It was a Thursday night and I had a date. Or, so I thought.
Instead, I had an experience of something so strange that I’ve decided it needs a name: “cloaking.”
I grabbed my backpack, donned my headphones, and blasted my pre-date anthem (Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman,” fyi) as I fired off a hurried WhatsApp to the man I was having dinner with. “Hey! So I’m leaving the office now. Will probs get there in like 20 mins,” I typed and hit send.
Matthew (not his real name) had asked me to dinner earlier that week after we’d matched on Hinge. We bonded over our shared love of pasta and hatched a plan to go to Padella in Borough Market, London.
But, days after popping the pasta question, I was standing in line at the restaurant, staring ahead in the hope that I’d spot my date’s face in the crowd.
Thirty minutes had now passed since I’d sent my first WhatsApp, but when I checked if my match had read the message, I noticed something. Instead of the usual comforting double tick, there was just one lonesome tick. I text my friend to ask what it meant: “It means it hasn’t been delivered. He’s prolly still on the Tube, though!” I tried to iMessage him, but my message turned green rather than the usual blue.
Then, when I opened Hinge, our conversation — which had once been peppered with dozens of flirty messages — was completely erased. I tapped out of the conversation and into my list of matches. Matthew was gone.
“Oh my god,” I whispered to myself, my heart beating fast inside my chest. I jumped out of the queue and into the crowded street. People were whirling around me as I scrambled to find a way of contacting the man who almost certainly wasn’t joining me for dinner. I put my phone to my ear as I tried calling my absent date, but — as you can probably guess — it went straight to voicemail.
This cannot be happening, I thought to myself. I texted my best friend Elisha to ask what I should do. “Have a glass of wine and see what happens in the next 20 mins or so,” she told me. So that’s what I did. As I nervously necked a £10 glass of rosé, I studied the WhatsApp messages Matthew and I had exchanged for clues. He’d been the driving force behind this date: he asked me out; he followed up on Hinge the night before; and he text me on the morning we were due to meet.
I just couldn’t figure out how we could go from extolling burrata to, well, blocked, in the space of a few hours.
Had I said something to offend Matthew? Had this all been an elaborate set-up? Had I been catfished?
“Still nothing?” Elisha text me. “Wanna come have dinner with me?” I hopped in an Uber moments later, and my driver, Bashir, asked me how I was. “I’m so angry for you!” he told me after I’d explained what’d happened. “People have no respect.” Seriously though, they really don’t.
I, too, was angry now. Seething, in fact. Problem was: ordinarily, when someone upsets me, I confront them. I choose a mode of communication — text, WhatsApp, call, Slack, you name it — and I talk it out. But, Matthew had cut me off.
Because Matthew had completely vanished without a trace, it didn’t feel entirely accurate to use the term “stood up”. This was like a strange and deeply upsetting synthesis of ghosting and getting stood up.
The thing about Hinge is: when you match with someone, you get their full name. After a bit of not-very-arduous sleuthing, I found his Facebook profile. Next day, I decided to drop Matthew a message on Facebook. I thought long and hard about what I might say to this person, but the only thing I really needed to convey to him was the message that it’s really not OK to treat someone like this.
Even if he never read it, I just knew it wouldn’t sit right with me if I didn’t get to have my say.
After I sent the message, I felt a weight lift off of me. But, part of me was curious: had other people been blocked by their online matches before a date? Was this a thing? I’ve been ghosted, breadcrumbed, stashed, orbited, you name it, it’s happened to me. But this was a new one.
Eddy (who prefers to use her first name only) says she matched on Tinder with a guy who “ticked a lot of boxes” for her and they spent a few weeks talking on the app before exchanging numbers.
“We WhatsApped for about a week and set a date for the Saturday — just a glass of wine in town — he even confirmed the date the day before!” says Eddy.
But, when it came to the day of the actual date, things went awry. “I rocked up to our agreed meeting place and waited inside as discussed,” she says. “Ordered a drink so I didn’t look like a total loser and waited… and waited.”
After 20 minutes, she realised that her date was a no-show and, at that point, she decided to message him. “I sent a message asking what was going on and what was he playing at?” Eddy explains. “Said that if he’d changed his mind then that was fine but he could at least have had the courtesy and respect for me to have said beforehand.”
Eddy’s Tinder match read the message and promptly blocked her on WhatsApp. She never heard from him again.
The same thing happened to Shruti (who also prefers to use first names only). After matching with a guy on Bumble early in the work week, she began chatting regularly with him. “Conversation was interesting and he was funny,” says Shruti. “He was responsive — no long pauses, non sequiturs, asked about my life too, flirty but not inappropriate, no dick pics.”
“When I checked to see whether he had sent a message on Bumble instead, I found that he had unmatched me”
They chatted all day every day for three or four days and they decided to meet on the Friday for a drink.
“I had terrible service in the bar so I couldn’t check my phone without leaving the bar,” says Shruti. “After about 15min I tried sending him a text just to confirm it was the right bar and then I went back in and ordered a drink.”
She says she took her time, and assured herself that her date had perhaps got caught in rush hour traffic. At the 45 minute mark, Shruti says her drink was gone and her date was nowhere to be seen.
“When I checked to see whether he had sent a message on Bumble instead, I found that he had unmatched me sometime after we confirmed [the date],” says Shruti. “I know because I looked at his profile to make sure I’d recognise him.”
Shruti says she sent him a message afterwards but didn’t get a response. “Shocker!” she said.
David (who’s using his first name only) matched with a woman on Tinder and they agreed to go for a drink together. “We had been texting each other all day saying ‘looking forward to it’, etc., then 30 minutes after she was due to arrive, I called but got no answer,” says David. At around the 30 minute mark, he says he “had a fair idea” that his date wasn’t coming. But, when he checked WhatsApp and discovered he’d been blocked, this vague idea turned into a certainty.
He chose not to send a message to his Tinder match afterwards because he felt “quite mortified” and he “didn’t see the point.”
This activity sadly seems to be something swipers are having to contend with. But, neither “ghosting” nor “stood up” quite do justice to this strange and upsetting phenomenon?
Given that these people essentially don an invisibility cloak after setting up a date, perhaps the term “cloaking” sums up this practise.
Vocabulary aside, though, cloaking (or whatever you want to call it) is a horrible, disrespectful act. If you’ve changed your mind about a date, have the decency to tell the person. It’s the right thing to do.