your boyfriend on a dating app? There’s that stigma. But it’s like, okay, the internet came alive during our generation, what else am I supposed to do?
PB: What are your guys’ takes on dating apps?
J: I think it’s good. What’s so funny?
W: No, definitely. It definitely is.
J: I think it’s good to meet new people and to explore your options. I feel like dating apps allow you to find out what you like, what you dislike, in terms of what you want in a relationship, and what you like in terms of sex. But I feel like some people have grown over reliant on dating apps to find that validation, to find someone else, like a partner, dating apps– there’s also that stigma between which dating apps, you use that culture between which dating app you’re using. Obviously, if you’re using Grindr, there’s that stigma of, okay, you’re looking for sex, but if you’re using Hinge, you want more of a relationship.
W: That has its cons and its pros though.
J: Right? Exactly.
W: And I feel like with dating apps, there’s obviously the bigger con of sex traffickers, and meeting dangerous people who are on there to promote pedophilia, and that kind of stuff. So you definitely have to be safe and can’t just jump the gun, and just meet random people you want to meet.
PB: What dating apps have you been on? And, which ones do you enjoy the most? Which ones– what are your– I mean, you already talked about the distinction between Hinge and Grindr, which I think is really important. And a lot of people that aren’t in our generation don’t really understand. And it’s also something that totally impacts the people you’re looking for, what you want, the sex you have, etc, etc.
J: I’m on– I was on Tinder and Hinge until I deleted it, obviously. Or, not obviously, I deleted it just because I realized that it was not giving me what I needed. But, I’m on Grindr.
W: I’ve been on Grindr, Hinge, and Tinder. I’ve been on Bumble, considered Yubo, the yellow app where people live stream constantly, but that was just a way for little—
PB: Like teenagers? Yes, bro.
W: But that was just a way for them to up their follower count. They didn’t really care for dating. They just cared for social media image, so I guess it’s not considered a dating app.
PB: Well, what’s also interesting is like, I’ve never been fully catfished, but there is a distinction between how someone presents himself online and then offline, and then you meet up with them and you’re like, okay, this is not the person I was expecting. In the real world, you get that impression very quickly. And then what’s also interesting to me is that when you meet someone off of Hinge, you meet them under the pretense that both of you are attracted to each other, and you could potentially have sex. Whereas when you meet someone naturally, that’s never how it works. So it feels like this, is this even natural?
W: I feel like “natural” comes as a construct, then it’s like, what do you consider natural? I feel like if you’re gonna consider whatever is unnatural that has that negative connotation, like back when I said, there’s nothing wrong with dating apps, because people are like, “Why don’t you meet someone more natural?” It’s like, why do you want to make those two distinctions? Why does one have to be lesser than the other?
PB: And it’s also like, where do you meet people anymore?
W: Where do you meet people? Especially with COVID, too. For me, personally, I don’t really— yeah? Where do you meet people? You go in the grocery store? Are you hitting on someone? Then that becomes weird.
J: No, right.
W: I’m in a public space. I’m trying to do my own daily activities, and you’re hitting on me, you know. So people want to have that negative view on that. So I feel like the only place you really can meet people is clubs or parties, or social gatherings, you know? But that comes with COVID. It’s like, are you putting yourself out there or are you being careful?
PB: I also feel like COVID has made people more antisocial and less willing to branch out. I know it has for me. If I go to a party, I’m never gonna—
J: Approach someone.
PB: Right. That’s really, really hard for me.
J: I also think it’s different for Windell and I too, because we’re both gay. I think it’s hard to determine who’s straight and who’s gay. So it’s an added factor of—
W: In person especially.
J: In person especially, do we wanna— that’s why I think a lot of gay men or people part of the queer community—
W: Go on dating apps.
J: Go on the dating apps, because there’s that definitive, okay, I know that they’re interested.
J: And rather than when we’re at a party or something, we’re like, “Oh my God, that guy’s kind of cute,” or, “That guy’s kind of hot, should I approach them?”
W: You approach them, they’re straight, they get offended.
J: They get offended.
PB: And then they leave.
W: And then there’s that potential of getting hate crimed.
PB: For sure.
J: It’s that danger aspect of it all, too. So it’s, I feel like what Windell was saying in terms of making natural construct, we’ve come to the point where we think natural is in person, but the internet is growing in our time and age. And we’re—
W: So I feel like both is natural then.
J: Yeah, we’re using it to our advantage. But then I also agree with you, Phoebe, in terms of, we don’t know who this person is online, the presence of someone online is altered based on what they want to showcase.
PB: How they’re portraying themselves, yeah.
