There’s a cursed territory at the beginning of every potential relationship. It comes at a different time for each couple, but it’s shortly after the glow of the first few dates has worn off and you see them for what they really are (or could be): Not just a lofty crush, but an actual person you could have actual feelings for. Yikes!!!
To paraphrase the prophet Britney Spears, your romance is not a fling, but not yet a serious, monogamous relationship (at least, not until you’ve had The Talk). This makes it super awkward and potentially hurtful to find out your maybe-partner is still all over the apps, updating their profile and swiping away like they’re in a totally different almost-relationship boat from you. It’s not cheating, because you’re not exclusive…but it’s also not not cheating? Confusing!
Because we’re all literally making up the rules for this awkward situationship phase as we go, here, three regular people (so you can compare stories) and three relationship experts (so you can maybe learn something) offer their experiences and advice on how to handle catching your not-quite-partner trolling around on dating apps. Godspeed, truly.
“This has actually happened to me twice. The first guy kept updating his profile, and I stupidly decided to ignore it. Clearly, he was dating a couple of other girls at the same time. When I asked him about it, he said he thought I was doing the same thing. I wish I’d had the courage to confront him sooner. I assumed he kept updating because our relationship was so new, and we just weren’t serious yet, but as I learned when I called him out, he never had any intention of being in a relationship. If I’d asked sooner, I could’ve saved myself all that time. But the second guy was totally different… He updated his profile maybe once or twice and I called him out for it. And when I did, he deleted his Tinder right away!“
Megan Fleming, PhD, clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in New York City:
“Overall, dating is a process until you want to have that conversation, in an organic way. Usually, it’s a question of safe sex and whether or not you’re using condoms. But if you notice them changing their profile, it’s like, why are you on there? Did you not feel security from this person in the first place, are you feeling insecure, or were you there for your own reasons? It may be motivation to have the clarifying, what are we conversation, but I would not specifically say, ‘oh, by the way, I know you’ve updated your profile.’ That would feel very accusatory and stalky. And if you have to bring it up, do so in a lighthearted way. Say something like: ‘Huh, I thought we were having such a great time, can you help me make sense of this?'”
“I’d been dating this guy for just under two months (we hadn’t had the DTR talk yet) when I noticed he updated his profile while I was out of town with some college friends. I didn’t have a photo of him, so I pulled up Hinge to show them and saw he’d added photos from a wedding he was in the previous weekend. I never brought up the profile update with him directly, but the next time we went out, I mentioned that I wasn’t seeing anyone else and wanted to know where he was at. I wasn’t surprised when he said he was dating other people. Seeing the profile update made me realize I was ready to have The Talk—even though I knew the likely answer, I still wanted him to know I was thinking about our relationship and interested in making it more serious. A few weeks later, we’re still dating but aren’t monogamous.”
Andi Forness, online dating coach in Austin, Texas:
“It really depends on where you are in the relationship, but the main thing is to not react and be calm. If you’re only a few months in and you’re casually dating, do nothing. But if you’re a few months in and have been spending significant time with this person, then this is a great opportunity to be vulnerable and share your desires to see if you’re on the same page.”
“I was dating a guy for a few months and things were going really well, and right before we left for concurrent week-long family vacations, I said I was ready to be exclusive. He stammered through a not-quite answer: ‘Uh yeah, I’m down, I’m not seeing anyone else and I…don’t want to?’ I said he could think about it, but before he left, he said he felt ‘really good about us,’ which I took as a positive sign. I turned my Tinder profile to hidden so that people couldn’t swipe on me but didn’t delete the app, because I genuinely did not think to. Lo and behold, in the middle of our vacations, I got a push notification from Tinder alerting me to my maybe-boyfriend’s new profile photo… taken from his family vacation. I immediately spiraled and felt betrayed, and frankly, stupid for believing him and texted my friends for advice. We decided to wait and bring it up in person when we both got back. For a week, I obsessed over his intentions while maintaining our usual texting rapport.
Back home, I asked him to get drinks and asked him about the Tinder profile, but tried to play it cool, like an idiot. I said,’I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, but Tinder sent me a notification that you added a new photo to your profile… it’s cute!’ He replied, ‘Thanks!’ He ultimately said he thought it was ‘too soon’ for us to be exclusive, and I’m sure you can imagine how things unraveled from there. The whole situation brought larger issues in our relationship to a head: poor communication, moving at different paces, needing more than the other could give. Although, I do wonder how long we could have gone on had that notification not happened. What was worse: That I found out, or that I could have never known? Maybe the whole thing forced an early conclusion to an inevitable fate. I guess I’ll never know.”
Connell Barrett, founder of Dating Transformation and dating coach in New York City:
“If you’re still counting dates in that first month or two of a new romance, it’s too soon to take issue with the other person updating their profile. They’re totally within their rights. You should bring it up when you know you’d like to be exclusive, but don’t accuse them of doing something unfair—this will only make them feel defensive. Instead, use it as a springboard to define your romance. Use clear, simple, loving language. Something like, ‘I’m crazy about you and what we have, and I’d like us to only see each other, how do you feel?’ It’s scary being that vulnerable, but it’s how relationships move forward.”