The Danger in the Need to Feel Special
In the various dating circles and conversations, I'm part of, people are still discussing the Netflix documentary, The Tinder Swindler. Unfortunately, many people, men and women alike, can relate as they have had experiences of being scammed in online dating in general (not just on Tinder).
One of the most-often repeated claims that the women make when relaying their story of how they got scammed by an online date prospect consisted of a couple components:
1) They were very sure they were the type of person who never gets scammed. They were taking all the precautions they'd heard and learned from the horror stories of others and were approaching their dating lives, especially as they pursued online dating, with caution and a level head.
2) They had been carried away by how special the person who eventually scammed them made them feel. Somehow, the way this person put them on a pedestal soothed all their fears and insecurities. It made them believe that they had finally met their soulmate and had disarmed all of their red-flag triggers, and they were swept off their emotional feet before they realized what was happening.
The Feeling of Specialness - a Common Report Among the Tinder Swindler's Victims
Many women who were taken in by the swindler's overtures of affection said they'd never felt so important to a potential partner or so unique among women before. Others have summarized the arc of The Tinder Swindler elsewhere, and while the importance of taking safety precautions while online dating cannot be overstated, that's for a different article. I want to focus on the role of the feeling of being special and why it's so powerful that it caused the women in the documentary, and countless others being scammed, to go thousands of dollars into debt for someone that they barely knew. Especially women who self-identified as knowing better.
Everyone wants to feel special. In fact, it's a red flag if the person you're dating fails to show you that you are special to them. But being compelled to spend thousands of dollars, especially going into debt, should be an even bigger red flag. It's common knowledge by now not to send money to a person online, especially if you've never met them or just started meeting, and it's been common knowledge since before the Tinder Swindler came out in February of 2022. Yet, somehow, the desire to feel special morphed into a need to feel special and overrode common sense, good judgment, and the ability to notice red flags.
The Role of Culture
Our culture is partly to blame. We follow the lives of people we will never meet who are famous simply for being famous, living lives we not only dream of attaining for ourselves but are constantly told that such seeming extravagance is possible for anyone. The narrative isn't even that you have to work hard anymore. You just need to build a following on social media.
Even though we should all know better, the story of the overnight YouTube success mesmerizes us like this, and other stories of special, famous people are enshrined as what people should be striving for. Even though we should all know better than to believe overnight success stories. With the level of success constantly paraded in front of us by Hollywood and the various media apparatuses, we still believe that striking it famous and thus special in the eyes of the public is possible for us—and this is the kind of life we should want. People who want simple lives focused on family or meaningful work out of the spotlight are portrayed by these same media behemoths as backward, out of touch, or pathetic. There's nothing special about such people; the worst sin to commit these days is being a Plain Jane.
Thus, our culture overly sensitizes us to a desperate need to feel special, as if not all our hopes and dreams for our lives, but our survival depends on being deemed special by someone or something outside us. This goes way beyond the need for approval and acceptance; also, healthy desires, when kept in balance with the ability to think independently, self-soothe in construction ways, and take effective action in the direction of one's dreams. This desperate need to feel special that grows so strong you will spare no cost to obtain it is a need to be worshipped for fear of not surviving unless someone worships you.
This is obviously unhealthy on its face. Whether you're religious or not, being worshipped or worshipping another human being will never satisfy the need every human has to transcend themselves and be an integral part of something larger than their individual life. But this hunger for someone else to provide the feeling of specialness to us is damaging for another reason: it disables our ability to give a sense of uniqueness to ourselves. However, doing so is necessary if we want to approach dating from a place of groundedness, confidence, and generosity. If we take the need to feel special to everyone else to meet, it will only create deeper hunger, and that hunger will blind us to red flags and inflame our sense of our own needs in a relationship, which will give us a false sense of urgency. Another common piece of advice in the dating world is to "go slow," and our ability to affirm our specialness for ourselves is a vital ingredient in doing so.