I know I can’t be the only one who’s been in a bad mood the past 11 months. Living alone in a shoebox apartment during a pandemic has meant that my social life = Gilmore Girls marathons and awkward Zoom birthday “parties.” I’ve barely seen the sun this year, let alone other human beings.
This plus the cascading terror of the news and feeling a real need to be an emotional support for all my friends and family who are feeling just as garbage as I am has made me a little rage-y. And I realized that I think I’m taking it out on my online dating app matches.
The other day I matched with a man whose first message to me was, “Cute smile—but are you adventurous?” And I took that personally.
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What I heard when I read that message was, “Well, miss, your application looks good, but we’ll need to see how you do out in the field before we take any next steps.” It felt like this guy—who had not only Liked my profile first but also initiated conversation first—was treating me like I was chasing him down.
In response, I wrote, “Why—is there a prize?”
Him: “You can say that. We can’t be friends if you’re not.”
Me: “So just to be clear…you are the prize here?”
I took a screenshot of my message and shot it off to my friend so she could praise my dazzling wit. But imagine my face when she told me I sounded “aggressive.” She pointed out that *I* was the harsh one and that maybe this guy’s message wasn’t so much a case of dickishness as it was odd phrasing and poorly executed banter.
When I really sat down to think about it, I realized I’d been responding like this to a lot of guys. Like the one who wanted to change my mind about Ayn Rand (LOL) or the one who asked for a performance review of our conversation.
Marriage and relationship therapist Shadeen Francis, LMFT, says it’s kind of normal given These Times. “We need right ways to express how we feel that we don’t often have a lot of permission for, and we want to be treated like our feelings matter—and sometimes the way that we go about that is through having harmful impact.” (E.g., verbally throat-punching strange men on the internet.)
It’s most likely because I haven’t been able to find a productive outlet for all my pent-up rage. I feel bad unloading on friends, who are buried under mountains of their own emotional baggage. My cat certainly doesn’t deserve it. And while I do occasionally go off on social media, it runs the risk of alienating family and potential employers.
So I think, without realizing it, I’ve started to direct my anger at the Forever Enemy: single men.
Francis describes this anger as “the feeling that lets you know that a boundary has been crossed.” She explains that this doesn’t have to be just one major thing, like when a Tinder guy reveals he has a wife and three kids living upstate or something. It could be a series of minor and major stresses that build up—like a pandemic on top of a doomscroll on top of a fight with your mom on top of this one freaking guy holding a fish on this dumb app who wants to know “How am I???”
The digital space can be a comfortable outlet for all this anger, in no small part because you don’t have to look at anyone’s face when you angrily type, “NOT WELL, BITCH!”
“So to have conversations that you know further contribute to the sense of strain or discomfort or irritability, [a dating app] is an easy place to release [the anger],” Francis says. “However, they’re getting energy that didn’t come from this conversation.”
And that’s not really fair to anyone. So if you’re all like, hey, hi, hello, this is me, here’s where we should send all that anger without taking it out on Joe, 28, from Seattle*:
- Just be angry for a second, because you need to send that energy somewhere. And if that means you need to flip off your phone screen, make a burn book, or just stew, go for it. Francis says even if it’s not the most graceful or generous, “if that’s what you’ve got to start with, start with where you are.”
- Indulge in something physically pleasant, like playing your fave song and pausing for a dance break, indulging in a fried chicken sammie (or whatever your comfort food is), and maybe even good old-fashioned cussing. (Just as long as you’re not targeting another person.) It can be a good release, she confirms.
So, okay, taking a step back, I can see now how the phrasing by Mr. Adventurous Guy was maybe just a sign he’s not so great at flirting. And I probably could’ve handled it a bit better.
But even though it doesn’t look like it’s a love match between us, I’ve since decided to update my profile to include some fair warning like: “I respond badly to messages that sound condescending to me and they will probably get screenshotted.”
Hopefully this way, I won’t feel the need to go from zero to cash-me-outside-how-bout-dah in, like, two seconds just because a match hit me with a, “I see you’re a writer! Actually, I do some writing myself….”
Hey, at least it’s a start.
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