The Real Relationship Hustlers of TikTok

Anna Kai believes in self-gaslighting. On TikTok, as @itsmaybeboth, she markets beauty products for Garnier, Nivea, and Nexxus Hair Care while dispensing relationship advice to her 1.3 million followers. “If you can gaslight yourself into believing the man that doesn’t love you actually loves you, then why can’t you gaslight yourself into believing you will find a man who actually does?”

For Blaine Anderson, finding the right partner is all about savvy marketing, which “great guys often SUCK at,” a note on her website exclaims. She has hacks for every possible scenario that can, and will, arise during the dating process: how to text like a “high-value man,” what first-date mistakes to avoid, how to make women obsessed, and the best ways to attract them without talking. In case you were curious, it starts with good posture and grooming. “If you haven’t been shopping since the Obama administration, it’s time,” she says in a video uploaded to TikTok in May.

“As a relationship therapist, I’ve literally spent my career studying the art of attraction and human psychology, so I know that these things work,” Kimberly Moffit, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, said in a TikTok video from 2022. Maybe your crush is shy and you want to know if he is “micro-flirting” with you? One tell-tale sign: dirty jokes. “An aggressive guy is just gonna hit on you,” she said, “but a shy guy is really gonna test the waters first.”

If you haven’t heard, it’s boom times for dating influencers. According to a new survey of single adults aged 18 to 62 conducted by the app Flirtini, one in four people rely on TikTok as their primary source of relationship information, and almost 50 percent of people surveyed turn to social media for dating advice.

This phenomenon has created an ecosystem of thoughtful, overzealous, trend-chasing dating influencers who think they know what’s best for you. The marketplace is now overrun with gurus offering up romantic hacks and how-tos to anyone who will listen. Everyone from credentialed therapists and life coaches to that annoying friend who just discovered bell hooks’ All About Love and wants to share everything they learned brands themselves a dating influencer these days. The effect has been seismic. On TikTok, the hashtags #datingadvice and #relationshipadvice have upwards of 16 billion views.

And it’s not all bad advice per se. Kai’s self-gaslighting tip is actually quite clever. (Kai and the other influencers mentioned in this story did not respond to messages seeking comment.) There’s just one problem: Relationship misinformation is spreading fast.

A growing number of young adults now get their news from TikTok, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center study, “so it makes sense that they’d turn to the app for relationship advice too,” says Liesel Sharabi, a professor at Arizona State University who specializes in the effect technology has on interpersonal relationships. The increased reliance on the platform as a go-to source for romantic guidance has led many users to form parasocial relationships with advice-giving influencers. Unlike face-to-face, IRL relationships, these tend to be one-way. But emotionally, they feel like the real thing.

“Someone might feel like they’re getting dating advice from a trusted friend because they’ve developed such a strong sense of familiarity and connection with that person,” Sharabi says. “The problem is that when it comes to dating, there are plenty of people who call themselves experts on TikTok without any sort of training or qualifications, which can make it difficult to separate fact from opinion.”

Not all advice is created equal. As dating influencers gain more traction across social media, the proliferation of relationship misinformation becomes harder to contain. This, Sharabi describes, is “false or misleading information about relationships that can’t be evaluated using scientific data and which may perpetuate harmful stereotypes.”

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