The secret language of modern dating, from catfishing to gaslighting

I'm pretty convinced that if I was 22 instead of 52, I'd be single for the rest of my life.

I'd be fine with it. I think I'd join some sort of cloistered seminary, where I'd shave a dome on top of my head, wear an enormous itchy robe tied at the waist with some rope and meditate with pious solemnity in my austere cell.

I'd be tending the potatoes in the afternoon with Brother John. He'd enquire gently about my faith.

"Tell me, Brother Phil, do you yearn for the pleasures of the world? Do you miss wine, women and song?"

"Nay, Brother John," I'd say, "for online dating is the devil's work. Let me tell thee how it confounds the heart and mind. There be many traps.

Dating roulette

There be Gaslighting, Love-Bombing, Hoovering, Ghosting, Stealthing, Breadcrumbing, Benching, Demisexuals, Sapiosexuals, Hatfishing, Catfishing and Nunning. And probably other weird stuff."

"Pray, WTF?" Brother John would say, then we'd have a hilarious potato fight because we're the wacky, fun-loving monks.

But if a life of piety and potatoes isn't for you, here's a glossary of "dating trends" to guide you through the unfathomable love labyrinth of digital dating.


When your beloved slowly, over time, convinces you you're mad and makes you doubt your own memory of events through a campaign of lies, misdirection and contradiction. For example, they might say something horrible, or start a fight, then convincingly deny it ever happened when you raise it later. Named for the 1944 film, Gas Light.


Love Bombing

Over-the-top, intense bombardment of attention and affection, flowers, texting, dinners, protestations of love, followed by complete withdrawal, to gain control of a partner.


You manage to leave an abusive or controlling partner but they suck you back in after a period of no contact, through clever emotional manipulation.


To end a relationship or date suddenly, with no explanation, and disappear completely with no further contact. Usually this person can't deal, or be bothered with, confrontation.


Where a man removes his condom during sex without his partner's knowledge. It's sexual assault.


Sending a constant stream of flirtatious but non-commital messages in order to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort. A breadcrumber will say they miss you, think you're amazing, can't wait to see you again but will never actually make a concrete plan or a set a date for a date.  


Repeated cycle of ignoring a partner, then making contact just as they're about to give up on the relationship. If you're on the bench you're going to get a run at some stage but have to wait until you get called into the game.


A person who does not experience "primary" physical or sexual attraction but does experience "secondary" attraction, a deep emotional connection. They will only sleep with you after establishing that you are, indeed, soulmates.


A person who finds a person's intellect to be the most sexually attractive thing about them. OKCupid added sapiosexual to their list of sexual orientations in 2014.


Where you're falling for someone – usually a guy – and you slowly realise they wear a wear a hat or cap all the time all the time to hide their head. When you finally see their head you know why.


To make someone fall in love with a fake online persona without revealing your true identity or appearance. The catfisher can go for years avoiding a face to face meeting and by the time they're discovered, their victim is completely in love with someone who doesn't exist.


Where Brother John and Brother Phil both fall for the same hot nun from a nearby nunnery but decide, in a bros-before-brides-of-Christ move, to both bow out to maintain their friendship. (This is a very new one and you can rest assured you read it here first.)

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher New Holland. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

Been catfished or guilty of being a hatfisher? Share your experience in the comments section below.