Online Dating: Swiped – dating, relationships and sex in the social media age.

So look, I’ve been, swiping, swapping, chatting, grinding and baring it all in real time – less than anyone would believe though – on dating apps since, well, before anyone even knew what an app was. I was 18 or 19 when I first stumbled on to ICQ, chatting away on green screens and occasionally meeting up to see who was behind the mysterious screen names. After a couple of years off them I’m currently back, scruffing my way through too many hours, finding some fun, making new friends and getting way too distracted.  

“I think apps are ok if people are smart, safe and secure (in many forms) when approaching online dating. From personal experience I’ve always found that the better relationships are those that happen organically and apps haven’t worked previously.” – Sam, Victoria

Over the years I’ve loved, hated, been bored, bored myself, made mistakes, had fun, deleted, returned and knocked away so many hours and selfiies on them. They’ve always been a type of entertainment, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been great at them. I’ve generally been that annoying time waster guy, chatting and swapping, but not often sealing the deal, mainly because I get in my own way lol… but that’s a story for another blog.

Back in November The Office of the eSafety Commissioner invited me to join a panel discussion on apps and online dating “Swiped – dating, relationships and sex in the social media age” at their Online Safety on The Edge conference. My lifelong history of apping the night ( and day) away, making new friends and the rare hot hook up, stumbling my way through fake profiles, bullying and having my own pics stolen for catfishing isn’t unique, so my love of social media and general curiousity about human behaviour and how things work told me to leap at the chance. So  Fiona Falkiner (former Ambassador for EHarmony ), private investigator Julia Robson and ReachOut CEO Jono Nicholas and I sat down for a chat, to investigate what really happens when we swipe. 

           “I wouldn’t be in my 5 year relationship if it weren’t for Grindr… so… I’m all for it” –                Simon, South Australia

From be2.com.au for Christians looking for love, to Afroromance for singles wanting to mix it up, millionairematch.com for the sugar daddies and recon for gays with a fetish, there are around 8000 dating apps used worldwide that raise revenue of over $80M a year in Australia alone.

“As effective and as addictive as a drug. Best avoided. I’ve had some good times but nothing beats making eye contact across a room for me. I used to be the person on Grindr at my friends house for dinner, now I feel sorry for those people. To think, I even started my own version! For me the constant fake validation coupled with rejection and easy access to a world I’m no longer apart of meant I knew I had to get away. I now have parental controls on my phone, and a friend has the PIN, so I can’t use them even in those moments of weakness.” Andrew, Victoria

Although a lot of dating apps offer a free version almost 1 in 4 Australians have paid for one at some time in their lives. There has also been a huge increase in 18- 24 year olds using dating apps in recent years, nearly tripling from 2013 to 2016 (from 10% to 27%). Filled with experiences good and bad, dating apps really are a minefield of love, sex, racism and stalking.

As a private investigator  Julia Robson is hired for two common jobs. One is for one person to investigate another when they meet through an app, usually after date two or three. Beyond a sneaky Facebook or Instastalk, the level of detail some people want after a date or two, and the information that can be accessed when you know the right tricks, was fascinating to hear. Next time you’re on a date, for all you know you’re answering questions as more of a confirmation than a friendly “getting to know you” curiousity.

Dating apps are another way of meeting people. They can be addictive and warp our behaviour, but they killed the alternative, the bar scene – which masked drug and alcohol addiction in the name of ‘socialising’. I definitely believe in apps having contributed to the commodification of sex and of people, and that gay men are leading this societal direction now also affecting straight people through tinder. A healthy and balanced approach to apps (the real ‘sane & sorted) should include education and research on how to give people tools to manage these new technologies so they serve us in our life goals – not control and damage us.Stephen, NSW

I was also surprised to hear how common it is for people to create fake profiles to test ( or trap? ) their partners looking for “extra curricular” activity, the second of Julia’s common jobs. Looking for sex outside of a relationship is perfectly legitimate behaviour if both partners know about, and agree to, it – not so great if it is on the sly. This isn’t the only reason people create fake profiles though. While some are to test the will of their partner most are for more sinister reasons, like fraud, blackmail or violence.

