I had a session with a woman who’s been married and found herself single for the first time in her adult life. She expressed feeling ready to try out the waters of online dating and asked for the number one warning sign would be. There are obvious clues like when the opening line is confrontative (I got a scolding once for not texting first) or being sent unwanted nudes ( is there any woman who hasn’t experienced this?). However, I’ve spotted similarities among the most unpleasant online interactions I’ve had (so far, knock on wood!). The pattern I’m about to describe is a form of twisted courting strategy which at first glance might appear as deep interest or infatuation, when in actuality is a massive red flag not to be glossed over.
The trademark for this toxic pursuing approach is the uncomfortably quick pace. The unsettling rate occurs at the initial stage of meeting a person digitally (so no real life interaction) and after a short period of time (max one week). So far I’ve identified two distinct expressions of this phenomenon. The first type is recognized by the speedy external movement forward. Let’s say someone you’ve only chatted with suggests meeting your parents, planning future trips, schedules having babies or introducing you to their children. If so, you might want to hit the “next” button. To clarify, sketching a future with a stranger is substantially different from asking questions and checking in to see if you have similar visions.
The second version of the rapid “wooing” style (and more alarming) manifests through a leap straight for the deep stuff. Imagine chatting with someone and they begin lurking and asking private questions. At face value it could be mistaken as “bonding” (that’s how it’s promoted) or care when in reality the true motive is finding your vulnerable spot by gathering sensitive information.
Asking personal or private questions doesn’t necessarily need to be a show stopper. But if you express discomfort (respectfully) and set a boundary, the reaction will reveal the online personas true colors. If you deny sharing intimate information, after all it’s a stranger online, and you’re faced with retaliation like displays of anger, irritation, frustration or persistence, I’ve got one word for you: run. I’ve noticed once the emotional outburst settle and you haven’t budged, they’ll calm down, regroup, apologize and even offer an explanation for their explosivity. Don’t be fooled by this trick though, it’s yet another attempt to get you crossing over your own boundary. Once this tactic fails to yield the desired result ( that is, you sharing personal information) prepare for some psychological poking. Comments designed to convince you to change your mind will follow. For example: “are you afraid of love?”,“is this because of a childhood trauma?”, “I’ve given so much and you’re not doing the same“, “if you want a relationship you need to open up like me”,“I’m not like other men” etc. Still holding your ground? Then don’t be surprised if insults start rolling. I think the worst one I’ve received is being called fake. Coming from a random person I’ve typed with for less than 24 hours, I can’t say it stung.
If the line of communication still remains open, it’s time for the (disturbing) finale. Any details shared up until this point that might be slightly sensitive, like a struggle or hardship, can get turned against you. They might say something like “no wonder such and such happened to you” or “now I understand why you ended up in a certain situation”. The whole point being, whatever you’ve confided in them, it’s your fault. It’s a desperate power move so do yourself a huge favour and don’t feed into it. It’s fruitless trying to reason or debate in this sort of situation, simply exit (delete/block).
The uncomfortably quick pace, in my opinion, has nothing to do with a quest for a relationship, that’s only a disguise. The true agenda or need is control (for whatever reason). That’s why there is no issue for these characters to skip over the fundamental role of time and trust. What I’ve found from my experience is that this “breed” attempting to jumpstart relationships run rampant in the digital world. And I fear vulnerable or involuntarily singles especially, get trapped by this strategy . The prospect of a “relationship” might be blinding to the red flags waving.
To anyone who’s online dating, be open minded yet attentive and never bend your boundaries.