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Cobwebbing or winter coating: It’s time to pick your dating poison this cuffing season

It’s finally November 2022. While Starbucks has already announced its Christmas menu and Mariah Carey is officially defrosting in the Backrooms as we speak, we’re in the midst of a high-stakes time in the dating world. Every cuffing season essentially offers two plans of action: to either shack and cosy up with someone, or ride solo. In case you do end up looking for a boo on dating apps, the ground rule is that the partnership has to last just long enough to pass the colder months of the year.

In 2022 however, alongside the acknowledgement of red, green, pink, and beige flags, comes two brand new love poison of choice: cobwebbing and winter coating. Let me explain, before you swipe right on someone and text them, “Hey, the weather outside is frightful but your warm body looks so delightful…”

What is cobwebbing?

Coined by women-first dating app Bumble, cobwebbing is a dating trend that involves dusting off the “cobwebs” (read: old flames) so you can start fresh with someone new. As explained by Bumble’s sex and relationship expert Dr Caroline West, “Holding on to past relationships, whether that be phone numbers, messages, or even an old t-shirt, can hold you back when it comes to dating as you’re not mentally focused on the present.”

Therefore, by actively cobwebbing your past, “you can then move forward feeling more empowered, confident, and open to meeting someone new.”

Following the conception of the term, single people all across the world took it as a sign to finally cobweb the heck out of their exes before Halloween. But moving on is easier said than done. Regardless of how long and intense your past relationships might have been, there’s always that emotional post-breakup phase where literally everything under the sun reminds you of your old flame.

Since we can’t really Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-way out of this situation just yet, it should be noted that the more time you spend ruminating about your past, the deeper of a cobweb you’re trapping yourself into, and the harder it will get to eventually break free.

How to successfully cobweb your past relationships

If you believe you’re neck-deep in the cobwebs spun around your exes, know that it is exactly in times like these that you deserve a good emotional cleansing. So, if you’ve made the decision to finally let go, here’s some advice to guide you through the process:

1. Allow yourself to grieve

In an interview with Stylist, relationship coach Deb Morgan shared that it’s important to acknowledge the fact that, no matter how long the relationship lasted or how it ended, it’s absolutely fine to give yourself space to grieve. “You devoted an awful lot of time and energy to the ex, it’s okay to grieve. Even if ending it was your decision, it is important to grieve the ending of it,” she said.

“Once upon a time this was the ‘perfect’ relationship for you, until it wasn’t. Grieving the past, and what might have been in the future, is a healthy way to gain closure on the relationship and move on. You don’t want the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ to get in the way of you moving into your new life.”

Additionally, while it’s okay to talk about the things you once did with your ex, avoid using them as a measure to compare the experiences you’re about to have with your new boo.

2. Visualise the future

Next step includes the reevaluation of your goals. What are you looking for in a new partner? What kind of relationship do you want with them exactly? And what are some of the comfortable ways in which you think you can nail all of these goals?

“Allow your mind to progress from being stuck in the past to thinking about what comes next,” Rachel MacLynn, founder of matchmaking website MacLynn, told Stylist. “This process should leave you feeling empowered.”

3. Stick to your decision

Now onto the hardest part of the process. Once you’ve given yourself space to grieve and examined your presence in the dating sphere, it’s tempting to give it all up and spiral back into the past. Remember: your assignment is to evolve beyond your old flame and not dissolve into them once again.

“If we have an open mindset, and remember that these changes are our choice, and that we grow through change and experience, the could-haves soon fade away,” Morgan advised.

“We always have options and choices, and we will always spend some time hankering after the perceived familiarity of what might have been, but when our choices are made for the right reasons, and executed in the right way, those ‘could haves’ and ‘might have beens’ become fleeting murmurs.”

Now, what exactly is winter coating?

As first noted by experts at dating app Inner Circle, winter coating happens when people get back in touch with previous partners in order to land themselves an easy seasonal mate for the winter months. When the cold weather kicks in, winter coaters try to hit things off again with their exes. But as soon as the snow thaws away in spring, they’re kicked to the curb and left in the backup ditch.

The so-called dating trend is kind of like when you dust your familiar and comfortable winter coats out of the attic—only to shove them back deeper than before when the temperature rises.

