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Can't Find Gay Love in Your City? Look Overseas on Instagram

Josh Sabarra

Writer Josh Sabarra discovered how technology opened up a world of dating possibilities beyond his local scene.

"It's so hard to date in Los Angeles."

Now, substitute the name of any other city, and you'll hear the tired lament of just about everyone who's out there looking for love.

Dating is hard. Period. And, in the age of social media, geography certainly isn't as much of a problem. People around the world connect superficially based on shared interests, mutual friends, hobbies, physical attraction, sexual proclivities, you name it. They find common ground regardless of the states, countries or continents separating them, and, in a modern twist on the social networking model, they sometimes find romance. Platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are now giving traditional dating apps a run for their money, evolving into the online matchmaking services of our time.

Take my friend Justin, for example. One simple hashtag brought him and his husband together. A longtime fan of all things Mickey Mouse, Justin first noticed Skylar when he received a flurry of "deep likes" -- a contemporary term for sudden positive responses to much older social media posts -- on pictures Justin had shared from his past trips to Disneyland in California. Skylar's similar affinity for the storybook rodent manifested itself through his own pictures of various Disney theme parks, particularly those of Disneyland Paris. It turned out, Skylar was a Frenchman who'd found Justin's online profile because of their mutual use of that fateful, easily-searched hashtag -- #disneylife.

Flirty comments on each other's pictures followed, as did direct messages (or "DMs," as the kids call them) -- which eventually led to daily FaceTime chats. After three months, they'd declared their love for each other.

"How can you possibly be in love with someone you've never met in person?" I asked, concerned for my friend but trying to stay open-minded.

"Well, we have the same interests, complementary senses of humor and find each other physically attractive," Justin answered. "We have more of a connection than I ever felt with the men I met on Chappy and Grindr." As he elaborated, I softened to his reasoning.

Social media, it seemed, provided the perfect meet-cute, and technology gave the relationship its legs. It was hard to argue with the fact that constant video calls, countless phone conversations, and non-stop texting counted for something. And, that something wound up being Justin's move to France. The two married right away -- thankfully for their wedding guests (ahem), not at Sleeping Beauty's castle. Three years later, Justin and Skylar remain happily wed.

So, still single myself, I began to think: what's a distance of 30 million feet when your future husband might be at the end of the trek? Sure, I was accustomed to the more reasonable distances that my GPS-based dating apps offered up -- three miles away, 250 yards away, 10 feet away -- but Justin and Skylar's successful "social media + technology" equation seemed to turn every gay man across the globe into a viable suitor; not just those within driving distance. Especially for someone whose career could survive a possible long-distance move.

It surprised me that, after my initial skepticism about Justin and Skylar's social media match-up, I was so willing to migrate from OK Cupid and Tinder to...Instagram? But, yes, their "happily ever after" turned me into a hashtag hopeful. Yes, people's lives on these networking programs are highly curated and often indicate, shall we say, a more "heightened reality" than their true existences, but they do give a slightly more truthful glimpse into someone's day-to-day than an edited dating profile designed to sell one's personality through what's essentially a paid advertisement.

The words "#books," "#movies" and "#theater" first brought me about 25 new followers and a few pleasant exchanges, but the bait didn't hook Mr. Right on the first boat out to sea. In fact, it took two months until Eric, a handsome 40-something pop culture enthusiast in England, began messaging me about his favorite new theater productions in the West End. Naturally, I scrolled through his previous posts, all including photos of himself in front of various marquees or playing with his niece and nephew in the English countryside. Eric, from what I could gather, had a great job, a close relationship with his family and a well-rounded life full of friends, co-workers, and cultural activities. He, however, found love to be elusive, as well.

Very recently, my online chats with Eric have become more personal and frequent. Neither of us has outwardly discussed our willingness to pursue a long-distance romance, but we have scheduled our first FaceTime call for tonight, on Valentine's Day. The significance of the holiday is not lost on either of us, though, as we've decided to mark this as our first date.

Will Eric and I follow in the footsteps of Justin and Skylar? Only time will tell. But if my happily married friend taught me anything at all, it's that, when it comes to searching for love, it is now, indeed, a small world after all.

JOSH SABARRA is the bestselling author of Porn Again: A Memoir and the novel Enemies Closer. Find them on Amazon and in bookstores.

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Josh Sabarra