The Tinder Game

The Tinder Game

By Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., CSAT-S
Executive Director & Co-Founder
Triune Therapy Group

The Tinder game.

He was handsome and he knew it. “I landed my first modeling gig,” he exclaimed via text message, with a smug giddiness. Then he sent a shirtless picture. Having just relocated to Los Angeles, Marc was the kind of good looking that commanded a room when he walked in. Kara was no stranger to such attention, as she too was very attractive, but Marc had the kind of enthusiasm for his own appearance paralleled only by Narcissus himself. This would be their second date and his modeling gig interrupted their plans for dinner. He begged her to meet him at a historic hotel in Hollywood, known for hot parties and daily celebrity sightings. This was where his photo shoot would wrap at ten, but she could come at 9:30 to watch them finish, he suggested. She rolled her eyes and begrudgingly got in her car, wondering whether or not it would be worth a second shower on a Tuesday.

The hotel was quaint and antiquated Hollywood gem, with an understated charm and well-hidden patio. Marc lit up when Kara entered the room, and immediately introduced her to all the other models there for the shoot. He had a charm about him that endeared everyone to him and he drank up the attention like a thirsty beast. She watched and rolled her eyes while he worked the crowd; instant friends with everyone he met. Kara’s boredom was apparent. Marc swooped her into his arms and whispered in her ear, “Let’s take a walk. The patio is as beautiful as you are.” She wrestled free from his muscular arms, fixed her hair, and made a bet with her self about how long it would take before Marc tried to get frisky. Kara was no stranger to men’s desire, or their objectification of her. She had learned to spot the entitled ones fast, and Marc was proving true to form. He could not keep his hands off her, despite her attempts to wrangle free of his grasp. Maybe there would be another man there who would rescue her from this veritable Gaston! She laughed to herself, and remembered no one needed to rescue her. After all, her 5” heels and “go fuck yourself” glare made quite the weaponry when needed.

Marc went on and on… and on and on…. about himself as they strolled around the patio. She stopped covering her yawns and started openly looking for the exit. After all, those reruns of Game of Thrones weren’t going to watch themselves. Marc, closely monitoring Kara’s every move, noticed her boredom and led her to the bar where two men sat drinking away the memories of the day. The two men were the producer and photographer for the shoot Marc was in earlier that day. Grateful for the reprieve from her role as doting arm candy, Kara struck up a conversation with the photographer while Marc and the producer stroked each other’s egos. The photographer and Kara made small talk – LA weather, his wife and child, her job, etc. The sanctuary of their small talk was interrupted when Kara overheard the producer say, “and my wife can only fuck twice a day!” The record scratch of such a bold statement caught Kara’s attention and she listened for a few more minutes while this man berated his wife’s sexual appetite, or lack thereof in his mind, and flippantly shrieked, “I masturbate at least eight times a day! Ugh – men just have a higher sex drive than women, so I watch porn or call an escort. What am I supposed to do with twice a day?” Kara was curious and given her sensitivity to sexual entitlement, chimed in. “Wrong. Not all women have a low sex drive, and not all men have a high sex drive. Sex twice a day and with a young kid? Your wife is a sexual superhero.” Marc’s jaw dropped. This producer was the conduit for future modeling gigs and Marc nervously cracked wise about how he was also a self-diagnosed sex addict. Of course he was. Kara mentally rolled her eyes so far back in to her head that her brain cramped.

The producer’s physical appearance was underwhelming at best, especially standing next to Narcissus. He was sloppy and disheveled, and coupled with his less than dazzling personality Kara pondered the mystery of how his wife managed to have sex with him at all. Someone give this woman a cape or an Oscar. As if he could read her disapproval of him, the producer scanned Kara’s body head to toe and licked his lips, in what could only be described as an effort to put her in her place. Then he laughed and said, “Do you guys want to play the Tinder game?” Marc let out a boisterous laugh and said, “We already have – that’s where Kara and I met!” Adam glared at Kara, as if to say, “I knew it!” and very self-satisfied with whatever assumptions he had made.

