For Mark*, having a boyfriend who’s 31 years older than him is the least of his troubles. Surprisingly, the most difficult part has not been getting along despite the huge generation gap, but finding him in the first place.

In the already-hard-to-infiltrate world of hookup apps like Tinder and Grindr, meeting people who want romantic relationships is more daunting, and less common, than it’s ever been before. Most people are interested in a quick hook up, the whole wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am ordeal, where you can just pick up your pants at the end of the night and go home feeling like a job well done, well-rested, and, well, well-fucked.

But for Mark, things get even more complicated: Mark is an 18-year-old self-identified cub, and he only likes bears over the age of 27.

If you’re not familiar with gay terms, a cub is a baby bear, which is to say, a cub is a small version of a hairy, large, more masculine gay man—a “bear.” And although it’s already hard to find a relationship for someone with less specific tastes, the Bear community is something else entirely: very exclusive—Mark calls it “very cliquey,” as you have to not only like bears, but look the part as well—and to a newcomer, very intimidating.

Many people are familiar with Grindr, but the app featured in this love story is one that’s called GROWLr, which—you guessed it!—caters to bears, cubs, otters (a skinny version of a bear) and bear-chasers (men who love bears, but aren’t bears themselves). Instead of swiping right, they indicate attraction by saying “Grr” or “Woof woof,” because, for bears, nothing shows you want to do it like they do on the Discovery Channel as much as animal noises do.

Mark, a romantic, wasn’t looking for any of that, even though he always had plenty of Woof’s and Grr’s while on GROWLr. No, he was looking for a genuine human connection, which was important to him—far more important than “[their] dicks making a connection.”

“There are a lot of people who’ll just look at your picture and send you a message and go like, … ‘I’m home naked and here’s my address, call me up sometime,’ when all I really wanted was some guy to go like, ‘Let’s play Dungeons & Dragons together,’” says Mark. “Those were few and far between.”

It took a while. It was frustrating, especially because it felt like fewer and fewer people wanted what he wanted. The experience became alienating and almost lonely—which is ironic, considering the nature of these apps as being a way to meet people and feel less alone. But when he met Mr. Right, he knew he’d found him: Robby* was a bear that was fresh from a relationship, but he was nice, funny and probably played Dungeons & Dragons.

Except he lost him just as quickly as he found him when Robby deactivated, a week after they had started talking, having arranged a meeting for the following week—one that, of course, never ended up happening. As all good things do, it came to an end pretty quickly. Mark shrugged, saying, “There are tons of other guys, so whatever.”

It was three months before they finally talked again. To Mark’s surprise, they both remembered one another, despite only chatting a few times so long ago.

As it turned out, Robby had gotten back with his ex-boyfriend when he deactivated his app, but they’d broken up once more. That meant he was now officially available on the Bear Market, and the two of them started afresh “like old friends you hadn’t seen in awhile,” Mark recalls.

They decided on coffee, but ended up having a two-night date at Robby’s home, eating pizza and watching Avatar. The only thing was that Robby, who runs a dog shelter, is 49 years old, while Mark is an 18-year-old student in his first romantic relationship. As you could expect, the huge age difference is very palpable and very real, especially after they passed their “honeymoon phase.”

“Our interests and places in life and everything are very different,” Mark says. “Not that I'm faulting him, though; he's amazing.”

“I'm committed to making it work and so is he,” he continues. They work their way through all the struggles that comes with the territory of being with someone from another generation. Besides, Mark is okay with sometimes missing his references, because Robby always explains them, and he’s learning all about ’80s movies now.

When it all comes down to it anyway, age isn’t a huge factor at all. Especially not when, according to Mark, Robby is “one of those people that you just want to hug because they’re just so nice. When they walk into a room, you just get hit with 10 grams of sugar because they’re so sweet, and then you have to look around for your insulin shot.”

Since then, their love story has been one of romance: the exact kind Mark has been looking for. Over the summer, they’re planning a camping trip to Grundy Lake, their first vacation together.

“We’re in a good place right now. We’re not exactly zoom-zooming, we’re like the little family going speed limit. They’re happy where they are, but they have to go slow because there are kids in the car but they’re still moving forward, right?” Mark laughs.

But anyway, zoom-zooming or not, Mark isn’t too worried. They’ve only been dating for a few months, but marriage is an idea between the two of them already. Even though Mark is only 18, he says that it’s something he’s been anticipating all his life anyway. “I contribute that to me just already knowing what I wanted at a really young age. This is already set up in my head because if I did marry young, I wouldn’t feel like I would be missing out on anything,” he says breezily.

So it seems like they also have that in common, generation gap or not—the two of them really do love one another.

Moral of the story: you can find love through apps, if you wait long enough. For someone like Mark, who was looking for something nearly impossible in a community that seemed like a lost cause, he’d found it anyway, and he’s never been happier.


* names were changed upon request.

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