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Backhanded compliments and emotional abuse: introducing the twisted dating practice of negging

Unknown to you, the cheeky dig that made you feel like that someone you just matched with is the ultimate catch you need to step up your game for, might be nothing more than a clear sign of emotional manipulation through a backhanded comment. As much as I hate to say it, oftentimes, it’s hard to differentiate one from the other. This is exactly why it’s so important for you to be aware of what is known as ‘negging’, especially when it comes to dating someone new—especially when first interacting with them on an app. Is it a pink flag or a red one? Let’s find out.

I am unashamedly familiar with dating apps and I love a bit of shallow banter—maybe this is weird, but I do have the most fun with individuals who can make fun of me. This particular ‘taste’ also plays a part in the photos I choose to post on my dating profiles. Attention seeking much? Obviously yes, but isn’t that the point anyway? I can only speak for myself here, but I’d rather date someone who sits on the side of ‘less serious’ than ‘look how hot I can look in this lighting’. But when you really think about it, what are those seemingly humorous comments from my latest crush doing to the ticking mechanics of my brain (and possibly yours too) when it comes to how I feel towards not only that person but subconsciously myself, too? The answer to that complex question lies in the very definition of ‘negging’.

What is negging exactly?

Bear with me readers—we do sometimes have to form our own opinions as we write. Full disclosure here, I take the piss out of many things in life and appreciate people who can take it and throw it straight back. I also think we’re in a bubble of time where the line of what we should and shouldn’t take seriously is a little blurred. That being said, I’ve had my own Will Smith moments in the past because of a sense of humour failure and I’m not too proud about it, regardless of the context leading up to it. But here goes—negging is a term that was coined by pick-up artists and is used to describe the behaviour someone displays when they sort of insult you with the purpose of increasing your social value to them in their head.

Examples of negging

Dating coach and TikTok content creator Ali had some examples to share. In one of her videos, one person had written as a prompt that they want “someone who has their shit together and is worth my time.” Another example she gave of a prompt was: “We’ll get along if you have a sense of humour. I know that’s setting the bar pretty high.” You see where this is going, right? Ironically, both of these profiles seem to take themselves very seriously indeed. Ali further mentioned an example that is strangely similar to what I have experienced in the past—a guy that I was dating said to me that “he usually dated models, and it was refreshing that I wasn’t one.” Yup, unnecessary, and this kind of stuff happens far more than we think. To delve deeper into it, it’s important to note that there are a few subtler examples in comparison to these.

Imagine someone tells you something along the lines of, “Well, don’t you look fabulous? I would never have the courage to wear my hair like that.” This comment would instantaneously make you feel the need to quietly search the room for a mirror. Another could be when someone tunes you out of conversion—that’s silent negging—and literally makes you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter or isn’t valid. This should all make us run a mile, yet it doesn’t on most occasions. Why is that?

What are the most ridiculous "negs" you've received from guys trying to sleep with you? from AskWomen

The golden thread here is that the specific topics that people draw from when aiming to neg someone are more often than not based on the insecurities of the one who’s actually doing the negging. Regardless of why, however, these comments can have a huge impact on our self-esteem and our way of treating other future relationships.

We all desire and very much deserve healthy and mutually supportive relationships, but sometimes we get caught up in dangerously sensitive scenarios that we don’t really realise we’re in until it verbally hits us in the ego. What words affect you is also drawn from your own ego and insecurities, and that’s something we can’t forget to consider here. Although vitally, negging is wrong, all of it is wrong. You have to decide what is and what is not negging quite carefully. That being said, by no means are there any excuses to jeopardise someone’s self-confidence for the sake of your own. So here are some tips to help you deal with negging.

How to react to negging

First and foremost, you have to learn how to tune into the emotions that you’re feeling when you are in a relationship of any kind (friendship, workplace or a romantic relationship, negging happens in them all). Notice when something gives you that pinch in the stomach—you know the one. Then reflect on what it is, where it’s come from and why it’s affecting you so personally. Do not be afraid to call them out on it immediately, I can only say that this is what we should be doing. If someone does something that hurts you, call them out on it and have that conversation. But you can’t do this unless you know it’s happening.

Secondly, negging is most definitely a form of abuse, and when it’s really obvious—for example, there are many out there, but if someone outright says to you something like “You know, you’d actually look kind of sexy if you lost 10 pounds,” then pack your bags and go honey, because that flag is not pink, it is devilishly red. Another thing is, those red flags at the beginning of any relationship are more than likely to be the reason that relationship ends. The author of Happily Ever After: A Woman’s Guide to Online Dating, Benjamin Daly says the same thing in one of his TikTok videos.

