How To Escape The Hookup Culture And Form More Meaningful Relationships


The other day, one of my friends in the Singaporean LGBTIQ community lamented that he could not get to really know people. Paraphrasing him, he said that all people wanted to do was to get into “each others’ pants”. While this might be an exaggeration, it is not that far from the truth in Singapore where there is a heavy culture of prioritizing good looks, clubbing and sex. This left me wondering whether it is like that as well in Australia.

More so, it left me wondering about the people who are left out of the clubbing and sex scenes, and even those who are heavily engaged in it. My friend, who is in his own words, a “bit of a nerd” likes to read and have meaningful discussions, but found he couldn’t even find the people who would give him the time of day to have these kinds of conversations.

I started to notice some of my LGBTIQ clients in Brisbane echoing the same concerns as my friend. I discovered that a lot of them were looking for deeper and more meaningful relationships with people in the community. Some of them have joined or have set-up interest groups that are explicitly non-clubbing and hook-ups.

This is not surprising to me because it is only human to seek deep relationships. We even have a whole area of psychology research about it called Attachment Theory. What is surprising is the number of people who consult me because they feel that they’ve lost touch with how to connect with people deeply.

Some tell me that they run out of things to say after discussing the weather. Others tell me that they don’t feel comfortable with talking about more personal things, and yet also wanted to do it. They felt torn between the awkwardness of personal sharing and the longing for real connection.

So what is the solution to this problem?  First, go broad. What I mean is that the wish to have deep connections goes beyond the boundaries of a particular community. So look for people who are outside as well as within the LGBTIQ community.

Within the community, it helps to look for people who might be interested in connecting via interest and social groups. Grindr or Jack’d is probably not an ideal platform.

Once you have these potential people, send out feelers to see whom amongst those you are talking with want deeper connections. You can hazard opinions about your interests or politics or religion and so forth. If they glaze over, consider whether the setting is appropriate.

If you are both near passing out from running (in a runners’ group), then maybe that is not the right place to have a deep and meaningful conversation.

Thirdly, start with empathy. Beyond common topics of interest, what really builds deep connections is small and consistent demonstrations of empathy. This is harder to do than it sounds. Empathy is as much an inside job as what you say outwardly.

You have to put aside your ideas of the person, look at them as much as you are listening to their story, then get a sense of what they might be feeling. Only then can you express to them how you think they might be feeling. It takes practice, but it really pays off.

Small doses of empathy gives the message that you want to know the person more, and almost everyone thrives on it. This is a winning move.

Finally, if you are up to it, talk about the elephant. The one that’s in the room. Make what is going on between you and the other person a topic of conversation. So if there was some awkwardness between you, talk about it.

If you’re feeling anxious or uncertain about what to say, talk about it. This kind of openness takes the pressure off having to find a conversation topic and to be a certain way. You and the other person are the conversation topic. This last approach is very hard to do but again, it really brings people closer, if done in small doses.

The main message from me is this, finding someone with whom you can deeply connect is only the first step.  The real hard work is knowing what to do to deepen that connection. Deepening relationships is an art and it starts with wanting to really get to know a person— through empathy.

Dr Eric (Wee Chong) Tan is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Centre for Human Potential. Visit their website here. Dr Tan has co-authored three books. His work can be found online here.