The TikTok Dating Playbook Is Seriously Warping My Outlook On Millennial Love
Top image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo

As a single millennial in Singapore, things are looking bleak. 

Housing that doesn’t look like a Nordic prison cell is only for those with deep pockets or ample savings. Asking for a table for one still raises some eyebrows. And everyone has an opinion on your love life (or lack thereof). 

Then there’s the overwhelming dating content TikTok has been pushing to me via my For You Page. I’m just about ready to delete the app, along with all my dating apps. 

It doesn’t seem to be a universal problem, or at least that’s what I’ve gleaned anecdotally. Only a handful of other single friends report the same flood of relationship advice on their pages. Others remain blissful in their ignorance—they’re enjoying long-nosed dogs and capybara jingles during their daily doom-scrolling sessions

For those of you lucky enough to be free of this specific algorithmic prison, let me tell you what it’s like. 

The TikTok Dating Playbook

One of the first few videos you’ll likely see is a tarot reading, telling you that Your Person is thinking of you and will come back to you. They’ll reach out in one to three days, but only if you interact with the video to “claim” the reading. You quickly scroll past, because you’re done with tarot TikTok feeding your delusions. 

It’s likely that you’ll land on a different video decoding all the hidden signs that a guy is into you. By the end of the video, you’re convinced you’re unlovable because you and the guy you’re talking to don’t have multiple chats on different platforms, and he hasn’t given you a pet name

Video: Nicolettecalliewee / TikTok

You scroll further in search of more dating advice that’ll fix this. Up pops a Singaporean man telling you the best way to attract a partner is to “smile more often”. 

Video: Samkongs / TikTok

As a woman, you already smile a whole lot more than most men, so you decide to ignore that advice.

The Feminine Energy

Another video appears in your feed preaching the viral TikTok dating theory that you need to tap into your “feminine energy” to attract a “high-value” man. AKA a man who can provide for you and take care of you. 

Apparently, the key is to focus on being the best version of yourself and allow men to lead. What? 

Video: Zahraa_hberro / TikTok

Lifestyle TikToker Zahraa Berro proclaims: “As a woman, you should let go of the need to control everything and lead everything. This will allow a man—a high-value man—to cherish you more and honour you more.”

It goes against everything you’ve been taught about being a strong, independent woman, but you make a mental note to try it out, because why not?

If you still don’t have luck in the dating world, then you’re the problem. Work on your attachment style and try again once you’re fixed all of your childhood trauma. 

Video: Tamkaur_ / TikTok

And because TikTok is designed to feed you content it thinks you’ll like, all that time spent watching the last few videos is probably going to tell it to float up more of the same stuff. Welcome to the rabbit hole. 

The result? Falling in love is beginning to seem less like something that occurs serendipitously and more like something with a long list of prerequisites and rules. 

It’s Raining High-Value Men… Not

The last time I was single, I was 20 and it was before the era of dating apps. Back then, people had crushes on people they knew in real life and would ask for each other’s numbers face-to-face. 

Fast forward nearly a decade, and swiping through generic profiles consisting of Uniqlo shirts, bouldering videos, and dog photos seems to be the name of the game. 

Things almost seem formulaic: Match with a stranger, make small talk on the app, transition to Telegram, and either take it offline or get ghosted. 

On my first few matches, I didn’t give it too much thought, doing everything the TikTok playbook warned against—replying instantly, double-texting, agreeing to spontaneous meet-ups, and simply making myself too available. 

In my defence, I was available. Why should I pretend otherwise? 

TikTok dating Singapore
Image: Stephanie Lee/RICE File Photo

Everything seemed to be going well… until it wasn’t. The replies from my matches dried up and petered out. I experience ghosting for the first time. 

As a chronic overachiever and seeker of validation, I felt a pressure to change up my approach in order to be ‘better’ at dating, which seems psychotic now that I’m actually typing it out. Dating is supposed to be about getting to know new people—no one’s standing there with a grading rubric, ready to evaluate your proficiency at it. 

In a nutshell, high-value dating for women proscribes the following rules: Never make the first move (men are wired to do the chasing), don’t be an open book (it’s more intriguing), don’t get physical too quickly (gotta weed out the fuckboys), and don’t be needy (it’s unattractive). 

While I’d previously been swiping right on men solely based on ~vibes~, I decide to pay their jobs a little more attention. 

Your mileage with this approach might vary, but my results were even more disappointing than when I was being my overeager self: Fewer matches, fewer men taking the initiative to message first, and equally as many ghostings. 

And when a supposedly ‘high-value’ man—slightly older, illustrious medical career—opened a conversation by complimenting my “sexy” back (of all things) I decided I was done with high-value dating.

Why TikTok Dating Advice Gives Me the Ick

I’ll be the first to admit that my TikTok browsing behaviour is part of the reason my feed is so entrenched in dating content. I really only have myself to blame at the end of the day.

But it also has to be said that some of the narratives popularised on the platform aren’t the most healthy. 

Beyond the deeply materialistic labelling of men based on their earning potential and eagerness to spend on their partner, the myriad of rules positions dating as a game to be won. The prize? Not love, exactly—but someone who ticks all the right boxes. 

It can also be an emotional rollercoaster. One moment, the For You Page is telling you “if he wanted to, he would”. Next, it’s telling you that men settle down when they’re ready, not when they find the love of their life. 

All of the dating discourse and arbitrary rules almost feel like a rehashing of dating playbooks of the early 2000s (think The Game). 

But why is this toxic mindset of ‘winning’ a partner still a thing? 

Professor of sociology Ellen Lamont tells Refinery29 that strict dating rules such as being adamant about men paying on the first date can stem from frustration with the dating market and avenues for upward mobility. 

“It is certainly socially conservative in the sense that it positions women to be economically dependent on men. And asking men to pay for everything undermines egalitarian goals in that it is premised on certain gendered assumptions about men and women and their respective roles. But my assumption is that it is a reaction to dating norms that leave women feeling devalued.” 

In other words, women are simply tired of being mistreated and are no longer accepting the bare minimum. 

That is something I can get behind. But is there an alternative to manipulating your way into a supposed ‘high-value’ relationship? 

TikTok dating Singapore
Image: Stephanie Lee/RICE File Photo

Stay Single, Stay Winning

Maybe the solution to not settling for the bare minimum is simple: Just stay single. 

It seems as if more than a few Singaporeans have the same idea. The 2021 Marriage and Parenthood Survey found that about half of the singles polled were not dating at the time of the study. Among those, about four in 10 had never dated before. 

It’s not exactly easy in an amatonormative world, which assumes that humans universally aim to be in an exclusive, amorous relationship. 

If you’re single, people assume you’re looking for someone. If you aren’t, you are usually labelled aromantic or asexual. But because human relationships and emotions aren’t binary, this shouldn’t be the case. 

Perhaps it’s time to come up with a new term for people who are simply tired of the dating rat race. Anti-date? Dating avoidant? In-date-fferance? 

In the meantime, I’ll be feverishly liking cat videos to reset my TikTok algorithm.

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