Negging. Paperclipping. Kittenfishing. Benching. The dating term dictionary keeps growing. But all of these phrases aim to serve a purpose — to offer us clarity into the hectic world of love and courtship (and possibly explain why your Hinge match ghosted). As we've been stuck inside for the past five months due to a global pandemic and unable to date in person, you may have experienced yet another online dating trope that has earned itself a catchy name: whelming.
Coined by Patia Braithwaite for SELF, whelming is what happens when your dating app match randomly tells you just how exhausted and overwhelmed they are by all of their matches on the platform, or their dating lives in general. I know what you're thinking: Who would say such a thing? But Braithwaite, and a number of her friends, have experienced it firsthand.
Sure, jumping into the online dating world, especially if you haven't been present in it for a while, can be overwhelming. And yes, of course people can be stressed out by the amount of matches or messages they may receive on a dating app. But what's the point of letting a potential love interest know you're getting swamped with other suitors?
"I think it's this projection out of insecurity," Moraya Seeger DeGeare, licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, NY, tells Refinery29. "Instead of being vulnerable or just saying I'm overwhelmed, they're doing this insecure thing." Maybe your match is attempting to appear more attractive or desirable, or maybe it's just a poor excuse for not responding quick enough. Regardless, it's easy to see how it could backfire.
"I think that it's showing the person isn't really willing to do the work," DeGeare says. "Maybe [they] had this timeline in their head of what they thought their life was going to be and they're telling this person about all of these matches rather than telling them that they're failing at the timeline." Harsh, but potentially true.
Usually, when feelings like this come up, someone might tell their friends, their family, or their therapist about it — not a match they've never met in person before. "That's the boldness of online dating," DeGeare explains. "People are so willing to say all of these things, but they'd never say it to your face."
And if they did, it'd sound something along the lines of, "I was at the bar last night and there were so many people hitting on me." "If you were on a first date, you'd be like why are you telling me that? It's this weird projection out of popularity," DeGeare says. And there's no need for it. "Like, just tell me how great you are or tell me something interesting about yourself and not show me all of your insecurities," DeGeare continues.
The act of whelming draws some comparison to negging. "Neither a compliment nor an insult, a neg holds two purposes: to momentarily lower a woman's self-esteem and to suggest an intriguing disinterest. ('Nice nails. Are they real? No? Oh, they look nice anyway.')," according to pickup artist Neil Strauss, who wrote about the tactic in a 2004 New York Times article. While whelming is not as actively harmful, it may cause the person on the receiving end to feel a little bit badly about themselves, or to feel less important.
If your suitor's message about their staggering number of matches doesn't immediately turn you off and you're still potentially interested in them, DeGeare says you should acknowledge it — maybe with some light sarcasm, something along the lines of, "Wow, you're so popular," and give them a second chance to redeem themselves.
Again, remember that dating apps can be overwhelming, so if someone decides to whelm you themselves, don't take it too personally. Just be on the lookout if that behavior translates over to your real-life relationship with this person — then it may be a sign of a red flag.