Non-stop anxiety

Sex, Lies, and Micro-Cheating: Why Every Dating Trend is Fake News

There’s just one real trend: Bullshitting. We are all bullshitting ourselves.


“What is microcheating and are you a little bit guilty of it?” the headline asks in Metro. “What is micro-cheating? It’s the newest infidelity trend to mess up your relationship,” Bustle tells us. “Micro-cheating: The small actions that some say is as bad as full betrayal,” The Independent warns.

As a writer who has made a living in the made-up “dating term” buzzword space for more than a decade, I don’t know if I can take it any longer. It’s lies, all of it. None of this is real. It’s filler. It’s a distraction from the headache of complicated issues involved in figuring out intensely personal and widely variant emotional boundaries with a significant other. It’s bullshit. All of it.

Ask yourself this: Have you ever heard, outside of the context of either a media space or a social media space, anyone ever use these terms? OK, “ghosted,” sure. But “kittenfishing”? That’s about as convincing as the infamous 1992 hoax when a fairly hilarious young person fed The New York Times a bunch of made-up “grunge” terms (like “swingin’ on the flippity-flop”) and sold them as gritty slang realism. Here is a quick survey of this vast sphere of bullshittery which appears to be metastasizing of late:

Micro-cheating (emotional infidelity). Ghosting (one person disappears from a casual dating relationship). Kittenfishing (similar to the deception of catfishing but using an old dating profile or some other form of misrepresentation). Roaching (a person hides the fact that they’re sleeping around). Benching (“You’re not in the starting lineup, but they haven’t quite cut you from the team”). Breadcrumbing (dropping indicators of interest sporadically but never really moving forward with actual dating). Tindstagramming (a guy reaches out to a girl from Tinder whose Instagram profile is linked). Submarining (you disappear and then you come up again). Mooning (keeping your phone on Do Not Disturb to ignore a suitor). Cinderfellas (middle-aged men who want instant life-validation fireworks in a relationship). Cushioning (creating several potential future relationships by flirting with others in case your current relationship fails). R-bombing (someone has their “read” receipts on and doesn’t reply). Phubbing (ignoring someone for your phone). Cuffing season (settling down with someone for the cold months) and clearing season (the desperate days toward the end of cuffing season). Drafting season (right before cuffing season). Demisexuals (attraction to emotions). Sapiosexuals (attraction to intelligence). Ecosexuals (attraction to environmentalists). Sologamists (marrying yourself). Gatsbying (posting an impressive Snapchat and waiting for the one person you’re interested in to watch it). Breezing (not stressing and acting relaxed in a relationship). Half-night-stands (you have sex but don’t stay over). Tuning (flattering and playing up to exactly what a girl likes). Haunting (disappearing but then still watching Snapchats). Zombies (you ghost then show up again like the undead). Pie hunting (seeking out broken-hearteds who have bad relationship histories).

All fake. Fake news. Fake trends. Fake phrases. Here’s a trend that is very real, though: Bullshitting. We are all bullshitting ourselves.

Why do we do it? Why are there going to be about a thousand more of these terms introduced into the lexicon while this article and others decrying this nonsense can do nothing about it? Because we are all so desperate (myself included) to impose any kind of structure onto the messy chaotic utter black pit of despair that often lies within the realm of love, dating, and relationships. As long as media exists (and media manipulation exists), bullshit dating buzzwords will spread like the opiate of the masses they are.

Let me show you how easy this is to do.

  1. Identify something that sucks about love and relationships.
  2. Play a word association game. Use a generator if you have to.
  3. Find a dating expert who has a book to sell to validate your new made-up buzzword, and—voila—you have a hot new dating trend.

It’s really just that easy in dating trend-piece journalism.

Let’s try it really quickly. Say your significant other gives you flowers to make up for some potentially nefarious act or deed. “Stemming.” Maybe he isn’t ready to settle down? “Roaming.” Does she bring up wanting to have a baby soon because well, tick tock? Oh, definitely, big-time trend right there. “Clocking.”

It’s easy to see why these articles are catnip to media consumers. (“Catnipping”: When he buys a bunch of your favorite things as presents because he thinks he’ll get more sex in return.)

As sometimes media critic Hamilton Nolan once said of fake trend reporting, all you have to do in order to season up non-stories is pour a little “patented significance-inflating sauce” onto a nice juicy observation, the way Seinfeld did with terms such as the “bad-breaker-upper” or comic Rich Hall did with his sniglets and neologisms in the ’80s or the character Stefan on SNL did in explaining “you know… it’s that thing when…” to pin down the most hyper-specific activities imaginable within human behavior.

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But how literate is the average media consumer in decoding just how bullshit-rife this entire oeuvre is? The founder of modern public relations Edward Bernays isn’t exactly the household name he ought to be in paving the way for manufacturing consent, disseminating propaganda and creating consumeristic rituals we don’t even think twice about today (the guy literally created breakfast).

What is the goal of dulled-down literacy to junk reporting—and the proliferation of the stories themselves? Confirmation bias. (Love is hard, dangerous, and you can’t win.) Complacency. (Worry about this, not about bigger issues.) Consumerism. (Did you know that it was dating app Hinge that invented the term “kittenfishing”? That’s dating app Hinge: H-I-N-G-E. Be sure to check them out!)

It’s far less dangerous than, say, the weaponization of fake news in the 2016 election, but it’s nice occasionally to pull back the curtain on such bullshit all the same.

(“Curtain pulling”: When your crush reveals a little bit of backstory as to why he has relationship issues but never enough so that he does anything to change.)

But still—ultimately—we as a society are better than this non-stop anxiety feeding frenzy would lead anyone to observe.

The only dating terms you really need to know are: trust, boundaries, communication, honesty, self-respect, standards. Maybe read some John Gottman if you want to get better at them, or, really, any other science-based relationship theorist and complement it with some Nonviolent Communication for healthily expressing needs and getting what you want out of a coupling.

Likely, if you have self-worth, you’re not going to get lost in the rabbithole of deluding yourself that a text message here and there (“he’s breadcrumbing me!”) is some act being foisted upon you, that you are the victim of. Instead, you’ll think, “What a loser. He’s pretty inconsistent in communication so, yeah: Block.” If you have personal standards for treatment, you’re not going to think, “He never introduced me to his friends and family, so I was the victim of stashing!” You’ll sense something is wrong and move on to the next person.

“Deep conflicts rage at the heart of modern sexuality,” so explains one of the more seminal books examining mating and its challenges to come along in years, Sex at Dawn. “Our cultivated ignorance is devastating.”

Truer words about relationships have never been written.

Unfortunately, fake trends only compound the problem—and hinder the chance of possible enlightenment on the challenges modern mating poses.

When you consider the brutal marketing forces that drive the argument economy (or the hot take economy, if you prefer), it’s clear why, as the theorist Chris Hedges wrote in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, “In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion.”

By the way, have you heard about the hot new dating trend?

It’s called “nuancing.” You stop using identity politics and naming conventions to try to make sense of an in-the-moment organic experience that likely has some good elements to it and some bad and involves a human who is less likely to be a sociopath using an extensively charted-out plan of evil trickery and behavior (“I’ll start with a little kittenfishing, and then work my way into micro-cheating”), and more likely to be some pretty decent guy or girl, just trying to get by in this world. It’s not dangerous either. You don’t need to be aware of it. And it definitely is not sweeping the country.