J: So I don’t know, there’s that, I’m on the fence on that.
PB: I really liked that you brought up the idea that in social settings, for a lot of queer people, it is really hard to just tell whether someone else is queer, whether they’re flirting with you, testing the waters—
W: Or just being nice.
PB: Or just being nice. I do really understand and empathize with the idea that being on Hinge or Tinder or Bumble, and, “Oh, I only want to see girls, I only want to see guys,” gives that security and matching with people that already view you as attractive under that pretense of, “Oh, we’re both gay.”
W: That’s why I feel like it’s so important that if you do meet someone online, you meet as soon as you can, obviously confirming that they aren’t a catfish, because then you’re just prolonging you guys talking online, then you’re making that version of them in your head and like you said, Phoebe, when you meet them, they’re totally someone different. Then, you just wasted your time.
J: Yeah, and then you’re passionate too.
PB: Yeah, but what also sucks is, I think you always – for me at least – I’ve just, I view dating and meeting people as just learning lessons every time.
PB: And so you just have to keep putting yourself out there.
PB: But it also means that it’s so trial and error. And every time you meet someone it’s usually not awesome.
J: Yeah, that’s all we can say!
PB: Most of my friends at UCLA are on dating apps or have been on dating apps. Do you all relate to that statement? Is it easy to find people at UCLA on dating apps?
J: It is easy to find people at UCLA on dating apps.
PB: Do you think there is a stigma around dating apps at UCLA?
J: No, I feel like if people are on it, they’re on it. I think it’s the norm now.
PB: Yeah. The only shitty thing is just seeing someone—
W: You’re just like– you go to the discussion, “Hey, I saw you on Hinge.”
PB: Okay, let’s pivot. You guys talked about how you were gay and how being gay means that dating apps— Stop. About some of the benefits of dating apps as it relates to your identity. I kind of want to explore this specific culture that you experience as gay men at UCLA maybe versus a straight person’s experience. As it relates to both sex and dating. Oh, do you know where to start?
W: Absolutely. We can start with the fact that we have two parts of identity: being gay and Asian. So let’s combine those two terms, being the Gaysian community. I feel like the Gaysian community, especially in California, is very small. A lot of Gaysians are on these dating apps, Hinge, Tinder, and Grindr. Everyone knows each other. Everyone follows each other on Instagram. Everyone follows each other on TikTok. You know, everyone has failed talking stages with each other.
J: Everyone’s hooked up with each other.
W: And it’s like, when you meet someone, a new Gaysian. And I look at their Instagram. And they’re followed by, I don’t know, 10 other Gaysians I know. So I think the Gaysian hookup and relationship pool is very small, and even smaller at UCLA. Everyone knows each other. Everyone knows what they’ve done with each other, what they haven’t done with each other.
PB: Yeah, I think one of the most interesting features that you described is the tight knit portion, or how there’s so few people in the community that ] everyone knows everything. How do you think that’s impacted your pursuit of sex and relationships? Has it made you—
W: I feel like it discouraged me. It’s like, oh, my gosh, am I just going to be another one of you guys? Am I going to be another version of this, you know?
J: I personally feel like that UCLA community, and then there’s a smaller, tight knit, gay community at UCLA. But within the gay communities, there’s so many different portions. There is that Gaysian area, but then there’s also that, people who there’s just different groups of gay people are gravitated towards each other. So I felt like they kind of just partake in their own little world of sex and relationships within those little circles.
PB: For me, it’s low key hard to find queer people outside of dating apps. And I know you guys already talked about that.
J: I feel like there’s so many. I feel like UCLA is the perfect place to be part of the queer community because there are so many of us, one, and everyone here is relatively accepting of who we are, and how we want to express ourselves. And I feel like no one’s really here to judge. But—
W: I’m really thankful for that.
J: I’m also very, very thankful. But, like I said, we’re really scattered around every part of campus. The only way to meet another gay person or someone part of the queer community is through a dating app—
PB: I know.
J: Or through a club that’s dedicated for queer identity.
PB: Yeah, let’s shift to hookup culture. You can be as broad or personal as you want to, in terms of your personal stance for it or your friends. But I’m curious, how have your views on hookup culture changed since you’ve been in college for over a year?
J: I personally feel like hookup culture’s kind of fun. Lowkey, I felt like–
W: No it definitely is.
J: I feel like it’s fun to explore if you’re safe. It’s fun to explore what you like. I also am in that stage of wanting to explore other people and meeting new people. So I feel like a hookup culture is fun for that. But also, there’s that added, “Okay, well maybe I should be in a relationship. Maybe this is fun, but, you know, numbers’ getting high, maybe I should slow down.”
