Never before has the dating scene been so cut-throat. On top of all the usual, complicated dos and don’ts of romantic etiquette, you now also have to contend with the many, many benefits – and issues – presented by social media.
For me and my female pals, it has frequently been a hot topic of conversation. When one of us is single and has a crush, we eagerly pass the phone around to suss out whether the guy is a valid option, worthy of our friend’s attention. But it isn’t just about looks (although we often find ourselves muttering things like “He looks better in person” or “That’s not the best photo of him” as some sort of disclaimer, as we quickly swipe past the photo of him chugging beer out of a used condom).
No, we also check out their captions to gauge how funny and witty they are; we see if they have photos of themselves with family members, work colleagues, friends. And, more importantly, we investigate how they dress in the summer – fedora hat and boat shoes with no socks? Abort mission.
Hell, even when they don’t have social media, it’s contentious. “What’s wrong with them?” we find ourselves asking. “What are they hiding?”
But worse still is when you’ve gotten past all that nonsense and you’re settled – only to see something very unsettling. In your cockiness at having overcome the obstacles of awkward first dates, sloppy drunken sex and the “exclusive” conversation, you made the mistake of letting your guard down. You scroll through Instagram, only to see your dearly beloved has gone and “liked” a photo of another woman – or a “thirst trap” (I believe that’s what the kids are calling them these days) posted by his ex.
Instantly, your heart is in your mouth as you weigh up whether to bring it up with him or not. You stew in your thoughts – even if he’s sitting right beside you – wondering if they’re still talking, what motivated him to engage, and what it means for your relationship. Eventually, usually after a few drinks, you blurt it out.
“I saw!” You’ll proclaim dramatically in the beer garden, as strangers give you funny looks. And then, before you know it, you’re having The Chat.
Now, I realise that I am poking fun of my own kind to illustrate a point here, but let it be known that I have been that woman. Many a time. And each time, I have been made to feel as though I am “crazy”. That I am being “childish”, and that – wait for it – it’s “just a like”.
Sorry, lads, but if any of this is ringing true with you, I have to say this: a “like” is never just a like.
Contrary to what those guys will have you believe (don’t worry, we know it’s not all men), it isn’t just some arbitrary action. We know this to be true, because they use it as a flirtation technique when they’re single. You know a guy is “DTF” (for lack of a better term) when they start “liking” every post. So, pray tell, why do they think it’s suddenly innocent when they’re with someone?
According to dating and relationship expert Callisto Adams, “such behaviour represents signs of immaturity and low levels of emotional intelligence”.
To me, not only does the “like” show a complete lack of consideration and respect – it sends three very clear messages. They are as follows: “I am not happy with my girlfriend”; “I wish my girlfriend looked like this”; and “I want the woman whose pictures I’m liking”. It pits women against each other, and causes hostility and insecurity where there should be none.
That said, Dr Akua Boateng, couples therapist and dating expert, believes that in some instances a “like” could be “benign”.
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“A good determinant of intention and character is [a person’s] willingness to be open and honest about their behaviour with a partner,” she told me. “Those who are open to disclosing their thoughts, and also are willing to change behaviour to support the relationship, are on the right track.”
But that doesn’t account for the other breed of Insta man: the guy who, in spite of the fact he’s in a relationship, reacts to your Story with flame emojis, or sends you your own goddamn grid photo along with a pair of ogling eyes. It’s not enough that women have to be on the lookout for public interactions – there’s a whole wealth of shady activity going on behind the scenes as well.
Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age, but the more experience I have of heterosexual dating, the more sceptical I become. The concept of love has been all but shattered for me over the years (not least because of the married guy with a baby who keeps sending unsolicited d*** pics to my friend), and now I increasingly see social media as a playground for cheats and sleazes. What is there to “like”?