In a September 2022 survey conducted by Inner Circle, 52 per cent of around 1,150 UK singles said that they’ve been contacted by an ex who wanted to rekindle their connection. Meanwhile, 71 per cent admitted it didn’t work out. Additionally, the app found that 41 per cent of the participants are dating less due to the cost of living crisis.

“This year, with the pressure of costs going up and people cutting back on dates, there’s the added risk of singles going back to old flings in the same way they dig out their old winter coat for the season,” Inner Circle’s dating expert Crystal Cansdale said in a press release. “Winter coating offers the comfort of staying inside, watching Netflix and not actually dating, with someone you’ve already established this dynamic with.”

While it does have a few arguable perks, winter coating harbours the entire possibility of your past repeating itself—making it the archnemesis of cobwebbing altogether. “Winter coating takes toxic cuffing season behaviour to a new level,” Cansdale said, “and unless you’re 100 per cent on the same page as the other person, it has to stop.”

What to do if you find yourself getting winter coated

Before entertaining that sus “Hey, how have you been?” text from your ex this winter, here is some advice that can save you from tumbling head-first into one of the most toxic realms of the cuffing season.

“If someone is winter coating you, it might feel exciting to hear from them again,” Cansdale explained in terms of the warning signs. “They’ll be steady and dependable through the winter and it might seem like they’ve changed. But when the first sign of spring comes around, history will repeat itself and they’ll disappear into thin air”

So, if you feel like you’re getting coated into a situational relationship with your ex, the first step is to have an upfront chat with them and set clear boundaries. If your goals don’t align with theirs, have the uncomfortable conversation and get out of dodge before it evolves into a painful one later. Also, remember to take things slow. You don’t need to rush into a rekindled relationship with someone from your past just so that you can skip the groundwork—because chances are that you’d want out just as quickly.

Cansdale also warned against getting too comfortable too soon, especially if you’ve been in that territory with your ex before. At the end of the day, make sure the effort put into the relationship is mutual.

Winter is coming, so brace yourself for some winter coaters too for the years that will follow—unless you’d like to witness it all self-destruct post-cuffing season, that is.

Kittenfishing is the toxic dating trend we’re all probably guilty of

Does benching, breadcrumbing, breezing, cushioning, negging, hogging and pocketing ring a bell? What about catfishing? Introduced to the dating world in the 2010 documentary film called Catfish, the term refers to the deceptive practice where someone pretends to be a completely different person online than they are in real life. A catfish will typically steal another individual’s identity (including their pictures, date of birth and geographical location), avoid showing their face on video calls and make up stories that are often too good to be true.

In Catfish, photographer Nev Schulman documented his own journey to uncover who was really behind the long-distance relationship he’d been having with 19-year-old singer named ‘Megan’. Eventually, he finds out that the person on the other end—who he’d engaged with over hundreds of text messages, Facebook posts and phone calls—had been a middle-aged man based in Michigan.

Although Schulman went on to create the MTV series Catfish: The TV Show, we’re here to acknowledge a growing offspring of catfishing today—which, to be honest, we’re all lowkey guilty of to a certain extent. Welcome to the wildly exaggerated world of kittenfishing. Now, before you ask, no, this toxic dating trend has nothing to do with furry little munchkins dunking their paws in water or staring rather greedily at a fish tank.

What is kittenfishing?

Coined by the dating app Hinge in 2017, kittenfishing is the diet version of catfishing if you will, a tactic where you purposely misrepresent yourself online but not to the extreme extent where you have a full-fledged false identity complete with a fake passport and accent. Think about deploying tiny white lies—like exaggerating your height, age and interest or even adding a country or two to those you’ve actually seen—all in the hopes to hook a potential date.

A kittenfisher is an expert at enhancing their dating profile. Be it with tiny tweaks (like embellishing their job title and lifestyle to sound more impressive), or full-blown clickbait antics (for instance, using old and heavily edited pictures of themselves to match the adjusted age description), a kittenfisher would bend the truth about anything to round favours from their matches. Heck, examples of the dating trend on the internet also include bald men—apologies, males with receding hairlines up till the nape of their necks—wearing hats in all their snaps.

Essentially, kittenfishing refers to a well-intended phenomenon: painting yourself in a more positive light. What harm could it possibly do, right? According to a study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, more than half of online daters (54 per cent) admit that their matches have “seriously misinterpreted” themselves in their dating profiles. When Hinge surveyed its users they found that 38 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women reported being kittenfished on the platform. What’s more interesting is that only two per cent of men and one per cent of women admitted kittenfishing someone else. Simply put, the toxic dating strategy is so elusive that people are not even realising they’re doing it.

