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Queeries: how can I get over my fear of dating apps?

They don’t always feel like safe spaces for people of colour, but our Fagony Aunt has some ideas for how to use apps to your advantage.

25 Mar 2022

In partnership with Tinder

Dearest Fagony,

After a bit of a hiatus, I am finally ready to date again. Meeting someone organically just didn’t happen for me for a long time and so I took to dating apps to meet people outside of my social circle. It looks like using the apps is probably the best way for me to “get back out there” (whatever that means!) but I’m worried. I don’t like the idea of people I know seeing me on there – they don’t need to see pics of me trying to look hot, ok! 

And on top of that, what if I match with someone and get chatting to them…and they’re a catfish? Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Sweet Bobby, but right now I’m desperate for connection and can totally see myself falling for someone online but not knowing if it’s really them. 

And Fagony there’s more (I feel like I’m dumping all my worries here, but that’s what this is for, right!) During my last dating sprint, I would be filled with anxiety before each date. What if the vibe is off? What if they fetishise me, or say something like “I love that taste of Indian spice?”. Generally, as a PoC, there’s a higher risk of people saying inappropriate and harmful things, both on and off the app. 

How do I feel confident in setting my boundaries and actually reporting them if they do, instead of just brushing it off and unmatching? I really want to get back out there, but it just feels so risky. I would love any advice. 

Lots of love,

Dating Despair xx


Dearest Dating Despair,

Let’s turn that frown upside down, my baby!! To start, if I may, I’d like to congratulate you on being ready to date again. Not because dating is any better than not dating, but because it sounds like you’re checking in with yourself, doing things only when you’re ready and advocating for your needs to be met and anxieties to be soothed. We love that! 

So I hear that dating apps can be a bit of a nightmare but, the good news is, so is dating in general! And, while holding out for the fantasy of meeting the love of your life as they hand you a tissue on a train because you’re crying looking out the window as the bleak English countryside rolls by and they’re an empath is tempting, there are some up-sides to dating apps too! Let’s get into it.

I’m loving the incognito, don’t-look-at-me vibes you’re manifesting for your return to the apps. I get it — you’re trying to move forward, to harness life’s bounty, not get into a conversation with a creepy married uncle about why you are on Tinder. There are soo many reasons why you or other queer and trans people of colour need more control over who can and cannot see you – oppressive family members, nosy colleagues, fears of being outed or simply not wanting to see your toxic ex pretending to not be toxic. Eww. The truth is our dating pool, as vibrant and exciting as it can sometimes be, is teeny-weeny and weenier-still for those of us who don’t date white people. Avoiding ex-lovers and friends has become a queer fine art. Fortunately, Tinder has been working on a Block List feature which now allows you to pre-block by inputting the phone numbers of people you don’t want to see your profile. You just go to your settings and scroll down till you see a button that says “Block Contacts”. Not foolproof, but a gorgeous step in the right direction! Or in the words of everyone’s favourite TV host, “blocka, blocka, blocka, block”.

“The truth is our dating pool, as vibrant and exciting as it can sometimes be, is teeny-weeny and weenier-still for those of us who don’t date white people.”

Regarding catfishing, we’ve all heard horror stories and not just from the men I’ve tricked into cleaning my flat!! There are a lot of scary, manipulative, ill-intentioned people in the world and, unfortunately, some of them end up on dating apps. Slowly but surely, apps are starting to take safety concerns more seriously, though, and are targeting and blocking the right people. Tinder also now has an in-app verification option. So if you see someone with a blue tick by their name, rather than signalling that they are a P-list celebrity, it means they have been vetted by Tinder through a selfie-sending process and are probably who they say they are! Tinder has also added a video chat feature. Personally, it makes me feel kinda shy but it also means that, if both people consent, you’ll be able to date face-to-face at the slide of a toggle and without sharing your contact details or social media, if you don’t want to. A win for anti-catfishing and people who might want and need to date from home.

You shouldn’t have to plan for this, but some other ways to mitigate against getting hurt while dating online include keeping friends in the loop. Of course, friends can’t protect against everything. But making a practice of sharing, with those you trust, the kinds of intimacies you’re engaging with online (and offline!) might help you spot anything untoward going on.

You share some very real fears and altogether too-common realities about dating as a person of colour. Unfortunately, no conversation about dating would be complete without addressing the absolute racism of it all. There has been much successful propaganda around the idea that dating and romance, lust and love are or should be somehow exempt from racial politics. One consequence of this is that dating app infrastructure is painfully behind on protecting black people and people of colour from everyone’s racist, anti-Black, fatphobic, misogynist socialisation. It’s all very scary and you simply should not have to fear being called a juicy samosa every time you are trying to have a flirt, giggle and swipe on the toilet. 

“Apps provide some opportunities to state who you are, who you’re interested in and what you do and do not tolerate in a way that would frankly be weird at a bar”

I do think there are ways online dating can be kinda useful for this, though. Apps provide some opportunities to state who you are, who you’re interested in and what you do and do not tolerate in a way that would frankly be weird at a bar. For example, my own Tinder bio read “no sex 4 whitey” for an astoundingly long time before I was reported and blocked lmao. Now, as we all know, nothing will stop that person who really, really must with every cell in their body call you a caramel bonbon from finding a way to do it. But my thinking in these situations is often: wow, I’m really glad I didn’t have to leave my house to find out you have problems. Approach your conversations on the app like a bit of a test. Throw in some key words, if you know what I mean. Get a feel for how they react. 

In terms of reporting racist people, If you want to, you should absolutely feel empowered to. However, I do not believe it’s something you should ever put pressure on yourself to do. There’s nothing wrong with “brushing it off and unmatching” in the way that you describe, if that’s what feels more comfortable for you in that moment. I think a lot of the time people don’t bother with reporting because they’re in no way confident that their report will be taken seriously or that the person or bot responding will even have the awareness to assess what the problem is. These new features from Tinder try to address that by creating a whole Safety Center (ooOoh) where all users will be able to easily access info on the reporting process and community guidelines. All moderation and safety staff at Tinder have received training from advocacy groups around how to adequately and compassionately deal with people’s reports, as well. The app has also been imbued with some new tech magic which will sense when potentially offensive language has been sent and prompt the user with a “does this bother you?” message to smooth and support the reporting and blocking process.

Dating is weird and cringe and sad and fun and spontaneous. And, no matter how much you try to plan or how many gorgeous new features Tinder packs into one press release, you never really know how it’s gonna go. But in a way that’s the magic of it, isn’t it?

Until next time, stay sexy and informed.

Love from,