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From #MessyTikTok to #StayToxic, is social media sleuthing ruining your love life?

The daily doomscroll. On the toilet, in bed—wherever you’re doing it, just five minutes of flipping through your TikTok FYP represents an infinite number of ways in which you could come across a piece of information with the potential to ruin your day—and more often than not, your relationship too.

People are flocking to share intimate details of their love lives with complete strangers online. From #storytime and #messytiktok to #revengetok and #staytoxic, on TikTok, our deepest traumas can be triggered at any time with just a flick of our thumbs. This, in turn, begs the question: can watching these videos on a daily basis influence our own relationships? My personal opinion? Definitely. All too often.

Caught your boyfriend cheating? You can expose him, then douse everything he owns in glitter. Feeling lonely? A scroll through #breakuptok connects the ghosted, the breadcrumbed, and the unceremoniously dumped. A big trend is videoing oneself mid-breakdown. The dumpee might sob uncontrollably or stare into space, a single tear rolling down a puffy cheek. Most videos are overlaid with text narrating their story, ramped up with a sad song.

@symonneharrisonofficial

breakups are hard.💔

♬ original sound - Feelz

As an attempt at capturing and communicating the subject’s raw feelings, these videos can be upsetting, and even disturbing to watch (particularly if you’re going through, or have been through, something similar). While most users actively seek comfort and connection at a vulnerable moment in their lives, others want control and empowerment—and this is where things can get complicated.

Just check the comments under any viral video that details cheating, lying, or betrayal. Here, hundreds of users will lend support, detailing their own traumatic experiences, while others share tricks to prevent heartbreak and betrayal. Spoiler alert: you can’t really achieve the latter—but reading them will make you think you can.

Suspicious lovers swap notes on how to check a partner’s internet history to see if they’re cheating. Tinder users remind each other that you can check when your hook-up last used the app, because their geographical location updates each time they open it. Some even admit to looking at their ex’s Spotify playlists, searching for hidden meaning. Meanwhile, unrequited lovers screenshot their crush’s Snapscore to check if it’s just them they’re ignoring and some people even scrutinise their partner’s Venmo purchases looking for clues.

Seasoned sleuthers can go so far as to hack into or create fake Instagram accounts, specifically with the intent to monitor what their person of interest is doing. Some send text messages hoping to catch them red-handed by pretending to be someone else entirely, while others employ ‘honey trappers’ to test their partner’s loyalty. Many of these practices could be classed as cyberstalkinga criminal offence under American anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws—plus, they’re detrimental to overall health and happiness.

Relationship expert Jessica Alderson told SCREENSHOT: “Many of the viewers of videos and comments like this would have never thought to conduct research like that. In addition, seeing other people social media sleuthing and telling their stories can make people insecure about their own relationships which, in turn, can cause them to do things that they wouldn’t have otherwise done. This is more likely to cause problems than provide solutions.”

Alderson went on to add: “It’s now easier than ever to look someone up online, and with that has come a greater potential for misuse. This can result in serious psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.”

Whether you’ve just been broken up with—drink your water, eat your vegetables, you’ve got this—you’re navigating a situationship, or you’ve been with your person for years, copying this TikTok activity puts you at risk of unnecessary issues and disputes.

Few of us could truly say that we’ve never engaged in a little light stalking. You know the drill—you meet someone new, give them a follow, and carry out a routine vibe check. It’s all too easy to find yourself lurking five years deep into their grid, doing everything not to accidentally tap the heart button as you note that their ex-partner is annoyingly beautiful, a great dancer, and speaks seven languages.

Suddenly, your mind works overtime to piece together the ‘evidence’ it has now gathered, weaving a (completely made up) narrative that clouds your thoughts. Out of nowhere, you might feel insecure, unsettled, and even a bit sad—a feeling that can linger.

You’ve given your brain the chance to ruminate on a person’s past—a past they are completely entitled to have. At best, you’ve robbed yourself of an opportunity to start fresh with this person, hearing their stories the way they wanted to tell them. At worst, you come out feeling less cool, fun, or attractive than previous people they’ve been close to. This can do nothing but hurt your relationship or hook-up, and it might stop it from happening altogether.

