We’ve all been there. You match with someone on a dating app, you’re excited to see they sent the first message, and then you look to see a message that’s either totally inappropriate or just tone-deaf.
Last year, Pew Research revealed that according to their studies, almost half of dating app users reported receiving unwanted explicit messages online. Another 71% expected people to lie on their profiles.
There aren’t many options when you get an unwanted message. You can write back of course, simply ignore it, unmatch the person, or report the message to the app.
Abi, a 29-year-old businesswoman from Dublin, has decided to take a different approach, taking screenshots whenever she received an outrageous message and posting the pictures online to discuss with others.
“I started screenshotting and posting the conversations on my private Instagram stories for dissection with my friends about two years ago. It’s taking the piss, no identities, and we would have little conversations about them. We talk about it like we have a Ph.D. in Tinder messages,” she says, laughing.
“I don’t know what happened but at the start of September I was on the train on my way to visit friends and I thought ‘You know what, I’m going to pick some of the best of these and put them on my public story’ and my phone blew up for the weekend. Everyone kept asking me to post more so I started putting a few up every week and people go ballistic for them.”
Abi has been single for over three years and joined Tinder after spending about eight years in relationships. Though she says she’s met some great guys through the app and been on a lot of enjoyable dates, she often gets unwanted messages from matches.
“There are two different kinds of messages that you can get that are really horrible in my opinion. One is coming from a place where the person thinks that what they are saying to you is really lovely. Something like ‘oh the things I’d do to you’ and nine out of 10 times you’ll write back and ask if they’re being serious and really think it’s a compliment and they’ll be like ‘yeah, how’s your day going’,” she says.
“Then there’s the other side of it where they know exactly what they’re doing and they’re writing the message to get a rise out of you. Things they would never walk up to on the street to you and say. I’ve gotten horrible messages like a lot of guys commenting on my weight in my Tinder pictures. I had an American guy message me saying ‘I don’t think we’re a match weight wise’ once and another called me a ‘chubby goth’ because I’ve got dark hair. It’s insane.”
Once Abi started posting her screenshots, she and her friends started to realise that they had actually been matching with the same people online.
“A lot of the time I’ll post a message and four or five might girls might message me saying they matched with the same guy and he had said the same thing to them,” she says.
“I matched with a guy a few weeks ago and I was supposed to go on a walk with him. My friend told me about this guy she matched with from Tinder who did this grand romantic gesture and wanted to go on a date with her and dropped off a package to her and it turned out to be the same guy.”
Abi deleted her Tinder for a spell last year and when she rejoined, found herself receiving the same messages from people she had previously matched with.
“In my experience, a lot of people out there on dating apps don’t see human beings, they see acquisitions. It seems like some are pipelining people, they would go on five or six dates a week. It’s like a sales target every month. But the people at the other side of that are human beings,” she says.
“I’m sure what happened to me and my friend with dating that same guy is happening everywhere but people don’t find out about it. This is the second time in four weeks that I’ve found out about a guy talking to me and somebody else that I knew at the same time. Now that we’re in lockdown, we’re finding out about these things.”
Tinder’s co-founder, Jonathan Badeen, has explained in the past that the app’s algorithm is meant to feel like a lottery, inspired by behavioral reinforcement psychology.
Dating apps like Tinder are what psychologists call “variable ratio reward schedules”, in which participants are given a number of unpredictable responses before the one they want, aka a match. The more you win, the more you want to play.
Abi feels liberated by her conversation posts and by highlighting the issue of explicit messaging is opening up the conversation about the less appealing parts of online dating.
“It’s not to embarrass people, I only post when something is absolutely outrageous. There are absolutely lovely lads out there and it hasn’t destroyed my faith in humanity or anything,” she says.
“And I’m sure there are women that write awful messages to men out there too. But there aren’t hundreds of Instagram pages or books dedicated to that.”
Kerry based dating coach Frances Kelleher says that she has often had clients come to her about receiving unwanted messages online.
“It is very common because people feel braver online and are more brazen than they would be face to face,” Frances says. “It’s mainly women who receive sexually explicit messages very early on or explicit pictures. Men sometimes try to connect with a woman the wrong way.”
Frances supports dating apps and thinks they’re a great way to meet people, but she wouldn’t recommend using them for a long-term relationship, saying that if possible, you should try to meet the person you’re talking to after about five back to back messages.
“People need to use online dating apps the correct way and know that they should only be used to throw your net wide to connect with more potential matches and set up real-life dates. They should not be used to send 10,000 messages back and forth to try to create a deep emotional, sexual and mental connect,” she says.
“After four to five messages you need to move it offline. Research has shown that the more you talk to someone online the less likely you are to go on a date.”
As Abi says, many of the people who send explicit messages wouldn’t say the things they type in person. Frances agrees that users need to take a step back before pressing send.
“Even though it’s online, we are all human with human emotions. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. Remember your manners like you do when you are communicating with people online at work and remember you do not know these people well. Ask yourself ‘Would I say this in public, at work, or in front of my mother?’ before pressing send.”
If you find yourself at the receiving end of such a message, Frances says to follow your instincts and not to hesitate in reporting the message to the app if it feels necessary.
“If someone becomes too sexual too soon in conversation but you feel that it was a misjudgment and want to see where the connection goes you could say something like ‘Please don’t send me those types of messages it makes me uncomfortable’,” she recommends.
“Always have and set your boundaries. That way you always stay true to yourself. If someone sends you an explicit picture or says something that you feel is a deal breaker you could say something like ‘I’m not feeling the connection but I wish you the best in finding the right person’ or simply block them. If you feel it’s appropriate to block them don’t hesitate. You should do what you feel is right for you.”
Abi’s advice? When you get an insulting message, reply. When the person starts typing back, unmatch them and take away their power.
Of course, don’t forget to take a screenshot or two.
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