PB: Virginity’s a construct.
J: Virginity is a construct. But also like second virginity— just kidding. I, personally feel like everyone has come to the point where hookup culture is normal in college, and I feel like we also have that thing of, we have to go through a hookup stage before we go through a relationship. I feel like we’ve talked about that, Windell.
W: I feel like that’s so important. I feel like that’s very prominent in the gay community, though.
PB: The hookup before—
W: Relationship. On the fact that you don’t really get any romantic opportunities in high school or before. So then when you get that freedom of being 18, a lot of gay members or queer members, they jump into apps such as Grindr, and they explore their sexual identity, and doing all that. And then they realize, okay, maybe I do want to get into a relationship. And then that goes back to the fact that Phoebe said, with hookup culture comes that risk of individual— not feeling anything for sex anymore.
J: It’s probably like a hill. I’m starting to reach that plateau of, this is enough. I’ve explored enough.
PB: Yeah, well, I feel like that’s so emblematic of maybe not the college experience, but sexually active individuals in college go through periods of exploring, explore, explore, then pull back, delete the dating app—
W: But that’s so important, that’s so important.
PB: Yeah, it is.
W: How are you not going to know what you like? What you don’t like? You know? Because then what? You’re going to get married, you’re gonna have, you’re 60 years old, and you realize, “Oh, I’m not attracted to the person I’m married to, actually, because I didn’t explore myself in college, or to explore myself in my 20s.” Doesn’t have to necessarily be in college. Right. But, you know.
PB: Yeah, something I also wanted to talk about is, Jayden, you were talking about this, how can we engage in hookup culture safely, and in a way that honors and respects our own selves?
J: I feel like if we want to engage in safe sex, obviously, it’s like that, it’s safe sex. Getting tested, wearing a condom, if you want, if you need—
W: Yeah, you should.
J: You should wear a condom, but if you’re trying to get pregnant, obviously not! But, also I feel like with hookups, you should talk to the person before.
W: Consent is so important.
J: Consent, obviously—
W: Communication, during, before, after sex is so important.
J: Fries? Fries? That acronym. I forgot what it’s called.
PB: Maybe we can move on to dating because I think we covered sex a lot. We talked about sex a lot!
W: Sex, sex, sex.
PB: So, I want to open up the dating convo with something that my therapist told me this morning.
J: This morning.
PB: Yeah, this morning, 8:30am. She was talking about how people our age treat communication as cringe, or setting boundaries, communicating feelings for one another, all of that as something that shouldn’t happen, because you’re playing your hand. And, it relates to the expectation that it’s sex before dating, and the idea that being in a monogamous exclusive relationship in itself is cringe or not cool. Do you guys relate to that? What are your thoughts on that?
J: When you’re saying that question I was, the thing that came into my head is the fact that people want to play this “hard to get” game of not communicating. They want to be like, “Okay, I’m not going to show I’m not that interested yet. Let’s prolong this thing. You know, I’ll go talk to other people. Let’s see if they really can prove my worth.” But for me, it’s like, why? You know, what are you going to get out of that? Yeah, why don’t you just be straight up, “Oh, I have feelings for you.” You know, if you want to show affection just straight up show it. It’s not cringe anymore. Only because of the fact that if I don’t show it, then I’m just wasting my time. If I’m not gonna tell you that I like you right away. I’m wasting my time continuing to talk to you.
PB: Yeah, something that’s so common, and I don’t know if you all relate to this, is this girl gets let on for months, guy takes her out on dates, treats her like they’re dating, has sex with her blah, blah, blah. And then it’s just, I– we’re friends.
W: Or “I wasn’t ready for a relationship.” And that’s a big problem with situationships. It’s like, how are you gonna say all this stuff, do all this stuff with me? And then out of the blue, you’re like, “Oh, I’m not ready for a relationship.” That’s why I think it’s so important that people need to realize what they want, before they put themselves out there. Whether that be on dating apps, actively looking for romantic relations in-person, finding out, “Okay, am I mentally ready to support someone else?” Because you need to be mentally ready to support yourself first. And so when people are in those situationships, they think they’re ready, because “Oh my gosh, this person loves me. I think I can love them back.” And then as time goes on, you’re just like, “Oh, I’m not ready.” You just wasted my time. But then, like you said, I feel like it could be a learning lesson. But at the same time, especially when you like someone, it’s always hard to call it a learning lesson. Yeah.
PB: It hurts.
W: It is not easy. How do you define situationships?
PB: Actually, that’s a great question. And then I want to hear how you guys define it. I define situationship as, two people are talking, they’ve hung out in a way that is more than friends, but there’s no label to it.