It’s a lose-lose situation. So, what do we do about it? For a lot of us, the process involves the hardest task of all: taking a break from social media altogether.

“Focus on making your life the best it can be. This might involve spending time with your friends, pursuing your passions, or taking on an extra project at work,” Alderson advised.

“Essentially, you want to divert your time and attention elsewhere, to activities that make a positive difference in your life,” she continued.

Easier said than done. Need some tips? Alderson’s got you covered:

– Practise mindful social media use. Take regular breaks from your devices and spend that time engaging in activities that don’t involve technology, such as physical exercise, reading, or creative hobbies.

– If you catch yourself feeling tempted to start looking up information about people online, pause and ask yourself what you’ll gain from doing it. Consider whether the risks outweigh the benefits. One point to be particularly mindful of is that what you see online may not be accurate, and it can often be misleading.

– Setting clear boundaries when it comes to looking people up online can help if you are prone to social media sleuthing. For some, this might involve not Googling someone until they hit a certain milestone, such as the fifth date or the ‘exclusive’ status in a relationship. For others, this could mean no social media sleuthing at all, or only looking up certain information once if you feel like it will improve your sense of safety on a date.

– Ask yourself whether your interest is coming from a healthy place. Wanting to discover more about someone you like is completely natural, but before looking them up online, reflect on whether your desire is coming from a healthy place or a place of insecurity. This is one of the best litmus tests to help figure out whether you should take a certain course of action.

What to do if you’ve become a victim of social media sleuthing

– Take steps to protect yourself online. This could include changing your privacy settings and being mindful of the information you share publicly. A social media audit is always a good idea, which involves going through all of your accounts and deleting or adjusting any information that you don’t want people to see.

– Give yourself time to grieve. This might take a while, and that’s okay. When someone has invaded your privacy in this way, it can be a traumatic experience. You want to ensure that you process your emotions as best as possible in order to reduce the risk of experiencing trust issues going forward. 

– If you’ve been a victim of social media sleuthing, you should seek help from people close to you or professionals. It can be hard to heal and move on.

‘Ethical sex-ploration’ and two other trends that Bumble predicts will shape our dating lives in 2023

When it comes to dating, the devil—aka that supposed ‘pro-surfer’ who chatted to you for weeks, met your mum over FaceTime, and then ditched midway through a round of appetisers—works hard, but Bumble works harder. The year is almost over, and while questionable online habits such as winter coating and reverse catfishing lay to waste in the graveyard of 2022, a new horizon is approaching, filled to the brim with fresh dating trends geared towards us, the most chaotic yet purposeful and diverse cohort to date: gen Z.

Bumble gathered this data by conducting internal polling from 12 October to 1 November 2022 using a sample of 14,300 users from around the world.

So, with the women-first dating app’s forecasts fresh and warm in my hands, let me take you on a journey to explore and explain three of the most gen Z-orientated trends set to dominate our romantic lives in 2023.

1. Ethical sex-ploration

Bumble has an extensive history of championing progressive and healthy habits when it comes to our swiping and liking habits. Both its zero-tolerance for ghosting as well as its participation in the fight against cyberflashing clearly shines a light on the company prioritising the promotion of constructive and safe online connections.

This latest trend is no different. SCREENSHOT was lucky enough to sneak a peak, and when we heard about ‘Ethical sex-ploration’, our ears pricked up. As Bumble explains, “The way that we are talking, thinking about, and having sex is changing.” According to the app’s data, 42 per cent of us are approaching sex, intimacy, and dating in an open and exploratory way, and sex is no longer taboo. In fact, more than half of the daters surveyed agreed that it’s important to discuss sexual wants and needs early on in a relationship.

