On a hot night last July, I walked into a bar appropriately named Loves Me Not, expecting my first date not to show up. We’d made plans to meet here, more than a week prior, but when I opened Hinge earlier that day to confirm, our conversation was missing. Although grabbing a drink with Andrew was on my calendar, my list of matches no longer included anyone by that name.
Had he unmatched me as a way of canceling? Or was it some kind of technical goof, and he was still planning to show up? Or had I simply imagined those plans, like a mirage in a wasteland where follow-through and basic human decency are scarce? In such a climate, it’s easy to get thirsty.
I had no idea. In today’s dating culture of extreme flakiness, people “ghost” at any and all points: Right after you’ve matched on an app, after a few texts are exchanged, after a few dates, even after months or years of dating. Although it was plausible that someone would make specific plans and then cancel without actually canceling, I’d never experienced this particular disappearing act, where someone makes plans and then cuts off all methods of communication.
Andrew did not walk through the doors of Loves Me Not that night. I ordered a pizza and dirty martini anyway and savored them while wondering what to call this confusing experience.
Nearly a year later, I have an answer. Rachel Thompson, a single woman in London, coined the term “cloaking” to describe it. “Cloaking is when a person doesn’t just stand you up for a date, they also block you on any app that you’ve previously communicated on,” Thompson describes in a video for Mashable.
It’s as though your date is donning a Harry Potter invisibility cloak. Not showing up would be ghosting. But cloaking involves taking steps to hide yourself even more — leaving someone no way to contact you. (Simply unmatching on a dating app qualifies.)
“It’s really a humiliating thing to go through,” Thompson said in her video. “But it’s also a really common thing.”
She has been through it herself. She also met a guy on Hinge. They hit it off, exchanging flirty messages about their shared love of pasta and burrata — and made plans to meet for Italian food later that night. But when she sent him a WhatsApp message to say she was on her way, he didn’t respond. She didn’t even get the standard read receipt WhatsApp usually sends. When Thompson clicked over to Hinge, their conversation was gone. She sent him an iMessage. No response.
I went through a similar period of silence and confusion with Andrew. We’d made plans but hadn’t exchanged phone numbers, so I couldn’t text him. I had his first and last name, so the day our date was supposed to happen, I sent a Facebook message to see if we were still on. No reply.
I even wrote to Hinge support to see if they had any clues. “With respect to Andrew’s privacy,” Hinge wrote back, “I can tell you that when a member disappears from your Matches it could be that they either deliberately or accidentally removed your profile from their Matches, or that they deleted their Hinge profile. I’m really sorry about the confusion around this.”
At this point, just a few hours before our supposed date, I probably should have made other plans for the evening. But even though most people on dating apps seem to be total flakes, I am not. I would show up just in case he did, too.
Thompson also stuck around for a drink just in case her date showed up. Eventually, she gave up, ordered an Uber and joined her friends for Chinese food instead. Her Uber driver was furious on her behalf, she said, wondering: “How could someone do that to you?”
Thompson didn’t want this person to get away with his bad dating etiquette. “While I was putting my highlighter on my face, and getting excited for the date, he was busy blocking me on every single app. I was so frustrated, because obviously I wanted to say something and just be like: ‘That is not cool. Like, what are you doing?’ ”
But with no way to reach him, she couldn’t even do that. Instead, she created a word for this weird, humiliating experience.
After Thompson took to Twitter, she found out that many people have been cloaked. “I feel like having a word for it helps to unite people and helps validate those experiences,” she said.
It sure does. And like Thompson, I found a way to salvage the evening. After finishing my pizza and martini, I walked to my new favorite ice cream shop and picked up several pints — one for myself, another for my friend who was having a miscarriage and a third for friends who were adjusting to life with a newborn.
This wasn’t just going to be the night I was stood up. It was going to be the night I did something nice for the people in my life who do show up for me.