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Virtual dating on the rise during lockdown
06:46 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

It seemed too good to be true: The cutie who you matched with on a dating app sent sweet messages, told fantastic stories and even made you a Spotify playlist. Then you never hear from them again.

That is a West Elm Caleb.

It all started out on TikTok, where women started sharing stories about a New York man named Caleb, who claimed to work as a furniture designer for the brand West Elm. Their stories – accusations of ghosting, lovebombing and unsolicited explicit images – painted him as someone who puts on an act for many women and then slips away without a word.

CNN has reached out to West Elm to confirm he is a designer.

The backlash has been focused on a specific Caleb, but the phrase has become a rallying cry for people to condemn those hurting them in a way that seems particular to those looking for love on dating apps.

As Covid has people more isolated and reevaluating priorities, Frances Kelleher, a dating coach based in Ireland, said she sees more people looking more in earnest for someone who can be there for them “when the chips are down,” she said.

“People, I feel, now are even more sensitive because they are looking for that one person,” Kelleher said.

While this pandemic point in time can feel unique, the rules and manners for entering and exiting relationships are much the same as they have always been, said Kelleher and Shamyra Howard, a licensed clinical social worker and AASECT certified sex therapist. The shortened “AASECT” stands for American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

They shared what you can do to avoid falling prey to – or even becoming – another version of West Elm Caleb.

What do you want?

Not having a goal in mind can be a roadblock to success, both Howard and Kelleher said. A concrete goal may mean wanting to date multiple people, wanting something casual, or looking for potential commitment.

Knowing what you are looking for can help you identify when someone is treating you poorly or when you might not be treating someone else as you should be, they said.

Being transparent about what you want – once you have gotten to know that person enough to decide if you are interested – gives both people the opportunity to make an informed choice about their next steps, Howard said.

Not everyone you swipe right on will make it to that phase, Kelleher said, and it’s OK to cut your losses early.

It’s like running into someone at a grocery, she added. If you just exchanged a “hello, how are you?” you wouldn’t feel obligated to say goodbye before you left the store. But if you spent time together and shared some personal details, it’s only right to follow up and let them know if you want to see them again or not.

There are people on the other side of the screen

The larger dating pool found on apps and websites, and the physical separation, can lead to people not treating others as well as they would in person, Kelleher said.

“People don’t have to have manners because they’re behind a screen,” she said.

When you meet someone through your community, there is a social obligation to treat that person well, Kelleher said. You could run into that person at the local bar or at a mutual friend’s party, and your reputation is at stake if you ghost them.

More people are looking for genuine connections on dating apps, and treating people well is still important when you are separated by a screen, Kelleher said.

That risk might not be as high when you meet online, but manners and morality are still important.

“How would you like to be treated?” Kelleher said. “It’s just a text. You can say ‘you know, I didn’t see the connection, but thank you so much for your time and all the best with your search.’”

Keep an eye out for performance

“Lovebombing” and “breadcrumbing” are two phrases that mean two very different things but can have the same impact on people – stringing them along for something that isn’t genuine, Howard said.

Lovebombing is when the amount of affection doesn’t match the real attachment that has developed in a relationship. Are they trying to introduce you to their family, sending gifts or professing their love before they have gotten to know you? Those are red flags of lovebombing, Howard said.

These grand romantic gestures can be an indication that the person is prioritizing performance over connection. It could be a red flag for controlling behavior in the future, Howard said.

When this happens, just take a step back, Kelleher said. Don’t encourage the over-the-top behavior and watch how graciously they respond to your setting boundaries, Howard said.

To keep from getting ahead of yourself, Kelleher recommended not scrolling through their social media, which can make you feel like you know a person better than you actually do.

Breadcrumbing usually involves keeping contact and perceived connection without the intention to take it further. If you get the sense a potential partner is breadcrumbing you, try to set a date to meet. If they decline twice, it may be time to move on, Howard said.

Get off the app and into a date

Dating apps are good for casting a wide net, but almost everyone can benefit from moving offline with a potential partner as soon as they feel safe and comfortable, Kelleher said.

“Attraction is created through engagement,” she said. “How do you move? How do you communicate with me? How do you give me eye contact? How do you touch me?”

Trust people to cope with their own emotions

One of the primary reasons people ghost others is not because they are horrible people, but because they are afraid of hurting another person, Howard said.

“People really, physically feel rejection,” Howard said. “For a lot of people, it’s a safety measure for them, so they aren’t feeling the pain that they are causing others.”

While you aren’t responsible for other people’s feelings, you are responsible for your actions, she added.

“Regardless of if their feelings are going to be hurt, you have to trust that they are capable of managing and handling their own feelings, especially when you are upfront and honest with them,” Howard said.

Get your own closure

People love closure, Kelleher said. But waiting for someone else to provide it can lead to more heartbreak.

If someone is not showing up for you or treating you well, that can signal that it’s time to go your separate ways, Kelleher said.

“The most important things we have is our energy and our time,” Kelleher said. “Don’t waste your time on image and people that aren’t 110%.”

Looking for love can be a difficult, disheartening process. If you are being accused of ghosting, lovebombing or breadcrumbing, it may be worthwhile to seek out a professional counselor or therapist who can help you work through why you may be doing that before getting back out in the dating world, Howard said.