• Dr. Lillian Nejad

The Perils of Dating in the Modern Era

This topic was inspired by Australian television and radio presenter and author, Yumi Stynes, who penned a piece for Marie Claire about going undercover on Tinder as part of the SBS documentary called, "Is Australia Sexist?" (premiered in December 2018 and is currently available on SBS On Demand).

She thought it might be fun to delve into the world of single women but quickly found out that she's lucky to have found her partner when she did. Trying to find a partner these days involves exposing yourself to the dark side of online dating.

In her experiment, Yumi disguised herself as "Lucy" and put herself on Tinder. Some of her messages from men were inquisitive and harmless, but many were very sexual and vulgar--as opening lines! Before any actual contact!

Her experience begs the question, "what drives such men to approach women online in this manner and to think that women will respond well to these sort of vulgar comments?" It also begs the questions, "who are the women responding to these comments and why? And are they putting themselves in harm's way?"

Yumi presented one perspective in her experiment--of a single women looking for a male partner. What is the scene like for women looking for women and men looking for men, and do women also commonly send overtly sexual messages as their opening lines to their prospective partners? Also, Tinder was the method used, and it can be argued that this is not the best place to find a partner but rather was developed for easy access to casual encounters only.

Yumi met with one of the men who sent her a very inappropriate message—she said she was scared and vulnerable for both her emotional and physical safety even though it was in a public place and for her it was a fake date. Given what he said and his dismissive attitude about his comments, this is hardly surprising. But women, myself included, often take a defensive position even when men are respectful and friendly; it's a protective function to keep up safe from harm or to avoid unwanted advances or attention. We ignore staring, we walk on the other side of the street if we think we're being followed, we try to diplomatically manage unwanted touching, and the list goes on. Technology advances over the last 25 years just make this more complicated.

I wrote an op-ed piece for my University newspaper (in America) on the state of 'modern dating' on campus in 1991—highlighting the preoccupation with ‘hooking up” while dating was practically non-existent. This led to the topic of my Psychology Honours Thesis: Casual Sexual Behaviour of College Undergraduates—and what may have been the first study examining causal sex in terms of “hooking up” (1993). In my study, I defined "hooking up" as casual sexual interactions (from kissing to sexual intercourse) when there is no expectation by either party to pursue a relationship afterwards. Is that what Tinder is, a virtual university campus full of oversexed, emotionally immature individuals looking for a no strings attached hook-up? I suppose that's fine if everyone is on the same page.

Perhaps the results of Yumi's experiment would have been more hopeful had she chosen another online dating approach like RSVP or eHarmony. But then she would have been playing with people's real feelings and that would not have been kind or respectful.

In the meantime, if you are looking for a meaningful and lasting relationship and not a just a 'hook-up", here are some ways to navigate online dating and overcome this LIFEBLOCKER:

To Men (who think and behave in a way that degrades women):

  • Be better than that! Ask yourself, "Is this who you really want to be and what you want to stand for?"

  • Change your mindset about women, value women as equals. Remember there are more differences within our genders than between them.

  • Don't lie. Make your intentions clear in a respectful way

  • If you are someone who needs help with violent and aggressive behaviour, call the Men's Referral Service 1300 766 491 for help.

To Women and Men:

  • Know what you want and be clear and honest about your intentions--use apps and websites that are in line with your values and relationship goals.

  • Be safe: don't reveal identifying information prematurely, be cautious about what you put online, use privacy settings on apps, meet in public places and always tell trusted people where you are going so they can check in.

  • Look out for the red flags—both obvious (vulgar, degrading comments) and subtle (controlling, judgmental, put-downs). Remember these wise words from Maya Angelou—

  • Change the mindset of the men in your life: friends, colleagues, brothers, your father--it is always possible to change a belief, even if it is strongly held and to our advantage. Remember we all used to believe in Santa Claus once upon a time.

  • If you are in an abusive relationship and need information or support, go to https://www.1800respect.org.au or call 1800 737 732 --this is a service for women and men who have experienced or are experiencing violence.

To hear more about "Modern Dating", listen to the podcast of this week's LIFEBLOCKER segment on "That Radio Show" with Nicola Charles, Peter Armstrong & Eddie Olek. It begins at the 4 minute mark.

If you are dating or in a relationship that you think is emotionally and/or physically abusive, here are some other helpful resources and services:

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