Viewpoint

The Tinder Swindler’s Victims Were Neither Stupid Nor Gold Diggers 

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Face Elka Graham Outdoors and Sleeve
Instagram: @mackie_bella

Like a lot of people, I watched The Tinder Swindler this week, a Netflix documentary which tells the story of three women who get scammed by a man. As I don’t want you to write in chastising me for giving it all away (something I cannot help doing and which my family despises), I won’t go into the ins and outs of the show. But because of the premise, it’s inevitably getting a lot of media coverage, and I was struck by how much of the online discourse is solely focused on blaming the women.

Watching the show, I felt an immense amount of sympathy for those who’d been targeted. But when I went to see what the reaction was like on social media, most of it was brutal. “Only out for money”, “stupid and naive”, “I would never be so thick.” On and on it goes, men tossing out misogyny, women saying they’d never be in that position.

I’ve never been financially scammed by a romantic partner. But I have ignored huge warning signs coming from men I was enamoured with. The oxytocin floods in and reason is forced to take a back seat, grumpy and muttering to itself about how you don’t give it enough respect.

Online dating makes being taken for a ride a whole lot easier. You chat to someone you’ve never met in the flesh, sometimes for weeks, and you build up hopes and ideas about the future. You might meet them and they turn out to be exactly who they presented themselves as, but the odds aren’t stacked in your favour.

I have behaved like a fool with several men. The guy who I flew to Rome to see on a whim who introduced me to a woman who clearly disliked me instantly. And who it turned out he was dating just weeks afterwards. The man who love-bombed me and then ghosted me weeks later, directly after he’d asked me to visit his parents, once I’d bought the tickets. That one felt particularly cold. Worst of all was the guy who I dressed up as a pumpkin for, to impress him on Halloween. He barely acknowledged the effort that had gone into squeezing myself into a paper lampshade covered in orange felt. Seven-year-old me was devastated. There have been many moments when I’ve lost my head and trusted men I shouldn’t have, all in the pursuit of some romantic delusion.

So as I watched The Tinder Swindler, I didn’t find it as unimaginable as some people seem to think. Sure it’s a jaw-dropping story, and there are some moments where you’d be forgiven for thinking “come on, girl, see what’s happening”, but it’s not so far from what can occur in relationships, when one person has all the power and the other is desperate to hold their interest.

These were not stupid women, despite what commenters might say. They were bright and successful; their downfall only came because they were also in pursuit of some romantic delusion.

Online dating can create such intense vulnerability. Maybe you’re lonely, or worried you’re going to miss the moment to find a relationship. I have felt like that in the past when using dating apps. You end up on a carousel, aware that interest is fleeting and people are swiping past you every minute. When someone you like the look of stops and expresses interest, you’re expected to charm and entertain them within seconds lest they move on to the next.

So to find someone who showers you with attention and asks to meet you that very evening must feel like a big deal. For them to fly you to Paris or buy you extravagant gifts doesn’t mark you out as a gold digger, it means you grew up on Disney movies which incorrectly told you that being swept off your feet is the pinnacle of romance, and not a big red flag waving in the near distance.

The blame, from my perspective, should be entirely on the scammer. People who manipulate and prey on others who are looking for love do it very well. They know how to smother you in affection, how to reel you in enough that you’re smitten, but hold back just a little so that you’re constantly worried their attention might disappear.

Mocking or belittling women who had no inkling of the kind of person they were up against is so dispiriting. Falling in love is a wonderful, scary and often fragile thing. When you’re deep into the feelings stage of a new romance, being taken advantage of in any way can happen fast. And it’s not so rare that you can comfortably ever say it could never happen to you. Foolish it may be, but infatuation is a powerful, heady and dangerous thing.