Barely skipping a beat, the producer described the Tinder game, which he made up to replace the game he used to play when he was alone at a bar, in which he would glue a quarter to the ground and watch people struggle to pick it up. Seriously, when does he find the time to masturbate? “The Tinder game, best played when alone and drunk,” he continued, “starts by finding the ‘hottest guy in the bar and taking a picture of him.’ Then, you make a fake Facebook account, which is needed to create a Tinder account.” Once on Tinder, he swiped right on only “the fattest, most unattractive women” on there, because “they are the most desperate.” Kara had to hold back the instinct to gut punch him, in response to his overt body shaming.

Next, he flirts with them, posing as the attractive man in the bar, and invites them to the bar for a drink. The real delight, he giggled, is watching “how fast the women stroll in on heels they can’t walk in,” mosey up to the targeted “hot” guy, and watch the subsequent confusion on his face and “anger, shame, and disappointment” on the women’s faces when they realize they’ve been duped. The producer cackled hysterically and gulped from his drink. The photographer winced and shrunk in his chair, and Marc laughed so loudly it shook Kara from the frozen state of her horrified amazement back into the reality of this Twilight Zone of eroticized rage. Kara asked the producer, “What do you get out of this game?”

Eroticized rage is a concept that explains a fusion between sexual arousal and negative feelings such as anger, shame, fear, and humiliation. In other words, someone gets turned on, sometimes unconsciously, to an element of this fusion. Generally, eroticized rage is present relationally in at least one of four ways:

  • an effort to restore a sense of power, when someone feels slighted or less than
  • the humiliation, shaming, or vengeance/retaliation against another
  • breaking of boundaries and violation of social norms
  • or possession via obsession.

When someone, like the producer, exacts a plot of humiliation, it is because somewhere along the course of life he experienced some kind of mixed message about shame, degradation, and sexuality, likely through some kind of traumatic experience. Perhaps, he was reacting to his own fears of inadequacy, or he was humiliated when he approached a beautiful girl in school. It is hard to say, but what is clear is how unaddressed eroticized rage can become the foundation for toxic masculinity and toxic femininity, objectification, infidelity and sexual addiction, and other forms of relational acting out and resulting pain.


Ask the experts

Often, when anger is the first response, it’s considered impolite, crazy, bitchy or dismissed as overly emotional. Yet, there are many instances in which one’s anger is stirred, and the key is putting it to good use. For instance, when a loved one is unfaithful, or when insensitive remarks are made concerning one’s ambitions or dreams, when feelings are questioned or when a woman is told to be more vulnerable and subservient. Though family and social expectations place unnecessary burdens on women (and men too), they can channel their anger-filled responses into action by going against the grain, pursuing their own interests or business, going to graduate school and much more. In turn, they’re encouraged to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, committed to supporting and cheering on one another, and ultimately helping the other discover their true potential. This system of support will continue to help individuals convert their anger into action, and perhaps enjoy a few laughs, too.

Yes. One hundred percent. Women are socialized to put relationships before themselves, and this often leads to stifling anger or any feeling that might compromise the bond between two people. This is especially the case in their relationships with men, or in competition for men, and over time, women’s anger and aggression has become more user wraps, or covert. Passive aggression seems to be both the only “acceptable” means of communicating anger, but women are also labeled “manipulative” when they attempt to express themselves indirectly. It becomes a vicious circle of anger, denial or minimization of anger, and then make ourselves smaller just to avoid being a “problem.”

