The ‘Mastermind’ TikTok Trend Is Cute — Until It Isn’t

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Taylor Swift isn’t just dominating the airwaves with her new album Midnights right now — she’s also dominating TikTok. From people lip-syncing ‘Karma’ and ‘Anti-Hero’ to happily loved-up couples joking about how the new album is ruining their relationships, every swipe seems to be Taylor-related. One top TikTok trend is based around ‘Mastermind’ — but if you look closely, it highlights a pretty problematic dating habit.
The 'Mastermind' trend involves TikTok users sharing how they partially orchestrated their love stories, an experience Swift sings about on the track:
What if I told you none of it was accidental
And the first night that you saw me, nothing was gonna stop me
I laid the groundwork and then, just like clockwork
The dominoes cascaded in a line
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Most of the videos are innocent enough: people saying they accidentally-on-purpose left their wallet in a date’s car, and now they’ve been married 20 years, or sharing the lengthy research they did into a person's life via social media, only to pretend they know nothing about them on the actual first date.
We've all been there — we see a potential future with someone we’re attracted to but are yet to meet, so we gently manipulate the situation to ensure that we do, in fact, get to meet them and then continue spending time together.
We like them, and we want them to like us.
But there is a creepy, not-quite-right edge to it all when you drill it down like that, and the TikTok trend has been pretty revealing. It's all very sweet when the couple actually ends up together, but where is the line between innocent manipulation and control? 
When I was dating in my 20s, I spent a lot of time orchestrating relationships. I'd fall for a guy, then spend all my waking moments hatching plans by eavesdropping on his conversations or being hyper-observant so I could pretend to share his interests. I'd completely curate a version of myself for him in the hope that he would fall for me like I'd fallen for him.
Of course, this reeked of insecurity — I wanted people to like me, so I gave them exactly what they wanted. I often didn’t even consciously realise that I was doing it. My first crush liked heavy metal music, so suddenly I did too. As I got older, it was less obvious, but looking back, I was always moulding my personality, interests and style to suit whoever I had an interest in.
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It wasn't until I hit my 30s that I finally got tired of pretending. Truthfully it never worked — even when I did "catch" the people I liked, we'd usually break up within months because at the heart of it, we didn't actually make sense. I was forcing it. Bit by bit, my true personality would emerge, my faux interests became less interesting, and the spark would fade.
I'm not saying everyone participating in the 'Mastermind' trend is in a toxic relationship. I can just see some worrying parallels between some of their stories and my own history.
@paigeesmiith He now knows I don’t actually like baseball😌😝 #mastermind #taylorswift #midnight ♬ Mastermind - Taylor Swift
You don't “get” a partner because you pretended to like the music they listened to — and if you do, that relationship is based on a lie. Yes, a little scheming is fine — it's even romantic, in a way. You like someone so much that you make the perfect plans to meet them, or you find out more about their interests so you can have a deeper conversation. I don't see anything wrong with that. You just want a chance to show them who you are.
@gilliannryan & to this day he does not know 😌#mastermind ♬ Mastermind - Taylor Swift
What's not fine, however, is when you pretend to be someone you're not.
There are the obvious reasons — it's lying, plain and simple, and you're effectively pulling the wool over someone's eyes so they "fall" for someone who doesn't actually exist. But it's also really bad for your own sense of self. When I would fake my way into a relationship with someone I was crushing on, my self-esteem plummeted. Why? Because I wasn't able to be myself, and that was because I didn't think my real self was loveable.
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This is the problem with a lot of TikTok trends — the nuance is lacking, so for those of us who critically think about these stories, we can walk away going, “that’s cute, as long as they’re not hiding themselves.” But given the age of the vast majority of most TikTok users, I’d say that a lot of younger people are taking it as fact that manipulating someone because you have a crush on them is cute. Or worse, that it's effective.
If you did a bit of masterminding at the beginning of your relationship, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's based on a lie. As long as you feel that over time, you can feel safe being yourself, chances are that your partner loves you for who you are, not for whoever you were when they met you.
But if you're dating someone and feel like you're hiding behind a curated persona, honestly — stop. It's not worth it. You're better off meeting someone who thinks all your quirks, weirdness, everything that is brilliant (and not so brilliant) about you is wonderful, because those people are out there and you don't have to manipulate them into liking you.
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