@benjamindaly

If you ignore the red flags now… #datingadvice #datingtips

♬ original sound - Benjamin Daly

Finally, c’mon people, there are better ways to flirt. Engage in the interests of what the people you interact with are interested in. Listen to what they say, what you say, and how it makes you (and them) feel. This is your life, and you have to react to what happens in it in the best way that you can. Meditate, breathe, and no, I’m not joking—having a greater understanding of the spaces around the reactions and within the comments themselves allows you to avoid scenarios that do more harm than good. And as always, ask for help, because long-term effects of remaining in a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship can include anxiety, depression, and chronic pain among other things. You don’t deserve that.

Men have to buy the ring and women shouldn’t make the first move: introducing the ‘Romance Gap’

Have you ever wondered why it’s ‘passionate’ when he admits his feelings in a heterosexual relationship but when you do the same, it’s ‘needy’? Or when he doesn’t text you back he’s ‘playing it cool’ but if you don’t—you’re playing ‘hard to get’? You might not have heard of this term before but you’ll definitely know the feeling. Introducing the ‘Romance Gap’, an unexamined factor limiting all of our relationships by making it difficult to build healthy and meaningful connections.

What exactly is the Romance Gap?

Coined by the dating app Bumble, Romance Gap refers to “the discrepancy in behaviour expected from male or masculine presenting people and female or feminine presenting people when dating and in relationships.” It resembles the pay gap, but for your love life. Women wait for their male interest to ask them out while men are expected to go in for the first kiss and eventually buy the ring. You feel feisty when you’re honest, desperate when you want commitment and spend hours debating how many heart emojis are too many.

Now, you may feel like we’ve already crossed this bridge and challenged all these gender norms. However, the polls are in and the results are shocking proof of how the Romance Gap continues to define traditional expectations in our dating lives today.

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In a new campaign, Bumble commissioned a research which found that while 86 per cent of British people state equality as an important factor between those who are dating or in a relationship, almost 74 per cent believe that there are different expectations and ideal behaviours based on your gender identity in romance. The study, conducted by YouGov across several key European markets, also uncovered that these expectations are, in fact, so ingrained into our society—leading 52 per cent of adults to believe the impact of gender roles makes people behave in a way that is less true to who they are. Not only does this lead to less authentic interactions, but 47 per cent of people throughout European countries, and 51 per cent in the UK, stated that it makes dating and relationships even more stressful and difficult.

The train of revelations doesn’t stop there either. In the research, one in four men admitted that they feel pressured to take the lead—while 33 per cent of women felt that they’ve changed their behaviour to make someone else feel more powerful or comfortable in a relationship. In the UK, 53 per cent of participants also believe that men are expected to be the breadwinners. These figures stand at 42 per cent when it comes to the claim that women are expected to prioritise romantic relationships and settle down before they are ‘too old’—ultimately implying the belief that women have a ‘shelf life’ in the world of dating.

It’s time to drop the script

Despite relationship anarchy and platonic marriages redefining the gender dynamics in relationships, Bumble’s research sheds light on how traditional roles continue to grip our dating lives today and are even accepted by many. It’s also important to note that when romance starts from a place of gendered inequality, it could often have an overarching impact on other aspects of our life.

For starters, traditional gender norms don’t just influence how we behave, but also how we think—including our perception of what is romantic, sexy and attractive in a partner. Given how the foundation of most relationships are formed within the first few months, areas like money, childcare and the division of emotional labour are also at risk of being influenced by gender expectations as time evolves.

“At Bumble, we are focused on creating an app that empowers women to make the first move and date on their own terms from the beginning. But we alone cannot change societal expectations,” said Naomi Walkland, Bumble’s Vice President for Europe. But not all hope is lost.

“The only way to reduce the Romance Gap is to acknowledge it exists and start an open conversation about how it impacts how we see ourselves, our partners, and relationships,” Walkland continued. “Only when we are aware of it can we challenge each other to do away with gendered expectations of who should do what.”

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A post shared by Bumble Australia & New Zealand (@bumble_australia)

This desire for change even translates into statistics, as the research uncovered how people in the UK strongly believe that, in an ideal world, we would not have expectations about who earns more money (58 per cent), has a more successful career (55 per cent), or who makes the first move by initiating a date (49 per cent). Meanwhile, more than three in five British people claimed that it is key to be confident in expressing who you are and what you want. Half of the women interviewed in the study also stated that it’s important to address the topic of equality pretty early on in their dating lives.

Backed with the mission to build a space where women have the autonomy to set the tone and choose when and how to open the conversation, the Romance Gap is Bumble’s latest campaign to empower people into creating healthy and equitable relationships. So what are you waiting for? Now that we have a name for it, it’s easier to acknowledge and change the narrative once and for all. Start dating on your own terms. Show your true self and instead of making compromises, ‘make the first move’. Or don’t—you have the ultimate power to decide what’s best for you and what’s not.