TikTok is like the internet’s agony aunt when it comes to advice about life and love. Some of it helpful, some of it not so much. There’s plenty of information out there about avoiding toxic partners, what about those turning that advice on its head and encouraging bad behaviour?
In Jan 2021, TikTok creator Ilinca Sipos picked up the book How To Date Men When You Hate Men at a second-hand bookstore. Unpacking the advice chapter by chapter on her TikTok, her content quickly went viral, spinning into a series reviewing popular dating books. “It was interesting to see the evolution of dating through these books as the early-2000s dating advice just isn’t how we date anymore,” Ilinca tells Mashable.
Inspired by the toxic advice she came across in these books, Ilinca started posting her own toxic dating tips, mainly directed at heterosexual couples, for comedic value. Kiss him on the forehead, Ilinca advises. Make him get butterflies, make him fall in love with you and then randomly end it two days later. Or the next time you feel like being a little bit toxic, text the person you’re dating “here” and then go silent. Just watch it play out. “Obviously we still live in a patriarchal society. In enabling women with the types of dating tricks that men have always pulled, it grabs people’s attention,” Ilinca explains. “It’s like, if you think you can play the game, we can play it better.”
While the internet, and TikTok in particular, is full of meaningful relationship advice for improving communication, spotting red flags, and helping with deeper connections, some are dishing out the “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” approach. Encouraging others to embrace toxicity in their dating lives, the requirement of always being morally correct on the internet seems to be losing its charm.
Is it time to embrace toxicity?
“Toxic TikTok” is a corner of the platform where creators offer tips about texting, gaslighting, and crushing a man’s ego, to name a few. These videos have amassed a large following with the hashtag #toxictiktok gaining over 552.9 million views. This community is about choosing yourself, setting boundaries, and not letting yourself be walked over. Teaching their followers to reel someone in or get over someone using toxic behaviour, it’s a wake-up call for the people pleasers who have always compromised on their own wants and needs.
Ilinca makes clear that this advice is not a green light to be mean. “It’s never about thinking you’re better than someone,” she says. “Instead, if you’re in a situationship where you feel like someone has a leg up on you because they are playing games, here’s how to combat that.”
Annabelle Gesson, a college student from New York, found herself frustrated with a guy she was talking to and ranted in a video about things boys just don’t understand about girls. Her TikTok video has since been viewed over 10 million times. Annabelle’s account has since grown to 5.1M followers, where she shares honest relationship advice mainly for straight men.
“I have had my fair share of experiences with guys and I have a lot of girlfriends,” Annabelle explains. “We are constantly talking about what a guy did, what a guy said, how we feel about it. Girls definitely have this community and this support, where they can overshare and have no boundaries.”
Turning that into content, Annabelle has posted advice on toxic ways to get into a woman’s head, toxic things girls will do to guys, and the best ways to play hard to get (with the disclaimer, “only do this to people that deserve it”). “I want people to know that they are heard and that these are situations and issues that so many people experience.”
People-pleasing is out, healthy relationship standards are in
Toxic TikTok is a natural extension of the “villain era,” a trend that emerged in the spring as a rejection of the expectation of continuous personal growth. Instead, these internet trends embrace people’s most unfiltered form of self-preservation by encouraging straight women, in particular, to take back the power straight cis men have held onto for so long. A cultural turning point, these attitudes are already shaking up the dating scene. Recent psychological research has shown dating opportunities for heterosexual men are diminishing as relationship standards rise, with ”men needing to address skills deficits to meet healthier relationship expectations.” These include addressing poor communication skills, intimacy and emotional connection. We see no problems here.
“This generation is very cut-throat. I’m tired of seeing women settle for the bare minimum.”
Jamaal Banks, a TikTok creator from Washington D.C., joined the app two years ago and originally started posting fitness content. However, it was his ‘toxic therapy’ content which blew up with views regularly hitting the millions. “My content isn’t to hurt any men or anything like that, it’s to help women out in certain situations and help them realise they are worth more than they may think. You have to have value and standards for yourself.”
“This generation is very cut-throat,” Jamaal explains. “I’m tired of seeing women settle for the bare minimum, it shouldn’t be happening and I want to help people understand that. Don’t let anybody walk over you, you are better than that. That’s where I’m coming from with these videos.”
Take internet advice with a pinch of salt
Despite the evident popularity of these tongue-in-cheek tips, this advice shouldn’t be seen as a means to forming healthy, long-term relationships. “It’s definitely a reaction to how women have always been told to make everyone else comfortable,” explains Ilinca. “I think the pendulum will always swing a little bit more extreme and then we’ll kind of level out.”
“We have to be mindful that some people will not understand our true intentions and if someone uses some of the toxic advice, they are likely to get hurt.”
Setting boundaries and advocating for yourself is one thing, but disregarding how your actions impact other people is truly toxic behaviour. Dr. Kathy Nickerson, a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert, worries how consumers of toxic advice will deem what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to their relationships. “I love a good joke, I am a big fan of sarcasm, and I understand the desire to push back on negative relationship advice online. However, we have to be mindful that some people will not understand our true intentions and if someone uses some of the toxic advice, they are likely to get hurt,” she explains. “I also think it makes it hard for inexperienced daters, or people who are on the autism spectrum, to understand what to do. Behaving in a toxic way undermines trust. So I would always prefer that someone be authentic, honest, and kind and say how they truly feel.”
Then there are those who take it too far. Going viral for all the wrong reasons, TikTok’s ‘pickup artists’ and ‘alpha males’ promote wildly misogynistic dating practices that rely on manipulation and archaic gender roles.
While some may point to the similarities of these two dating styles, they are not to be confused. “The ‘alpha male’ version of dating actually teaches that certain people are less than,” Ilinca explains. “That is a very different narrative than ‘don’t text him back for seven hours’. It’s just not the same.” While alpha-male ‘relationship advice’ is all about control, toxic TikTok is about self-defence rather than outright manipulation.
“The goal should never be to harm or hurt someone else, but rather to protect yourself from being pushed too far physically or emotionally,” explains Nickerson. “A toxic boundary is about control and punishment. If you are acting in ways to control your partner, i.e., silent treatment or making threats, that will erode the relationship over time. Much better to ask for what you need. If your partner chooses not to give that to you, then you have some decisions to make.”
According to Ilinca, it comes down to what your goals are in dating. “When I was younger it was definitely fun to indulge in the maybe not-so-healthy type of relationships. I just think you’re looking for different advice when you’re in that season of your life.”
Next time you find yourself waiting for a guy to text you back, have a scroll through #ToxicTikTok and you’ll probably feel better.