‘The group reminded me I wasn’t crazy’: unmasking the worst dating offenders


When Allie learned that her partner of four years had been cheating on her with at least nine other women, using dating apps and telling mutual acquaintances that they were in an open relationship, the 28-year-old felt her sense of reality “implode”.

They were also living together, and around the same time she found antiviral medication for herpes at home. “It turned out he’d had it for a couple of years. It’s a common infection so for me that’s not the issue – it was the deceit. He took no responsibility for preventing or mitigating it.”

Upset and wondering where to go from there, Allie’s friend told her about a Facebook group called Are We Dating the Same Guy? Set up in March 2022 for New York women to verify whether their prospective partners were seeing other people after the West Elm Caleb scandal (in which a 25-year-old furniture designer was busted on TikTok for dating multiple women and then ghosting them), it’s now ballooning in the UK. The groups – essentially digital whisper networks, and largely heterosexual – have sprung up in cities and provincial regions for women to trade information about potentially toxic and dangerous men.

They’re growing rapidly in response to the pressures of modern dating. According to Ofcom’s Online Nation Report for 2022, one in 10 adults in the UK use an online dating service, most of those aged 25-34 – which is the demographic most likely to deal with ghosting and breadcrumbing (sending out flirtatious, but non-committal signals to lure a partner) on top of wider issues such as cheating, gaslighting and worse.

One of Allie’s friends put her on to their local London group after she’d joined it herself, motivated by the levels of dishonesty she was observing among her peers. “She was sick and tired of hearing that friends were dating someone who was also dating 10 other people and not being honest about it,” Allie says. “There are so many tools to hide what you’re doing on social media, which affects trust – how much to give, and it being abused.”

There are also more targeted forms of dishonesty, like fraud or catfishing, to consider. UK Finance reported that 38% of people who had dated someone they met online were asked for money, while Ofcom’s Online Experiences research found that 11% of catfishing experiences were encountered most recently on an online dating service. Overall, the current dating landscape simply feels riskier when the internet makes information both readily available and easy to obscure.

“I definitely believe that dating has become more dangerous, especially in the last couple of years,” says Nadia (not her real name), who came across Are We Dating the Same Guy? when scrolling through TikTok. Noticing there wasn’t a group for her own city, she decided to set one up and now acts as admin alongside a few others. “People can disguise themselves on dating apps by the way they act, or by pretending to be a completely different person.”

Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

The groups are private, and members have to complete a screening questionnaire prior to approval to help filter out bot accounts. Still, numbers are skyrocketing. Created shortly after the NYC group, the London page jumped from about 1,400 members at the start of January this year to more than 18,000 members by the end of the month. The content, too, has expanded to include everything from harrowing stories of long-term systematic abuse to a screenshot of a dating profile along with a plea for any gossip on that person.

The posting guidelines are strict: users should be anonymous, the details of the men in question should be vague – no surnames, job titles or social media links – and some of the group’s descriptions contain a warning that posting sensitive information about things like criminal records or STIs could be libellous.

Working within those rules, Allie posted something vague about her situation. “Essentially, I wanted to find out how much of an idiot I’d been, so to speak, and whether this person was prolific and endangering other people or not. My main concern at that point was the safety of other women.”

There were a few back and forths with other commenters, but nothing Allie was able to verify. When her partner later gave her the names of all the people he’d slept with, she recognised some of them from the comments – but her activity in the group stopped there. She already had the confirmation she was looking for. “When your reality blows up in your face, it’s very isolating,” she says. “You don’t know whether you’re over or underreacting. I think the group served as a reminder to trust my instincts – the fact that this sort of thing is prolific doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it means the other person is shitty.”

Unsurprisingly, since it’s where West Elm Caleb went viral, Are We Dating the Same Guy? is a big topic on TikTok. Searching the term will bring up everything from videos of British women warning of karma and comeuppance set to a dancehall track, to a US standup joking about posing as a woman in his local group to get an honest review of himself. More anonymous corners of the internet, such as Reddit, focus on the ethical questions, such as does sharing people’s dating profiles, private messages and photos without consent count as doxing? And how would we feel if the genders were reversed?

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As it stands, all of the groups serve women dating men. To gender-flip the issue would obfuscate the reality of who’s most at risk, but there’s no question that groups of men posting details about women would be far more controversial. Indeed, Glamour reported in October 2022 that when a male-centric New York group called Are We Dating the Same Girl? emerged, using the same community guidelines, it was promptly condemned by the original group. There is now no trace of it on Facebook.

How does instant access to this kind of information impact our wellbeing and approach to intimacy in the long-term? “I know loads of women who have joined these groups and are permanently affected by the distrust,” Allie says. “It’s made them – and me – a lot colder going into interactions with new people. I’m sceptical of everything. It can go too far, and you need to remind yourself that you shouldn’t have to do this with people.”

One thing the Are We Dating the Same Guy? phenomenon clearly demonstrates is the sense of disappointment and dehumanisation that can come with dating today. “I think infidelity is rife because dating apps promote a discardable view of people, and a ‘grass is always greener’ mentality,” Allie says.

Against that backdrop, Are We Dating the Same Guy? groups can offer a sense of camaraderie in a confusing and often lonely landscape. There are just as many posts thanking other women for their support and trying to organise Galentine’s meet-ups as there are horror stories and red flag emojis. “I see the groups as more of a chat platform,” Allie says. Even though it wasn’t able to prevent the situation she found herself in, the group provided a “small sense of comfort” at a time when she felt “betrayed” and “silly”.

For Nadia, the group has actually made her outlook on dating more positive. “Knowing there’s a community of women who are so supportive of each other makes me feel safer, especially on the dating scene,” she says. “One person’s experience with someone doesn’t define them, but knowing any information before meeting a stranger is a good safety precaution.”

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