J: So what’s the difference between the talking stage and the situationship?
W: I feel like with situationships then it comes with an uneasy feeling with the fact like, “Okay, this is going for a long time. How come I haven’t made this exclusive yet? You’re giving, there are some mixed signals.” There’s that up and down. I feel like the talking stage, it’s progressively up. Right.
PB: Woah. That’s facts, that’s fact, so talking stage and then situationship when no progress has been made.
J: Yeah. Well, I think the situation is like, you don’t want to put a label on it. There’s a reason why you’re labeling it as a situationship is because you don’t want to label it as a relationship. And you’re there for that added sense of warmth and added sense of like, “Okay, someone wants me.” Like—
W: But I’m still seeing other people.
J: Right. I’m not tied down to you. Whereas the talking stage is like, “Okay, I’m talking to you exclusively. And so I expect this to lead somewhere else.”
J: Yeah, but if there’s something that comes up all of a sudden, we were never in a situationship, we were never in a relationship.
W: It just ended, right. But with a situationship, you know it’s not going to get anywhere.
PB: So something that marks a situationship is the assumption that A, it’s not exclusive, and B, there’s no progression, such as the talking stage. So under that definition, are situationships, is there any way situationships can be beneficial or good? Because they just sound really negative to me.
J: In that sense, it does sound negative.
PB: Situationships are the worst things alive.
W: Three month relationships have destroyed my mental health. Absolutely.
PB: They’re always three months too. Always three months.
J: Through talking stages you can learn but with situationships, I don’t know if I’ve ever been, but can you learn?
W: I feel like you can learn with situationships. Like I said, that roller coaster up and, “Oh, maybe I do want the relationship.” But then immediately, it goes back down and then goes back up.
PB: Well, something I feel like marks a situationship is the lack of communication that sets the terms because it’s—
PB: And also is there a medium space where you’re not fully dating, but you’re more than friends and past the talking stage? And, what is that space?
W: No, there definitely should not be that space. Because if you’re past the talking stage, let’s make this exclusive. Let’s make this official. Because then what is this? Why is there that? I personally feel like that’s, again, wasting my time. And you’re just leaving more room for confusion, and more possibility of hurt.
PB: Yeah. So, I think we’ve established that communication is really important. What does that look like practically? And how do we encourage ourselves and others to A, identify what they want and B, communicate that to someone else and be unapologetic about it?
W: I feel like with dating apps, it’s important as soon as you’re talking you ask each other, “Oh, what are you looking for on here?” Because there is that ambiguity. With some apps, especially Tinder, I feel like it comes with people who are looking for hookups or people who are looking for relationships. But whether you’re on Hinge, Tinder, or Grindr, it’s important that you see each other, “What are you looking for?” Only because you set that boundary, you set that common ground of where everyone is, and you leave no confusion, no possibility of hurt on either party. So right away, you need to ask—
J: But isn’t there that stigma of asking too?
PB: For sure.
W: Yeah. There shouldn’t be because then, if you don’t ask, it turns into a situationship and then it just turns into wasting my time. People just need to work on their communication skills.
PB: I know. And well, communication is treated as, like we said, it’s treated as cringe. But it’s a form of vulnerability that comes from personal security. And so, for me, the biggest thing has been continuing to become more secure in myself means I can be vulnerable. And if they aren’t cool with me just being like, “Here’s what I want,” if that’s incompatible, then I’m totally cool with being alone. We don’t need each other. We’re not, it’s not going to work out. So you might as well just communicate that earlier. But, that’s so much easier said than done.
J: It’s so much easier said.
W: It’s because some people, they don’t want to do that because they’re, “Oh, I’m attracted to you, you’re hot. I just want to have sex with you. Let me not communicate any of that. Let me just keep you in my belt,” you know.
PB: It’s selfish.
W: It’s selfish.
J: But I also feel like some people don’t want to ask, because I feel like it’s kind of weird.
W: Why is it weird? I’m asking you.
J: I just think it’s awkward to ask, “Hey, what do you want?” And then they respond with something that you don’t want.
PB: Well, isn’t it important to know?
W: Then you don’t know, then you move on.
J: Right, but what if it’s a really hot person?
W: That’s what I just— did I just not say that? It’s selfish. It’s so selfish.
PB: It’s selfish, because it means that you’re taking advantage of them. Without, it’s like abusing their feelings because there’s always a mismatch. Someone’s always gonna want something more.
W: You forgot feelings exist?
J: I did! Sorry, I don’t have any.
PB: Yeah. Next is friends with benefits. What are your guys’s thoughts?
