Every now and again, dating morphs a little bit and a new thing (typically related to acting in a dating context) takes form. You’ve probably heard of a few of them by now: catfishing, turkey dumps, thirst traps, ghosting and breadcrumbing, to name a few.
We call these “dating trends,” and while they spring up seemingly at random, they’re often propelled into existence by specific situations.
“Situationships,” for instance, exist because we needed a term for new relationships that were so vague and formless that they barely deserved to be classified with actual relationships. The rise of swipe-based dating and hookup culture allowed those to become more common, giving singles easier access to casual sex, without having to put much work into courting and romancing in order to get laid.
Now, there’s a newly named fad floating around the internet right now — it’s called “cloaking,” and it, like many of the other dating terms that have popped up in recent years, is a product of the increasing intersection between our love lives and the digital technology we use on a daily basis.
1. What Is Cloaking?
The term was coined by Mashable writer Rachel Thompson after a particularly unpleasant dating experience she had. She described it as this: You meet someone online, exchange messages, and enjoy them enough to schedule a date. However, when the time for the date arrives, not only does the person not show up, but you realize they’ve erased their online presence from you — unmatching on the dating app, blocking your phone number, removing you on social media, etc.
Now, not only did you get stood up, but you can’t contact them at all. Basically, you have no avenue to either vent your frustrations or ask them what happened. It’s over with no real record that anything ever did happen.
2. Why Do People Cloak?
The internet brings people together, but one side-effect of being able to chat with strangers so easily is that it’s hard to see them as real people. Particularly on dating apps, with their mobile game-like feel, swiping through hundreds or thousands of people can make each individual start to feel, well, less like an individual.
Treating someone badly, whether ghosting, haunting, benching or roaching, is in part an outcropping of that reality. You don’t need to work to treat person A right since there’s always a person B waiting just a swipe away. But cloaking specifically is more than just not treating someone with respect — it’s a pre-emptive ghosting, disappearing without a trace before things even get the chance to actually go wrong. So the question is: What would drive someone to end things before they’ve even really begun?
The truth is, online dating can be very scary. Aside from the real dangers of meeting up with a stranger you met on the internet, even interactions with non-murderers can feel stressful and overwhelming when they essentially boil down to a game of “Am I desirable or not?”
For some people, it might be more tempting to use dating apps to swipe and flirt than to actually go on dates; others might get cold feet at the last minute. Some might just find a weird measure of power in convincing someone to go on a date with them, even if they have no intention of showing up.
3. Why You Shouldn’t Cloak People
At the end of the day, cloaking is about fear — the fear of being vulnerable, engaging in the process of dating in an honest and open way.
It’s one thing to have last-minute second thoughts about a date you set up, .but engaging in cloaking (leading someone to believe you’re interested in them to the point of setting up a date, knowing they’ll be thinking about it, excitedly getting ready for when you meet (and so on) is another thing entirely.
If you’re doing this without any regard for the other person’s feelings because it’s easier than admitting that you don’t feel like it and accepting that the other person will be disappointed, you’re a coward. Writing a text to cancel doesn’t take a lot of time. It might lead to an unpleasant interaction, but it’s a million times braver than blocking the person and disappearing from their life entirely.
Do the decent thing and be honest — either be clear that you’re not interested in going on a date to begin with, or let the person know you’ve changed your mind without vanishing in a puff of digital smoke.
4. What Should You Do If You Get Cloaked?
If you’re on the receiving end of a cloaking, you might be pretty heated. It’s not a pleasant trick to have pulled on you, and your first instinct might be to try to track your cloaker down somehow to give them a piece of your mind.
Unfortunately, that’s probably a bad idea. For starters, it’s possible the person got scared of you, and cyber-stalking someone is hardly a good way to convince someone that you’re completely sane and not violent.
Secondly, if they cloaked you just because they’re kind of cowardly when it comes to dating, that definitely sucks, but it doesn’t mean trying to exact even a small measure of textual revenge will improve the situation.
If you find your app match’s convo has disappeared when they fail to show up for your date, be the bigger man: Take it on the chin and try to move on. There’ll always be more matches if you keep swiping, and you’ll find someone you click with eventually.
If someone can’t muster up enough emotional honesty and maturity to send you a “Really sorry to cancel at the last minute :(“ text, then you definitely avoided dating someone who would probably not have been a very pleasant person to have feelings for.
In some cases, you dodge a bullet. In this one, the bullet saved you the trouble by dodging you first.