Dating and romance scams accounted for the 2nd highest amount of money lost in scams in 2016.The search for love and lust cost Australians over$25 million, only investment scams cost us more.

“Most app users are tosswads so you just take the crowd with a grain of salt. the sea of torsos/other body parts/landscapes/animals/cartoons/no pics, racists, ageists, people who look 10-15 years older than they say they are, fibbers, tricksters, two timers and assorted other nutters make for a past time if you have nothing else to do. that sums them up.” – Greg NSW

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When it comes to theft, I’ve had my own pics stolen and used for catfishing on Tindr, Facebook, Instagram and Grindr in the UK, US and here in Australia more times than I can count – and that’s just the ones that I know of. Thankfully I’ve had friends in other countries who have always let me know, and when these fake accounts are overseas, I’ve relied on locals to report them. I’ve often thought that catfishing is relatively harmless – thinking it’s people who are just shy and never intend to meet the people they are chatting to in person. But as they collect more information from more people, more pics of mine and of other peoples, it starts to become a little unnerving…. so I honestly just try not to think too much about it. It’s sort of out of my control.


The first time I heard of anything truly sinister was when I was told the story of a friend who was verbally attacked in public for being a “psycho bitch” by someone who believed they had been chatting to her online. This happened several times over a couple of weeks, by men she didn’t know. As it happened, her pics were being used to catfish people, and the person would inevitably turn nasty and start bullying whoever they were chatting to. Some work with each man to convince them she was not who they thought she was, with Tinder to report the profile and the police, eventually solved the problem, but it was a frightening experience for her.

“A friend set me up on tinder and it’s been quite eye opening 😂 They’re only in it for one thing, or if they’re not, they can’t hold a conversation… and the ones that can, are too busy to chat (i.e., chatting to other women or get carried away with their day to day activities)… it puts me off dating and it makes me wonder if there is anyone decent out there (if there is, send them my way 😂)” – Helen, NSW

Racism, ageism, body shaming, bullying, immediate fulfillment of neediness, friendly chat turning nasty quickly and harassment are all unfortunately common place on dating apps. Thankfully, while they do happen, more serious events like stalking and people unkowningly being led into unsafe and violent “hook ups” are far less common. ( should you experience this be sure to contact the police and report the profile and/or activity immediately)

“Husbands are met on Scruff. Met my husband and partner of three and a bit years by being honest about what you REALLY want from a dating opportunity x” Jimmy, NSW

So with such a minefield to navigate it’s easy to wonder why we use them at all. One purpose of social media apps, dating and otherwise, ( although it can be just as easy to get a date through Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter ) is to connect people, and good can come from them. Some people create great friendships, others find life-long love, some have great hook ups, and for others relationships and connections can be more easily formed through text and chat.  Some discussions are also easier to have with strangers than with friends so you may even have a bunch of chats about fetishes, fantasies and all sorts of fun stuff – anonymity, or knowing you never have to face the person, can create incredible freedom for some people.

If you’re like me you may also end up in discussions about mental health. Some people may struggle with these conversations, and I’m not suggesting everyone have them, but helping people to have them in a way they feel safe and supported is part of why I love being an R U OK Day Ambassador – because those discussions can happen anywhere at anytime.

“when I worked in Darwin, the apps were the only way to meet people (other than after midnight at Throb, Darwin’s premier gay and lesbian nightclub) for a chat or a drink.” John, NSW

So what really happens when we swipe? Everything and anything is possible, from the worst experiences to the best, which just sounds a lot like an average “day in the life” to me. It’s simply a matter of navigating your way around to get what you want out of them.

To get you started, here are some of the best tips shared from my panel mates and I during the discussion.

