January 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm EST | by Michael Radkowsky
Advice: The trouble with apps
iPhone, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dear Michael,

Thank you for recently addressing hookup apps. While your column focused on single people, I want to know if partnered people can healthily use them.

Ben and I have been dating for several years. At first, we were completely monogamous, but Ben began to resent me for keeping him from having sex with others and we broke up.

I came back into the relationship with an “open” mind, but it seems like Ben has more encounters than I do and prefers to use these apps over having sex with me. He is always on his phone when we’re together and it’s making me feel lousy. I feel like others are getting what I don’t have and what I desperately want: good sex and attention from Ben.

I’ve expressed my feelings with him on this before, but I feel like his desires outweigh his concern for my feelings of jealousy, pain and abandonment. Am I overreacting or is he crossing boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed?


Michael responds:

For partnered people to healthily have an open relationship/use hookup apps, I would say that all of the following must be in place:

Both partners agree to the open relationship. People often hook up behind their partner’s back. That’s not an open relationship, that’s cheating. Dishonesty does not make for a healthy relationship, which requires mutual respect and deserved trust.

The hookups are not damaging the relationship. You can make a great case for why your partner should not be bothered by your sexcapades, such as “It’s just sex,” “I don’t love/care about the other guys,” “You have no reason to feel threatened” and “everyone I know is on this app.” But there’s no getting around the fact that your partner may still be jealous or hurt. If your partner is bothered by your hookups, they are damaging your relationship.

The hookups are not negatively impacting the partners’ sex life with each other.  Because newness is exciting, a cute guy on an app will probably register as more alluring than your partner of four years. So if you’re sexually bored with your partner, hooking up with app guy may seem like a great, easy way to add excitement and passion to your life.  But going this route makes it unlikely that you will put in an earnest effort to improve sex with your long-term partner. And that’s a big negative impact.

You are able to use the app without getting addicted to it. Good luck avoiding this. As I wrote in my previous column, addiction to hookup apps, once you start using them, is extremely likely, because these apps are inherently addictive.

Handing your question back to you: Do you think that in your relationship, hookup apps are being used in a healthy way?

It is worth your getting clear about why you decided to come back to Ben after breaking up. I do not get any sense that you actually had made your peace with Ben’s desire for a more open relationship, because this issue continues to cause you great distress. Nor, obviously, did the two of you come to any resolution over how to handle this important difference, because it is still a deep fault line down the middle of your relationship.

When you sidestep huge issues, such as how you will structure your relationship, you are just kicking them down the road. Now the day of reckoning is here and you have an important opportunity to figure out your standards around how you do and do not want to live. Is your bottom line a relationship with more together time and less app/hookup time? Letting Ben know what you are willing to live with and what you are not willing to live with will be far more powerful than protesting that your feelings are being hurt or trying to guilt him into changing his behavior, while living with resentment.

But remember that no matter what you would like, Ben may choose to spend as much time on his apps, and hooking up, as he wishes. So you may not get the relationship that you want with Ben.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information in the questions has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

1 Comment
  • As I read the letter, the issue is not with the apps, but with Ben's lack of respect for his partner. I've seen similar situations, with or without today's technology, in which one partner tries to make changes and the other responds by gaslighting. It never ends well.

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