While it is becoming more acceptable for women to show anger, progress is slow. Most of the time, female anger is couched in comedy or parody, and only accepted in small soundbites. Those invested in a patriarchal perspective, men and women, hold firm in their beliefs that women ought to act a certain way, or not make waves. The vary act of saying “we’re angry!” is a bold and pioneering move. Further, some women hold more internalized oppressive views, and refuse to participate in a movement that is labeled feminist or angry. For some women, to do so would compromise their social standing, romantic relationships, financial security, etc. It is scary, because the backlash is real. To take a stand is mark of bravery, and not everyone is ready to avail themselves to the fiery response of those in opposition. My opinion is that over time, the backlash will subside and change will take place. Cultural growth is a slow moving process, and with every voice heard, the collective voice of a paradigm shift grows louder and more effective. I don’t think women (or men) should care about acceptability. The more those who are angry attempt to hustle for the approval of their oppressors, the more power is given away. From my perspective, those who are angry a well suited to unite and establish new norms, refusing to tolerate mistreatment any further.

There are so many way to channel one’s anger constructively. I do not condone any violence (unless in self-defense) and instead think about using anger as a collaborating force within and with others. Being of service to others is one way to channel anger. This is especially relevant because so many women today do not have strong female role models, who they can turn to for advice. Get engaged. Mentor younger women, get a mentor, get creative. How can you pass along the resources (i.e., emotional, financial, logistic, etc) that were not available to you and resulted in your marginalization? What do you wish existed that could have helped you through a particularly challenging experience? Create it. I did, and it changed my relationship with anger and helped me take it for what it is a healthy emotion that lets us know when we feel disrespected or mistreated. This is key information that keeps us psychologically and rationally healthy. Anger is invaluable and an essential part of the human experience. When we embrace that, we can make it work for us in myriad ways.

As a psychologist, patients, friends and family are always asking me advice on their relationships and, let’s be real, everyone else’s relationships. One of the biggest questions they have, is why are there no good men or no good women out there? There are good people out there, I reassure them, but they inevitably come back with some retort about having to settle or face being single forever; for some, a fate worse than death. So herein lies the conundrum stay single forever or settle. Well, let’s back out of the black and white thinking that keeps us stuck for a moment and think about what it means to settle. Most of us have arbitrary ideas or checklists we drag around to assess our swiping situation. Does he make a certain amount of money? Is she pretty enough to take around my friends? Is she/he tall enough/too tall? Is she/he fit enough? What kind of car does he/she drive? Do they like dogs? All-important questions, but what do they really mean about a person’s character or how well you’ll get along? When considering the question of settling, it is important to ask what we:

  1. need in relationships
  2. want in relationships and
  3. won’t tolerate in relationships?

No two relational blue prints will look the same, and there are no right or wrong answers. Let’s look at needs first. We all have intimacy needs, like support, trust, security, communication, touch, respect, etc. They may change over time. That’s okay. Its hardwired in us. We also have relationship wants, the qualities that might ignite our fire a little more intensely. Physical appearance, fitness level, similar hobbies, values, job, financial standing, etc. are examples of wants. There is nothing wrong with wanting whatever you want in a partner. But many times, we mistake our wants for needs and then we feel like we’re settling if the want boxes are not checked, because we’re ignoring the meaning we assign to these traits. For example, consider meeting someone who is two inches shorter than your preferred height in a partner. He or she is funny, witty, charming, consistent, honest, and generous with their time, all of the other wants and needs you’ve identified. They just happen to be a little short-changed in the height department. What does height mean to you? Does it represent strength? Safety? Protection? Status? What does it mean about you if you date this person anyway? Whose judgment do you hear in your head? Why is their judgment so important? Asking these tough questions can help you decide if this is a want or a need, and if the underlying meaning is a need, can that need be met in other ways by this partner or other people in your circle? We often expect our partner to meet all of our needs, and overlook the inevitable disappointment in that expectation. Many people do not know what they need or want in relationships, because they are so eager to be in a relationship that they haven’t stopped to consider what they are looking for in their other half. They accept what is available, to avoid being alone. One day, they wake up and think, “Hey, I think I want more than this. I wish my partner would….” and realize that they might be settling but are afraid to leave. This brings me back to the last point, knowing what you won’t tolerate in relationships. It is just as important to know what doesn’t work for you when considering whether to start, stay in or leave a relationship. For some, deal breakers might include violence or infidelity. For others, perhaps smoking or liking heavy metal is the end of the line. Knowing yourself is key in defining your needs, wants, and deal breakers for relationships. If you don’t know some answers to these three factors, perhaps you’ve been neglectful (and settling!) in the most relationship of all, the relationship you have with yourself. Only when you set intentions and cultivate a relationship with yourself can you invite in the kind of love you are seeking and deserve to have. Until then, you’ll be running in circles, chasing ideas and looking to define yourself in the reflection of another.