Research has additionally proved that men typically exaggerate their height while women are more prone to mess with details about their weight. Statistics collected by the dating app OkCupid further noted that the more attractive a photo, the more likely it is out of date.

Although kittenfishing is a lighter version of catfishing, the dating tactic can have serious consequences on a relationship. Sure, knocking a year or two off your age doesn’t seem like a big deal when you haven’t even set up a lunch date with your match yet, however,  the further the in-person meetup goes, the more likely it will be that you’ve based the entire relationship on a lie. And we all know how that usually ends.

“The most important element for a successful, long-lasting relationship is trust, so when you lie in your profile, you’re only setting your date up for disappointment when their expectations don’t match reality,” Damona Hoffman, dating coach and host of the Dates & Mates podcast, told HuffPost. “You might be able to make it through a few first dates with secrets, but if your relationship evolves, eventually you will have to come clean. That could mean the end of an otherwise great partnership,” the expert continued. “It’s a missed opportunity to find someone who will love you as you are.”

Are you being kittenfished?

By this point I’m pretty sure most of you are either recalling your experiences of being kittenfished or realising you might be guilty of the crime yourself—which has become commonplace in the dating world today. Either way, here are a few pointers to help spot kittenfishing before it gets out of hand, as recommended by psychologist Ana Jovanovic in an interview with NBC News.

1. Look out for inconsistent claims

If you pay close attention to the conversations with your potential match, you may notice contradictory details in their stories or “see them fail to respond to a relatively simple question about a topic they seem to be very passionate about.”

2. Lack of details

Next up is the absence of details surrounding the element of a person’s life that they’ve lied to you about. If, for example, someone has embellished their job title in their dating profile, they may avoid going into specifics about what their position entails as there may be a high chance they accidentally reveal the truth in the process of explaining it.

3. Idealistic self-presentation

Lastly, according to Jovanovic, if it seems like your match has no flaws whatsoever, there’s a high chance they’re probably too good to be true. At this stage, it’s up to you to decide if you want to investigate further. But Jovanovic ultimately advises to ask yourself: What is the person trying to cover or lie about, how severe is the kittenfishing and how important is this to you? “You will need to make your decision on what to do based on the answer to this question,” the expert added.

Or… are you the kittenfisher?

Be it with an edited selfie or adding a few inches to your height, if you think you’ve kittenfished someone else, it’s time to address the speculations—once and for all. On these terms, Jovanovic recommends asking yourself the following questions and answering them honestly:

1. If a person was to meet me now, what differences would they find between who I am online and in-person?

This is one of the most basic exercises you can do to analyse if you’ve been kittenfishing your matches. Imagine yourself showing up for a date with someone you’ve met online. Would they recognise you easily from your photos? Sure, we all have good angles, but are you intentionally tweaking the way you look on the internet a tad too far?

2. How many white lies have I told this person?

In an interview with Bustle, Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, explained how kittenfishing has become a common practice today—given how dating is a competitive sport and we all feel the pinch. “So we resort to embellishment,” Armstrong said. “We do what we need to gain an edge. Second to this, we believe it is harmless and that our charm and wit will win out in the end.” But the ugly truth is that even if you chant “I know I’m not really six feet but she’ll love my sense of humour,” you might just land a first date but blow all your chances of subsequent ones. 

3. How do I think this person would describe me? Is this how I would describe myself, too?

Disclaimer: the answer to this question may be a shocker if you believe you’ve engaged with the dating strategy in question.

4. If a close friend who knows me well and this person were to talk about me, would they be able to recognise me as the same person?

A good beginners exercise is to get feedback on your dating profile from your close friends. Cringy, I know. But the insights you’d receive are bound to be the most honest ones—which will help you put your best foot forward and analyse if you’ve been misleading your matches all along.

Now, if you really think about it, kittenfishing has been a thing long before dating apps were even birthed into existence. Your parents might have won each other over with slight tweaks about their GPA and life goals. Heck, over here in India, families have been downright lying about their healthy dynamics to land matrimonial matches for centuries.

Though we won’t be able to eradicate kittenfishing altogether from the dating sphere anytime soon, it’s time to at least be self-aware of the toxic practice—and the earlier, the better.