J: I have never had a friends with benefits.
W: Yeah, you’re a liar.
PB: General takes.
J: I feel like friends with benefits lead to relationships.
PB: They lead to heartbreak. That’s why—
W: Really? Friends with benefits are for the strongest warriors. That’s all I’m going to say. You can’t be a weakling getting yourself into a friends with benefits.
J: Right. You’re absolutely right.
PB: I haven’t surmised one friends with benefits that has worked well. Surmised is the wrong word, but I haven’t encountered one friends with benefits that’s worthwhile.
W: I feel like it’s important for friends with benefits that you only find them physically attractive. That’s it, and that you wouldn’t want to be seen out dating with them.
J: Okay, so what’s the difference?
W: Oh, I guess that’d be a sneaky link. Are sneaky links and friends with benefits interchangeable?
PB: Why not?
J: Sneaky links means you’re kind of hiding them. Sneaky links are like, we’re only gonna have sex but friends of benefits is like, I perceive friends with benefits as it’s a little more, we’re friends but we’re also like, “Oh my god, we’re having a little fun on the side.”
PB: But that’s never how it works out.
W: Does everyone know?
PB: I think people know.
J: People are meant to know
PB: Well, actually sneaky links can also be randos that you met online. Whereas friends with benefits is, we’re friends but we have sex.
W: And everyone knows you have sex?
PB: Yeah, probably.
J: But also friends with benefits, it’s also people you’ve never known before. Friends with benefits are people who you meet somewhere, either online or at a party and you hook up and you’re like, Okay, maybe we can just keep continuing hooking up. Right. But also, what I’ve realized is friends with benefits don’t really talk outside of that benefit. It’s not really friends.
W: And it’s like superficial conversations. You don’t get to know each other.
J: Right. Unless it’s about Les Mis.
PB: Well, it’s fully for the purpose of sex. That’s a great point. Like friends with benefits is just a term. It’s not like you’re actually friends. You just have sex.
J: It’s not— Yeah, exactly. I agree. There’s a distinction between situationship, friends with benefits, sneaky link and relationship. So they’re not interchangeable at all. And I feel like some people do use it interchangeably, and it’s not.
W: The only thing that can be used interchangeably would be sneaky links and hookups.
PB: I think through this whole episode, we’ve distinguished so many terms, like friends with benefits, sneaky links.
PB: Situationships, talking stage.
J: Talking stage, right.
PB: Yeah. No, I think we’ve covered a lot.
PB: The gaysian community.
W: They better not listen to this. Right.
PB: Right. They probably won’t.
J: You never know.
PB: Because like 13 people listen to this.
W: Oh, my gosh, hi. Hi mom! I don’t have sex. No, no, no.
PB: Mom, if you’re listening to this, I’m sorry.
W: Mom, if you hear this, you didn’t.
PB: So then maybe as a concluding question, out of everything we’ve talked about, why is it important developmentally to try and experiment with these things in college? For the long run.
J: It benefits you as a person, you know, I think I mean, I went through this and I’ve, I feel like without going through the talking stage, and then without going to the hook up stage of, “Okay, this is what I want sexually.” And I feel like that’s also really important. And I feel like, obviously, you’re not gonna get into a relationship for the sex, maybe you are. But, I feel like these are all learning curves that you need for yourself, but also for your partner. This is what you need to explore in college. This is why you need to learn what you like, be open to awkward things and awkward situations, because with this comes learning and with this comes a better idea of what you want.
PB: Yeah, and a stronger sense of self.
W: Yeah, that’s why. It extends into that. It doesn’t have to extend into a partner and romantic relations. I feel like for me, where I’ve encountered quite a few failed talking stages and situationships that like the learning lessons are not just applied to romantic relations, they apply to me and how I connect with regular people. Like, oh, okay, I learned to communicate better. I learned to just be straight up about what I want, not waste people’s time, consider other people’s feelings, and I feel like that’s very important.
PB: Yeah. I fully agree. I think I’ve developed a stronger sense of self. I feel like I’m, I just feel— I like what you’re saying about how it’s impacted your relationship with non-romantic people, just everyone. Just learning those people skills that are invaluable. And if you hold yourself back out of fear of embarrassment or getting hurt, it’s like, no, you need to be vulnerable, this needs to happen, and this is the best time to do it.
PB: The Sex Lives of Bruins is brought to you by The Daily Bruin, UCLA student newspaper. You can listen to the show and others by The Daily Bruin on Spotify, Apple podcasts and SoundCloud and the transcript for this show is available at dailybruin.com. Thanks, everyone. See you next time.