It’s all too easy to let lust cloud judgment in the digital age

It’s all too easy to let lust cloud judgment in the digital age
It’s all too easy to let lust cloud judgment in the digital age
Image: Pixabay

My friend Nell, a psychologist, is paid to read people accurately. Despite her prodigious skills in this department, she found herself, last week, in a rather sticky situation with a man she had met on a dating app.

He seemed a bit full-on, but was clearly clever and lively, so she agreed to a date in a bar in Soho. And he was much better than she expected: good- looking, smart, and very funny. Sure, he let her pay for the whole evening, didn’t offer a last name and wouldn’t be pinned down about his work, but hey, she figured, he had gone to Cambridge, dressed well and she fancied him. How bad could he be?

When, a few days later, he urged another meeting, she interpreted this as confident keenness. They had a late-night pub drink near where she lives, and, after lots of laughter and flirtation, she agreed to let him come round for a cup of tea. But then she wanted him to leave. He refused and got angry. Suddenly, she realised she had been canoodling, seconds before, with a strange angry man, who was now in her flat and capable of anything. He might murder her. She managed to get him out, but only seconds before she was reaching for her phone to call the police.

When it comes to love, and certainly to lust, we tend to see what we want to see

If psychologist Nell could be lulled into assuming that a surname-less man from the internet was an honest, decent person, then it’s no surprise to find that people more innocent are coming a cropper. Apps like Tinder, with their colourful decks of faces, make us feel that online dating is just another form of shopping. We forget that it’s not: when shopping for love or sex online, there’s no knowing what you’re walking away with.

The story, last week, of a man unburdened of £180,000 (R3.2m) by a woman he met on Tinder illustrates this well – and offers a timely warning about the perils of letting lust cloud judgment in the digital age. Oil consultant Marcel Kooter, 57, won a legal battle to win back the vast sum from a married Bulgarian woman, 20 years his junior.

Having met Manuela Radeva online in 2017, he seems to have fallen into a kind of daze; mesmerised by saucy shots of her posing with fast cars. She could have made him believe anything, so it wasn’t hard to get him to think she was an investment banker and that he ought to transfer £182,000 to her account for her to invest on his behalf. She even moved into his London flat. Mr Kooter was, in his lawyer’s words, “blinded by attraction“.

Too late, he realised that she wasn’t what she seemed, and sued her after their nine-month relationship ended — when it emerged that Radeva had married another man weeks before they had met. The court last week ordered her to repay the money.

Should he have known better? Of course – but lust plays tricks on the deepest parts of the psyche, and it’s hard not to believe what you want about those whose caresses you crave.

In fact, