Dating apps come loaded with both possibility and threat, but we can set a new standard for using them by replacing mindless swiping with mindful action. Now that online dating is so intrinsically woven into the social landscape of our lives, it has forever changed the outlook of singles—not least because it throws the spotlight on the best and worst of our sexual behaviors.
Apps like Tinder, which are often considered to be more for hookups than long-term relationships have become scapegoats for the increase in sexual assaults recorded, and a report in the UK even claimed that women who dabble online are more likely to “sleep with anyone.” Yet the responsibility for abuse always lies with the abuser and not the abused or the app they used to connect. That said, these apps are vehicles that enable those predisposed to misogyny (or even misandry) to behave badly.
Yet Lucy tells a different story. She’s from London and has been using fetish-dating sites for more than 10 years. The irony is that she feels safer on these sex sites than she does on everyday dating sites. “We’re a community. There’s acceptance and respect so I feel safe. I met my long-term play partner on a sex site. We’re not in a relationship but we’ve become friends. I have other play partners who meet other needs. I don’t hide this fact since we’re honest and open with each other.”
For many people, however, online dating is now the most convenient way to meet a partner, and it’s not all about sex. Nearly half (46 percent) of site users met their current partner online, and as many as 84 percent said they were looking for romance. Only 24 percent were looking to hookup. Yet still, the media preaches to women about the perils of “slutty” behavior. Our overriding sex culture may need a heavy rewrite, but we can make a start by rewriting the rules of engagement.
Why Don’t Men Speak Up?
Men were invited to contribute anonymously to this article, and to share their best and worst dating experiences. None, however, responded. The silence was surprising since this is an opportunity for both women and men to pull the trigger on the dating game. Anyone can behave badly on a dating app, regardless of gender or sexual persuasion, so why not have your say? Has the Me Too movement made men afraid to speak up? If that’s the case, then why are so many women still receiving abuse online?
Dating App Don’ts
Jess is from the North of England. She says online dating seemed “safer” than trawling bars. “I got so much abuse from men who felt I should chat with them or that I’d rejected them. It’s also abusive to send someone an unsolicited picture of your penis.” Lucy’s experience was similar despite stating clearly in her profile that she was looking for companionship and not sex. “One guy’s opening message was, ‘do you like arse sex?’” I retaliated with a quip about having a strap on and asked him the same question, but he insisted I should take “his cock in my arse.” “I’ve also been told I’m a ‘fat bitch’ when I say no or ‘frigid’ when I just want to chat.”
Dating App Do’s
Boundaries are a must, says Simone from Cornwall. “I state them straight away and reinforce them when I notice the relationship dynamic has shifted. You have to know what you want and not be afraid to reiterate it again and again. There’s a lot of pressure on women to please others (mostly men), and cultural conditioning tells us we’ll upset someone if we actually state what we want—please know that you’re not being selfish, you’re protecting yourself.”
Jess agrees. “Be upfront about who you are and insist that others are too. Men and women present highly edited versions of themselves online so make like a detective and call out the liars—just make sure you’re not lying too.” Take the opportunity to create a profile that challenges society’s double standards.
Know Your Worth
Sarah from Birmingham has dabbled with various dating sites, but remains single. “My profile was highly sexualized at first. I cringe when I think about the sleazy comments I got. If you appear sexually available you’re immediately sexually disempowered. When I changed my profile to reflect who I am as a whole person, the number of connections I made dropped noticeably, and I wondered if my standards were too high. But I’m ambitious in every other area of my life, so why not demand the same results in my love life?”
Setting high standards for others begins when we set high standards for ourselves. We have no control over other people’s behavior, but we can take full responsibility for our own. “Don’t just look at their pictures,” Sarah adds. “Read their profile, take an interest and ask questions. The sexiest matches I made were the ones where we took the time to understand each other. Every connection will give you something of value, even if that ‘something’ is learning your own value.”
*All names have been changed.