‘Are We Dating The Same Guy?’ groups are a space for women to share their dating horror stories – but is this another instance of surveillance culture going too far?
Online dating is a minefield. It’s a world rife with bad behaviour: ghosting, catfishing, gaslighting, love bombing, unsolicited dick pics – and, in more extreme instances, stalking, violence and sexual assault.
In spite of this, a report from Statista published this month found that one in five people in the UK still use online dating services. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that secret ‘Are We Dating The Same Guy’ Facebook groups which encourage people to share ‘reviews’ of men are soaring in popularity. The first group began in New York in March last year, before a London version was set up around two months after. In recent weeks, the London group has swelled in size: at the time of writing, there are 16,000 members, up 60 per cent from this time last week. In the past month, other hyperlocal groups for other parts of the UK – including Manchester, Nottingham, and Edinburgh – have popped up.
For the most part, group members are straight and cis women. They’ll post a screenshot of a dating or social profile (and are encouraged to post anonymously), usually with the caption “🚩: info in comments” or “any ☕?” If anyone has met them before, they’ll leave a note. Essentially, they’re the 2023 equivalent of whisper networks. Members must pass a screening to enter the group too, and adhere to strict rules: remarks about appearances are not allowed, neither is hate speech, bullying, sharing sensitive information or dispersing screenshots of posts from within the group. The comments themselves are often harmless (“he’s lovely, went to my school”), or funny (one post caught a guy arranging three dates within 24 hours: all of them happened to be in the group). And there’s no denying the tea is top quality – not to mention extremely addictive.
Many girls are members purely for voyeuristic entertainment. But for others, the group is a valuable directory. “You just don’t know who these men are,” says Blair*, 35, who discovered it via TikTok. “To be able to potentially find out about a guy before you meet, so you don’t put yourself unknowingly in harm’s way, is incredible.” Meanwhile, 26-year-old Sophie already has a girlfriend, but joined the group to see if she could find a guy she had a previous dodgy sexual encounter with. “I feel a responsibility to post him on there to warn others,” she says.
It’s clear the concept has grown into something much bigger than a petty gossip forum: it’s now a resource to potentially protect women from dangerous situations. Some posts take a dark turn, detailing serious accusations and heartbreaking stories. One woman describes her experience of a man allegedly coercing her into making X-rated videos, another describes a domestic abuse attack. “He manipulates you into not wearing a condom and has multiple STIs,” one post reads. “After finding out I was pregnant, he told me he never loved me, he was only using me,” says another.
‘People forget that actually dating is the means to find out if this person could be suitable for a relationship. There’s going to be uncertainty in dating. You need to be able to feel uncomfortable’ – Libby Sibbert
Scrolling through is an emotional ride, and it’s easy to see how people get sucked in. It’s likely, too, that they could make the online dating landscape even harder to navigate than it already is. (A recent study found 45 per cent of people who used dating apps said they left them feeling more frustrated than hopeful.) Certain corners of the group quickly descend into echo chambers of men-bashing, fuelled, in part, by fear. And building connections with others becomes even harder if we overly turn to others to dictate or validate how we feel: “people forget that actually dating is the means to find out if this person could be suitable for a relationship,” explains Libby Sibbert, a trauma-informed dating coach. “There’s going to be uncertainty in dating. You need to be able to feel uncomfortable.”
And then there’s the whole other side of ‘Are We Dating The Same Guy’, which is a lot more ethically ambiguous. Is it ever OK to publicly share someone’s photos and private conversations without their consent? Or in other words, to ‘doxx’? There’s a clear power differential, but if genders were reversed and guys were exposing females to strangers on the internet, it’s unlikely we’d see the group in such a positive light. “If a boy posted me and people were writing ‘red flag’ in the comments, I would genuinely be quite hurt,” says Tara, 20. She notes how, sometimes, users make particularly unfair remarks: for example, they’ll lambast a date for having “shit chat”, or “[talking] like a 60-year-old dad”.
That’s not to mention the potential legal repercussions that can come with more serious claims. Although posts need to be approved by admins and comments are constantly moderated and the group rules clearly state ‘no libel or defamation of character,’ there’s a high chance things could creep through the cracks. “The rules say ‘no screenshotting posts’, but I’ve screenshotted stuff and sent it to my friends,” says Tara. “Everyone does it.”
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None of this is ideal, granted. But, admittedly, it’s a small footnote in the bigger picture of the high rates of violence against women. According to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics, 2021 saw the largest number of sexual offences against women ever recorded in England and Wales. In April 2021, fake dating profile reports, catfishing, and romance fraud in the UK were up by 40 per cent. And since we apparently can’t even trust our own police force – and misogynistic attitudes more generally look like they’ll be sticking around for a while longer – any help from our own side is firmly welcomed. “I don’t think women should be frowned upon for posting on this group: there are a lot of men who do not have good intentions,” says Blair, who believes it’s a game changer for female safety. “Something like this has been really needed. It’s all we have for a security check.”
The group also acts as a space for general relationship advice, chat, and female encouragement à la ‘gals who graduate’. “I just deleted Hinge today. Let’s all be friends!” one user writes. The camaraderie fostered by these groups is evidently uplifting for anyone involved. “I’m really proud of the female community,” Blair says. “There’s talk of meeting up for ‘Galentine’s Day’, and I’ve made a friend who I’m really similar to.”
One thing is certain: the rapid growth of these groups reflects the dire state of online dating as a whole. “Apps are making people [seem] more disposable,” says Sophie. “I think women deserve to take back that power and talk about all these bad experiences we’ve had.” Sure, the groups are far from perfect, but if they’re somewhat empowering, can help with safety, and will prevent at least one more person from meeting a shitty guy: long may they reign.
*Name has been changed