Over the past year, 20 per cent have explored their sexuality more, and 14 per cent are considering a non-monogamous relationship. It’s true that gen Z is the queerest generation yet—according to LGBTQIA-focused publication Them, the current self-diagnosing TikTok scrollers and Y2K obsessives are inherently far more comfortable exploring their sexualities and gender than previous groups. Surveys have recently shown that 15.9 per cent of gen Zers would describe themselves as queer or transgender.

Bumble has spotted a clear shift among young daters who are seeking the same sexual diversity and inclusion that they see in the world, reflected in the apps they use to find meaningful romantic connections. Relationship practices such as polyamory or solo polyamory have gained massive traction among young adults who’ve begun to seek partnerships outside of the binary monogamous format.

This diversity also includes people who aren’t seeking sex, which is an equally valid path to follow. Bumble also told us that from the data it has analysed, 34 per cent people are not currently having sex and are completely okay with it.

2. Dating Renaissance

First time dating app users—this one’s for you. Some may glance at the name of this 2023 trend and picture a slideshow of prospective partners donning corsets, puffed sleeves, feathers and ruffles. However, this particular renaissance is far more exciting and involves far less fanciful clothing.

Bumble’s data has picked up a rather interesting pattern, the fact that 39 per cent of the users on the popular app have ended a marriage or serious relationship in the last two years. It seems these newly singles are jumping into their second chapter with 36 per cent reportedly using dating apps for the first time.

So, if you’ve found yourself in a slump, still longingly holding onto photo booth reels and that one shared jumper, push away the kleenex and head over to a dating app which might help you pour some spice back into your life. Oh, and while scrolling, why not also fall back in love with Beyoncé’s magnetic house album, Renaissance.

Diving head first into these apps can be intimidating, so make sure to also take your time navigating these deep waters—and remember, not all fish are sharks! Although, you can always keep guardrailing (another one of the company’s 2023 trends) in mind, which states that establishing regular emotional boundaries should always be the top priority.

On Bumble, 85 per cent of users are looking for a long term relationship, so if you’re just hunting for a casual thing, maybe head elsewhere.

3. New Year, New Me(n)

Gen Zers are praised by some and criticised by others (boomers) for their relentless pursuit of diversity, inclusion and freedom of expression. We’re unwavering in our fight for progressive politics and we’re not shy about it—not very snowflake of us, hm? Well, it would make sense then that gen Zers who are romantically or sexually interested in men are looking for shared perspectives. And it turns out, they might be in luck.

Bumble’s third forecasted dating trend is ‘New Year, New Me(n)’. According to the app, conversations about gender norms and expectations have been front and centre. Over the last year, 74 per cent of men say they have examined their behaviour more than ever and have a clearer understanding of toxic masculinity and what is not acceptable.

It should be noted that there have been various debates about the validity of toxic masculinity and whether or not as a concept it actually helps to educate boys and men. The Atlantic, for example, noted in 2019: “The concept of toxic masculinity encourages an assumption that the causes of male violence and other social problems are the same everywhere, and therefore, that the solutions are the same as well. While themes of violence, entitlement, and sexism recur across communities, they show up differently in different places.” 

This comment encourages us to consider some of the nuances when it comes to tackling these issues—maybe dating apps are a good place to start? Bumble has identified a clear positive shift among male users of its app. Defying traditional romantic norms has an abundance of benefits for all those involved, from avoiding awkward conversations to preventing gender-based violence.

From surveying its users, the app found that more than 52 per cent are actively challenging stereotypes that suggest that men should not show emotions. On top of that, 38 per cent now speak more openly about their emotions with their male friends, and 49 per cent of men agree that breaking gender roles in dating and relationships is beneficial for them too.

And with so many more men taking the time to be proactive and prioritise relearning when it comes to these societal issues, maybe users could also partake in another popular dating forecast, ‘Open Casting’. Ditch the ‘tall, dark and handsome’ taglines and see what else is out there, you might surprise yourself.

So, there we have it, Bumble has bequeathed us with some of the freshest dating trends which could even persuade the most TikTok-obsessed gen Zer to shift their interest from golden retriever content to finding love online.