‘Whelming’ is the new online dating habit that's making me want to throw away my phone

What is online dating without the cacophony of terms used to describe the experience? There’s benching, which is when someone likes you enough to keep you in their rotation of potential options but not enough to commit. Then there is ghosting, which happens when your date disappears at some point during your interaction without explanation; paper-clipping, which is when the person who ghosted you pops up a few months later to chat with you again; and even zombie-ing, which sounds a lot like paper-clipping, in that a ghost returns to torment the living (i.e., you).

There’s also negging—a toxic practice that hearkens back to a simpler time before all of these nuanced dating terms emerged. For the uninitiated, negging is a weird pick-up tactic from the early aughts where someone approaches you and, instead of just being friendly (or talking to you like a human), they give you a backhanded compliment. The idea is to bring your confidence down a bit, which is somehow meant to make you more interested in the person doing the negging.

If this all sounds like a terrible way to be wooed, hold on to your smartphones, friends. There’s a new shitty dating behavior that I’ve noticed in my online dating travails: a little something I call whelming. Whelming is what happens when my matches spontaneously lament about how overwhelmed they are by their other matches instead of, you know, flirting with me. It’s mildly irritating at best. I’ve noticed it specifically on Bumble, which was “originally designed to disrupt traditional gender roles in heteronormative dating,” meaning that women have 24 hours to initiate conversations with matches, who then have 24 hours to respond. (For same-sex matches, either person can start the conversation.)

The first time this happened, I asked follow-up questions: How frequently are you swiping? Did you know you can control the flow of matches by, uh, swiping right less? Are you unaccustomed to this much attention from interested people? His answers were a mix of complaints (“It’s just too much”) and weird misogynistic ramblings (“Why does every girl on here love brunch and tacos?”). I unmatched, thinking this was an isolated instance.

The second time it happened, I was offended, thinking to myself, He does realise that I’ve matched with him too, right? By my third experience with whelming, I was over trying to figure it out. I unmatched with the person without responding, no longer interested in explaining swipe apps to people already using swipe apps. I was, for lack of a better term, underwhelmed.

Still, I wasn’t sure whether or not there were other victims of whelming, so I put out feelers in my various group chats. “Who hasn’t experienced this,” my friend, Samantha L., 36, wrote back, recounting an experience where one match asked her for dating advice. People are clearly telling their matches about their robust dating lives, whether that’s in the form of asking for dating advice or straight-up venting about being overwhelmed.

“I’ve matched with quite a few men who have felt the need to tell me that they have so many matches and that they’re overwhelmed,” Quinyetta B., 27, tells SELF.

In one situation, Quinyetta matched with someone who lived in a different city. They kept in touch because she’d made plans to travel to his city for work in the coming weeks. Given their distance (and the nature of online dating), her match was a bit unresponsive in the lead-up to their date. When she finally asked him why, he blamed his aloofness on his other matches. “I’m going on dates with a lot of women and…it’s really difficult to make sure that I’m talking to everybody that wants to talk to me. You wouldn’t understand,” Quinyetta remembers being told.

But when Quinyetta texted her match to cancel their date, she found out that she was apparently an essential component in his dating lineup. “He wrote back, ‘I really like you, and I do think you’re a dope person. I could really see myself being with you long-term if it worked out,’” she says, adding that she didn’t respond to his message.

These interactions make me a bit sad. As online dating becomes more commonplace, it would be nice if conversations mirrored the basic dignity that we expect IRL (negging aside). You wouldn’t approach someone in a bar and say, “Wow, 37 other people in this bar have expressed interest in me. I’m so overwhelmed.” So why would it ever be okay to do something so incredibly awkward in the liminal space that is online dating?

Admittedly, I can’t say for sure that these overwhelmed folks all have nefarious intentions. Sure, it’s possible that whelming is a cousin of negging, meant to make women feel like they have to compete for attention and approval. “I think it’s an ego thing,” Quinyetta says. “Men want us to know they’ve got options.”

But it’s also possible that online daters really are stressed about all their potential choices. A quick journey into Reddit reveals posters who identify as men wondering why they’re getting so few matches online. So, on an app like Bumble, where women have to make the first move, finding that your direct messages are suddenly full of interested people (and that you only have a certain amount of time to respond) might be a bit of a shock.

The thing is that as an over-seasoned online dater, I can totally relate to being overwhelmed. I’ve been inundated with the endless matches, lackluster direct messages, and relentless parade of weeknight drinks that leave an introvert like me feeling overburdened and under-enthused all at once. There have been times when I’ve stopped swiping because all of my matches have seemed indistinct. But—this is where whelmers and I differ—I didn’t talk to my new matches about it. Naturally, I complained to my friends instead.

Sharing these concerns with me—a literal stranger and potential match—doesn’t make me feel like an empowered dater. Being told that I’m one of many (trust me, I already know) doesn’t do much to engender warmth toward the person with whom I’ve just matched. If anything, it makes me painfully aware of how deeply impersonal online dating can be. No one clutching their phone on the sofa post-dinner with spaghetti sauce on their face (or swiping during toilet time) needs added reminders that online dating is weird.

“Assume we’ve all got matches,” Quinyetta advises. “It’s not something that needs to be said.”


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