Dating apps have created a culture of entitlement
You swipe, you match, and suddenly…they’re mad at you? In dating app culture there’s currently a burgeoning set of communication habits often deployed by cis-het men which give off “you owe me” vibes, a sense of entitlement to continued contact and access to matches, even when interest is not reciprocated.
A few months ago, I saw a Twitter thread from writer Beth McColl bemoaning the impatient and demanding behavioural patterns of men on dating apps who get stroppy with their matches if they don’t reply within a few hours.
Replies in the thread included someone sharing that a man had sent them a message, only to have written another reading “Yawn…” after not receiving a reply by the next day. Another shared that one time, when they hadn’t responded to a message from a match, they received another message just an hour later asking why they hadn’t replied and suggested that they were “messing with his head.”
Appalled by this kind of behaviour — which judging by the sheer volume of bad experiences that end up being posted online must be commonplace — I asked around to see what other kinds of risible conduct people are subject to on dating apps, and it goes beyond the timing of replies to whether one is interested at all.
Some people I spoke to have unmatched guys on dating apps only for the person to DM them on Instagram, demanding to know why they’ve been unmatched. The tone of these messages can be unkind and aggressive.
“There was a guy from Tinder who I never actually matched with, never spoke to or anything, and somehow he slid into my DMs on LinkedIn,” sexuality blogger Madam Mayhem told me. She was concerned that he had managed to get that far and find her on another platform without knowing her occupation or surname. “I had explained to him that I had no interest in him and that it was completely inappropriate to approach me somewhere else other than the dating app, considering we’d not even matched.” Next, the guy replied with, “I needed to shoot my shot.” “It just felt like such a violation,” Madam Mayhem says.
Stéphanie, a Black woman based in Sheffield says that men send insults that often have a racist slant if she says she’s not interested. “If I’ve not reciprocated the way that they would like, they come back with things like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even like you anyway,’ ‘I don’t even date Black girls anyway,’ or ‘You’re a bit too, like, dark’ or something.”
Having an uncommon name can also bring about unwanted attention on other platforms than the one you’re using. One dating app user living in London, who’s from a minoritised ethnic group told me, “I once swiped left to a guy, only to be contacted by him later on Facebook, that’s the issue with having a unique name sometimes.”
Author and journalist Shon Faye writes in her recently published book, The Transgender Issue, about the entitlement people on dating apps feel when their interest isn’t reciprocated — and the tirade of transphobia that can follow. “I also realised as a trans woman who only dated men, that there were men out there who could simultaneously be attracted to me and also be abusive. This was particularly apparent on dating apps where I was always open about being trans. If men initiated messaging and I declined their advances, it was not uncommon to receive a torrent of misogynist and transphobic abuse.”
Kate, who runs the popular @thirtysomethingsingle Instagram account, says she often receives angry appearance-based insults after matching. She posts some of these interactions on her page to raise awareness of the misogynistic and fatphobic harassment that she and many other dating app users experience on a regular basis.
Some platforms are finally doing something about this. Dating app Bumble has recently implemented a ban on body shaming language, explicitly banning unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size or health. This includes language that can be deemed fatphobic, ableist, racist, colourist, homophobic, or transphobic. Tinder has launched a number of safety features, including the AI-fuelled “Are You Sure?” feature that puts the onus back on the individual about to send an abusive message (machine learning uses reports from past members to detect harmful language).
Shani Silver, author of A Single Revolution, tells me that she thinks we have enough anecdotal evidence to say that this is what women are experiencing on these platforms, but that it’s not being adequately addressed by the apps themselves — for a reason. “This is what can make dating a very difficult, exhausting — if not punishing — space,” Silver says. “We don’t discuss often enough the fact that dating apps are one of the only businesses in the world that is incentivised to not work; because the longer you’re single, the more of your money it makes. So why would it ever want to help you stop being single?”
Silver advises making space for yourself outside your chosen app if you’re being targeted by harmful messages. “Find different places to put your energy that make you feel good as opposed to feeling like you have to combat the behaviour on encounter,” she says. “But block and move on and really evaluate for yourself how much of this activity you want to participate in at all. You don’t deserve any of it and you’re allowed to leave a dating space if it’s difficult for you. And that does not preclude you from having future relationships.”
In researching this piece, it became apparent that women are more open to sharing their dating app experiences with journalists. No men came forward with their experiences.
People have every right to set boundaries in their dating lives, online or off. Justine Ang Fonte, M.Ed, MPH is a sex educator based in New York City, also known as Your Friendly Ghostwriter (@good.byes) on Instagram, started the account to help people compose messages you avoid sending to potential dates, but has expanded it to other areas of life where it’s helpful to set boundaries. Boundaries are basic guidelines that people create to establish how others are able to behave and communicate around them, and setting them can ensure that relationships can be mutually respectful, appropriate, and caring from the start.
“I started the account for dating, because it was something very real for me and I saw a lot of very defensive responses to any types of boundaries that I was trying to set,” Fonte tells me. “I’ve expanded it to many other categories and aspects of life where people need support and setting boundaries. And that is because we never raise our boys to accept people’s boundaries. We raise them to be entitled, as opposed to caregiving and empathetic in the way that we raise most girls.”
Fonte offers some advice on how you can let prospective matches be aware of some of your boundaries (only if you feel this is necessary). “When you’re still communicating through the app you can let the other person know if there’s going to be a change to the response times of messages.” So, if you’re about to head into a meeting you could message something like: “I’m about to hop into a meeting and probably won’t be able to reply again for another four hours.” Fonte says, “That way, the delay in messaging shows the other person that it has nothing to do with your interest in them but that you have a whole life separate from messaging people on dating apps.”
A more boundaried approach to dating means having a sense of what you are looking for and a sense of yourself, being OK with rejection, and sending out positive feelings that you hope will be reciprocated. But demanding an instant reply or an explanation from someone on a dating app of why you’re not immediately interested? No one, ever, has the right to that.