From ghosting to roasting — how harsh criticism became the new dating trend

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures L)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures L)

We’ve all been turned down by a potential paramour. Whether via an unreciprocated wink at a bar, a lacklustre response to a DM or an in-person “this isn’t working out”. But at some point ghosting took off as the preferred means of rejection by the worst people on dating apps. If you’ve somehow avoided the phrase — presumably because you’ve been coupled up for decades, living in an internet-free cave — it’s when someone you’re entangled with suddenly goes cold without a word of explanation. They will leave your messages unread, ignored and may even — in the very worst cases — block you.

This means of rejection is so common that surveys conducted by dating app Badoo show that 72 per cent of Londoners have been ghosted on average six times each. But the problem is a global one. Last year in the Philippines, one legislator tried to make it an “emotional offence”, with possible penalties including mandatory community service.

Until recently I thought that was the cruellest way to end a relationship, but like most assumptions about the worst of humanity it can always sink to new depths. Now, instead of ghosting, people (and, by people, I really mean men) have devolved to roasting.

Claire had been talking to a promising guy she’d met on Hinge for a couple of days. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he took the time to record a two-minute voicenote for her. What could it be? A recitation of a sonnet, some besotted musings, a wrong number, a butt dial? All of those would have been preferable to the rant she received. Over the course of 120 painful seconds, the man decided to list all the reasons why, despite swiping right, they were in fact not a match, which according to him “was a real shame”. These were mostly linked to her life choices. “I can’t date a vegetarian or vegan,” he told her — apparently he had done so in the past and after two years he had “lost all muscle mass and become really weak”. He resented the fact that she drank coffee, an act that according to him was “a huge global problem” and meant she probably got “emotional too easily”, “had anxiety” and issues with “sex functions” (considering they’d never met in person, one can only presume he struggled to get it up after an espresso and was now projecting). Finally, he deduced that she clearly valued having a glass of wine with friends over a man, telling her “that’s why you don’t have a boyfriend”.

She’s not the only person receiving this unasked-for “feedback”. Another woman I spoke to was the recipient of a series of messages from a match the day before a first date detailing why he wanted to cancel. His reasoning included that, “Men prefer women who wear less make-up and long hair”. After a second date, another woman told me she received a voice note listing the faux pas she’d committed which included “asking too many questions”, “pretending to offer to pay the bill” and “not being as smart as she’d seemed over text”. One person told me she was left feeling “a little rattled” and “weirded out” when the man she’d been seeing sent her three pages worth of screenshots from his notes app. “This note was part love letter, mostly psycho evaluation of me” and included comments about her texting habits, her ambition, and his theories on how her former relationships and family had negatively impacted her.

There’s a certain arrogance in the messages these men are sending. Many of them end including lines like “this is why you’re single” — with the obvious elephant in the room being that the men are single too. They, though, view their personal relationship status as not reflective of their own behaviour, while a woman’s single status is entirely due to her own shortcomings.

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures L)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures L)

Kate Mansfield is a London-based dating coach and thinks this rise of excessive feedback is a reaction to ghosting and its negative effects. “It leaves the ghostee often completely in the dark about what happened and why, and can trigger a world of fantasy,” she tells me. This new form of rejection is a kind of over-correcting. “This trend has popped up partly following ghosting getting such bad press — and things have swung to the other extreme.” This theory is supported by a survey conducted by Hinge that found that 85 per cent of users said that rather than being ghosted they’d prefer to be told why, selecting the option: “Tell me! Rejection hurts, but I’d rather know.”

When I shared the two-minute voice note on TikTok there were predictably some men defending the Simon Cowell of dating. “You say you want honesty and then when men give it to you, you get mad.” But this kind of feedback isn’t the only alternative to ghosting; there’s a midway between silence and word-vomiting unconstructive criticism. It’s like a woman saying she wants more physical touch and a man getting confused when she complains that he kicked her in the shin.

But the worst part of this trend is the intention behind it. While life and the internet is full of people being purposefully cruel for no reason, that’s not what this is. Most of these men truly believe they’re doing a kindness — and that’s so much worse. They believe that by bestowing their criticism on women, they are helping them, in much the same way you might advise a dog pound to groom an abandoned puppy if it wants to be adopted. They see their parting lessons as gold nuggets of knowledge that their rejected match can utilise to bejewel themselves for the next fella.

This is the generation of podcast boys who have migrated from empty studios into WhatsApp messages — instead of putting out episodes with zero listeners, they can ensure at least one person hears them by sending it direct. They have listened to the unfiltered opinions of so many men talking to each other through microphones that it’s indoctrinated them into thinking women would be desperate to know their opinions as well. Joe Rogan is their therapist, Andrew Tate is their idol, and the women they date have become their unconsenting audience.

Not everyone is compatible — in fact most people you meet will not be compatible with you — but not being your perfect partner is not the same as not being anyone’s perfect partner. These men are acting like there is a single model of woman that everyone must conform to in order to become dateable.They don’t consider the alternative, that these women are already the ideal person, just not for them.

There is one silver lining to this new way of terminating connections. When I asked Claire how she felt when she received the voicenote, she told me that initially it was “shocking and upsetting” but there was an advantage. “I wasn’t left with my overthinking brain wondering what I could have possibly done to make him disappear into thin air.” If she’d been ghosted she might have continued to think he was a decent person and wondered what might have been. But while he had sought to offer her advice on how she could improve, all he really did was reveal himself as a narcissist she had no desire to date. Now she can happily continue to drink coffee, eat salads and enjoy wine with friends, safe in the knowledge that, in her words — “bullet dodged”