1. Be yourself: Like on any form of social media, being authentic and truly you is the best way to be. Pretending to be someone or something you’re not, or being interested in someone, or some fetish, that you’re not will only lead to hurt and disappointment. Your authentic self is always best.

2. Don’t  be a cunt ( or a sex pest): There is absolutely no need for racism, body shaming, ageism, bullying, harassing, nastiness, belittling, “no xxxx, no offence just a preference”, lying, or not getting the hint. It’s actually general rule in life, just don’t be a cunt.

3. Be clear about why you’re on them and what you want. You’ll save a lot of time, energy and conversation that way…unless of course of your purpose is to waste them 😉

4. If you are not getting what you want from one app, try another. There are over 8000 worldwide, so you’re bound to find the one that has what you’re looking for eventually. And if not, maybe online dating just isn’t your thing..  so get all adventure time and find the things that are.

5. Meet people quickly! ( this is actually Fiona’s number 1 tip) Whether you’re there to date or hook up, meet people fairly quickly. Endless chatter allows you both to form an (potentially false) expectation of what the other is like, which can make it awkward when you eventually meet. Also the faster you meet the faster you know if the person is genuine and whether you have a real connection… be it over a steaming coffee or in a steaming shower.

6. Be safe, don’t give out personal information or money: No one you are speaking to any form social media needs to know personal information that could have them raiding your bank account or setting up a fake identity. Be as intimate as you feel comfortable being, but keep your most personal cards out of reach  

7. Remember, once you share an image or video, it’s out of your control: Some people feel more comfortable sharing images and videos than others, but don’t feel you have to share anything at all. Share only what you feel comfortable sharing, and don’t give in to any pressure. Once you share an image or video, it’s out of your control.

8. If you’re in a relationship and your partner doesn’t know they are in an open one, put the fucking app down and talk to them: You’re only hurting yourself and your partner, and inconveniencing and annoying everyone else.

9. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t: The sad fact is that there are catfishers, and there are risks. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to lay down a few more questions or be a bit cautious. If it still doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.. Or at least isn’t right for that moment. Be spontaneous, but stay safe

10. Watch the hours!: Dating apps are meant to be for fun, but like most fun things it’s easy to get caught up or lost in them chasing the next ride.. or should that be attention high? The hunt, and the attention, can be addictive, and too much of a good thing isn’t good for your mental, physical or social health and wellbeing. Remember to put the phone down, step away and have a full life with your friends as well.

and last of all

Have fun!: You’re there to have fun, so have fun. If it starts feeling tired, take a break for a couple of weeks. It will still be there when you’re feeling the vibe again. And when you are feeling the vibe be a bit daring, step out of your comfort zone, woof that hottie, swipe whichever way feels right, have that a date, rock that hook up or just make a new friend or two.

“Either I’m extra-pickey or overly-tolerant or just fucking lucky, but I’ve met some great people through apps, which is why I still use them, on occasion. Would it be bold of me to suggest that the user gets out what they put in? “ Matt, USA.

Time to get swiping, grinding, woofing…who knows what mischief that might lead to 😉

COT logo blue

 

References and Articles

If you need any help, more information or feel the need to report your online experiences, these links may help.

Office of the eSafety Commissioner
https://www.esafety.gov.au/

Dating App Success Stories
10 Real Stories from People Who Met on Dating Apps
What happened when i met a guy for a date instead of a hook up

Catfishing
10 ways to catch out a catfish
How to protect your photos

Mental Health
Grindr should have liberated our community but it’s making us lonely
The Tinder effect: psychology of dating in the technosexual era

and if you do require any help with your mental health and wellbeing as a result of someone else’s online behaviour, or even concerns about your own, contact any of these organisations.

QLIfe – https://qlife.org.au/
1800 184 527

LifeLine – https://www.lifeline.org.au/
131114

Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Beyond Blue – Wingman – for gay men

1300 22 4636

R U OK Day – https://www.ruok.org.au/

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