Obsession, a thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind, is often what drives addiction. Obsession is about hypervigilance. When we feel the object of our affection (whether real or in fantasy) may not feel the same way, we perseverate about them, ourselves and the relationship. This rumination and over-focus is an emotional survival strategy that keeps our brain playing out all of the what-ifs and looking for answers to the sometimes unconscious ques- tion, “How can I make sure my partner doesn’t leave me?” A milder version of obsession can look like ruminating thoughts. “What if he likes her more than me?” “Did she talk to her ex-boy- friend last night?” “If only I lost those last 10 pounds…” Perhaps you find yourself checking their social media accounts for proof they are with you, or have moved on. Maybe you enlist your friends or family to investigate or check on your desired. At the extremes, obsession can morph into stalking and domestic violence. If we feel threatened at the loss of someone, and re- taliate with this level of possession, it can be dangerous for everyone involved. Contrary to what may be glamorized in movies, extreme jealously and stalking are not healthy courtship behaviors, and can lead to emotional and physical trouble.

Obsession with another person may be a symptom of love addiction, which is essentially an ad- diction to the experience or “high” of being in love, and generally appears on the form of putting another person on a pedestal, creating the fantasy that they are perfect or the one, ignoring their faults or certain red flags that point to the contrary. Love addicts often expect their partners to care for all of their needs. Love addicts often neglect to care for or value themselves while they in the relationship. There often exists a toxic bond or an obsessive attachment in love addicted relationships. Love addicts often continue to engage in the relationship, trying desperately to connect as they search for their self-worth in the relationship, even if the object of their desire is pejorative, hurtful, or abusive. Inappropriate boundaries, abuse, neglect, intimacy issues, chaos, drama are some of the deleterious characteristics of these relationships. Love addicts suffer from profound feelings of shame, anguish, and fear of abandonment.

Since love addicts typically suffer from an anxious or preoccupied attachment (hypervigilance about their partner or the relationship), some signs to watch out for would be someone who is wanting speedy closeness, says “I love you before the first argument, has poor boundaries, is constantly expressing insecurities and worrying about rejection, is often very unhappy when not in a relationship, plays games to keep your attention, has difficulty with direct communication, struggles to effectively express their wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings, expecting you to guess or read his or her mind, acts out, tries to make you jealous, always makes things about him/her- self in the relationship, lets you set the tone of the relationship, seems preoccupied with the relationship, calls or texts excessively, stops by your home or work unexpectedly, fears that the small acts will ruin the relationship, seems to be trying too hard to keep your interest, and is extremely jealous.

If you suspect that the person you are getting to know has obsessive or love addicted tendencies, this does not mean you have to cut them out of your life completely. However, it is important to take things slowly, establish very clear boundaries, assess what works for you and get consulta- tion from friends and loved ones about your experience, pay attention to any attempts to get you to change or disregard your boundaries or needs, use direct, clear communication, and effectively verbalize your wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings. – Dr. Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., CSAT-S, Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and Lauren Dummit-Schock, LMFT, CSAT, CoFounder

The first step to getting help from this type of toxic relationship is to recognize narcissism in your partner or spouse. This involves identifying the traits and warning signs of this disorder, which you may have been living with for quite some time. At Triune Therapy Group, we have skilled clinicians who are highly trained to treat those that are in a relationship with a narcissist.

