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What do we owe our online dating matches? Leave a comment


This year I experienced getting ghosted for the first time. As my two double texts sat unanswered, I felt a wash of embarrassment, and anger, to later only cringe at the depth of my reaction.

My emotion stemmed from feeling jilted. I felt like I deserved a respectful interaction, not waiting for three dots to appear that never will. I couldn’t help but wonder if the roles were reversed, would I leave someone permanently on read?

I looked back at my own dating app behaviour. The excuses I’ve made to cancel dates, the unmatching of people I’ve just matched with, and purposely slowing the conversation down in the hope it fizzles out. I like to think these online behaviours on a couple of apps aren’t representative of me as a human, nor of the man who ghosted me, but are instead symptomatic of current dating culture and our lack of clarity over what we owe our online matches. In an era where we’re finally recognising the more nebulous dating stages, like situationships and talking stages, we don’t seem to have come to a mutual understanding of how we end our online interactions when we decide they’re no longer for us. So, what exactly do we owe each other? 

The explosion of dating apps has forever changed how we meet and interact with potential romantic interests. “Swiping right” is an established part of our lexicon. Recent research shows that 53 percent of U.S. adults under the age of 30 have used a dating app, and 51 percent of those surveyed identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

After Tinder allowed users to download details into their behavioural data on the app, some took to Reddit to post their results. One user revealed that they’d swiped 126,000 times and the fruits of their labour resulted in  4 dates. Another shared that 30,000 swipes resulted in 5 dates and another person swiped 45,000 times and got 0 dates. This data is isolated, for we don’t know the nature of their interactions on the app or in real life. 

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It’s hard to imagine swiping over 100,000 times, with so few results, and not feeling deflated. 

Angelika Koch, relationship expert at LGBTQ+ dating app Taimi believes a lot of the bad behaviour can be blamed on the lack of consequences. She explained that some people find it easier to say things online that they wouldn’t say in real life, emboldened by an ability to dehumanise those they only know via photographs. In a real-life setting, there’s usually accountability. If a person is being harassed, there is a chance that anyone overhearing could get involved, adding a risk of consequences to their actions, although often strangers do not intervene in situations that do not involve them.

It’s hard to imagine swiping over 100,000 times, with so few results, and not feeling deflated. 

An active dating app user, Emma, corroborated this — she recalls experiencing overly sexual opening lines she knew would never be said to her face. However, she found the distance provided by apps allows quick identification of those with red flag behaviour early on, without any in-person awkwardness or danger.

Jessica Alderson, co-founder of dating app So Syncd believes that ghosting is not malicious 99 percent of the time and topic is a nuanced and complex area. Koch further explained that ghosting can stem from emotional unavailability, a lack of interest, or as an easy escape route, and highlighted the normalisation of this behaviour. 

I spoke to many dating app users to learn about their experiences. One singleton, Rebecca, feels she could be self-sabotaging by only responding if matches express interest by asking a question because she is looking for a long-term partner who shows a mutual level of interest and effort. While the apps have proven difficult and nerve-wracking for Rebecca, she says they can provide a testing ground for whether this potential partner can fulfil some of her needs in a relationship.

Others expressed joy at meeting long-term partners via dating apps and accepting that this is the easiest way to meet people in the digital era we now live in. However, most people I spoke to came with a caveat – before “success” came a sea of ghosting, unproductive dates, and repeated small talk, leaving them with a lack of motivation to continue.

A non-binary trans person told me their girlfriend (a trans woman) had her Tinder profile banned, which she believed was due to mass reporting from other users — most likely due to transphobia. They also found it easier to meet people via specific queer dating apps and connected with a partner via a specialist app, whom they had previously spoken to on Tinder, before seeing their account mass reported, likely due to their trans identity.

Only one man, queer-identifying, came forward to share his experiences for this piece and later did not respond to further comment. Only women and non-binary individuals offered their experiences and were thorough in their thoughts.

A common vein ran through every conversation – we desire matches to show consistent intention and interest. If not, disappointment and disillusionment follow, and the process begins again with a further guard up.

Koch emphasised and values the need to take steps towards protecting your mental health when experiencing undesirable behaviour on the apps and recognising it’s not a reflection upon yourself. Dating requires opening yourself up and letting others in, in any form. When online dating, it’s almost amplified by the sheer number of people you end up facing. 

All of us need to be conscious of our own self-worth and remember that only we control the power of how we feel, and that the actions of another will not allow us to question our value as a person. We’re all much more than what someone can put into a few lines in a chat box in an app, we’re worth far more. 

Whilst it can be easy to let these other people’s bad behaviour linger in our minds, we must remember another’s behaviour is not an indictment of who we are.

Dating apps might reflect an ongoing societal trend of poor behaviour. Crowds at concerts and festivals seem to have had a recognisable shift in behaviour. There’s a higher recognition of crowds incessantly chatting over the artists that ticket holders have paid to listen to, and some experts claiming unacceptable behaviour is becoming normalised.

Social interaction has been changed by the pandemic. Research shows that relationships increasingly rely on the digital world and the effect a lack of physical contact, touch and intimacy can have. As a society, and on an individual level, we are likely not equipped to deal with the damage we’ve taken.

But does that mean we blame ourselves for the learned behaviours within these spaces? Are we expecting too much of ourselves and each other when we attempt to navigate this dating arena? Is this just the way it is in an increasingly digital society?

We can each change this culture by holding ourselves to account.

Dating right now is messy. Hinge even gatekeeps your ‘standouts’, those ‘most your type’ (people probably getting a lot of likes) behind a paywall. 

I find myself lost in this alternate reality of viable singles, awaiting judgement of their most attractive version of self. For myself and others, success is now seen as a bonus and an unlikely goal — possibly this is why we aren’t clicking with the right people. However, it’s clear we owe each other at least the level of treatment we wish to receive ourselves. 

Rather than allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the murky pool of dating app behaviours, we can each change this culture by holding ourselves to account — refuse to ghost, send a message explaining your lack of interest and continually remind ourselves that you’re talking to a real person, who is being vulnerable simply by exposing who they are on a platform so publicly accessible. We can change the norms by holding others to account as well, if we feel safe and able to, by reporting people who send abusive or inappropriate messages.

Alderson believes that the level of connection counts in working out the explanation owed to each other. She recognised that we don’t have the ability to explain ourselves to every person we interact with online, and a limited interaction could be someone conserving their emotional energy and protecting their mental health.

Dating on apps, for now, remains an unpredictable, inconsistent, and sometimes vicious arena. But if we put our mental health, self-preservation, and core values first, maybe we can navigate it and leave as unscathed as possible.


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