To help you understand the condition and how you may or may not have been affected, please explore the following Frequently Asked Questions and Answers provided by Licensed Psychologist Dr. Kate Balestrieri: Read More FAQs About Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Perhaps the greatest hope surrounding the #MeToo movement and other similar movements is that it will generate an awareness of the magnitude of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace. In doing so, maybe it will initiate and rebirth conversations regarding equality that have since gone underground. This is important, because many people fail to see the ways in which others misuse power and privilege, and how this leads them to engage in predatory behaviors. In another sense, the #MeToo movement could educate people on how to avoid being exploitative, while enlightening them on affirmative consent, power imbalances and how to classify and pursue intimacy and happiness in a authentic, healthy manner.

I work with new mothers and I have on multiple occasions worked with mothers who have experienced a the loss of a pregnancy close to becoming a mother. It is indeed a double whammy. There is so much that gets stirred up, and it intensifies the transition into motherhood and the processing of these loss, exacerbating common life-cycle events, and resulting in undue pressure on new moms, emotionally, physically, spiritually. When we’re trying to understand how motherhood and losses affect us, it is imperative to remember that the transition into motherhood and assimilation of loss are multi-dimensional and encompass physical, social, emotional, spiritual aspects of humanity. Although we mostly associate motherhood with new beginnings and joy, the questions of loss and death and endings actually also come up. Becoming mothers is a definite end to our earlier self, our pre-motherhood bodies and relationships, and mothers must mourn how the idealized fantasy of motherhood is never matched with the reality of the day to day. This is all considered “normal” to go through unless it gets complicated with trauma or major stressors. But if the transition to motherhood coincides with a loss, mothers get all of this thrown at them at the speed of light. It’s like existential pressure overload. – Helena Vissing, M.S., Psy.D. Clinical Associate, Psychological Assistant

The mental health of mothers is a major public health concern. Research demonstrates that depression and anxiety in mothers impact their children. The exact ways children are impacted by their mothers’ mental health involves a complex interplay of factors. We always have to look at the unique combination of risk factors and protective factors for each mother-child couple. If you grew up with a mother who suffered from postpartum depression, you are not necessarily determined to suffer. But we know that on a large public health scale, there is a clear connection between mothers’ mental health and lifelong mental health of their children. The immediate effects of mothers’ depression is that babies become withdrawn and irritable. This is happening at a sensitive time when babies are beginning their lifelong development of emotion regulation. Development is layered and scaffolding throughout life, so a baby who is experiencing these challenges already during their first years will be What we often experience in the consulting room is adults who struggle with feelings of shame and inadequacy or “never being enough”, even when they are normally functioning. They might describe a vague sense of unworthiness that has always “haunted” them. Although it’s widely acknowledged now that our sense of ourselves is rooted in our earliest relationships, it is still overlooked how issues in this area can stem from the emotional pain the child of a depressed mother experienced. This pain does not just disappear as the child grows or if the mother’s mental health improves, as it has influences the very core of the child’s sense of self. Infants and children are developmentally unable to make sense of the intensity of their mother’s depression, but they still feel it. This is because our earliest sense of self is built from our early nonverbal and physical experiences of being cared for. The only way and infant can interpret the signals from a depressed mother is to internalize it, which manifest as a sense of never being enough. Even when the child grows up to be an adult who can rationally separate their mother’s emotions from their own self-worth, the early experiences can still linger and manifest as issues with unworthiness. For each person, it’s a unique story of with all the risk factors and the negative impact on one hand, and then all the mitigating factors and strengths on the other hand. The adult who describes feeling shame and unworthiness might struggle to pinpoint the root of their issues, especially if their mother’s emotional issues were hidden, denied in the family, or minimized. The mother’s emotional state during the crucial early years is often that missing piece to help an adult fully understand their development and life story. Often they are not in a position to communicate about sensitive material with their mothers. This is why it’s crucial that maternal mental health is addressed clearly at all levels of society. The taboo still surrounding motherhood and postpartum emotional issue has devasting consequences for the entire family. I know this is a lot. Feel free to use what makes sense, and let me know if I should clarify things? I tried to use language for laypeople. – Helena Vissing, M.S., Psy.D.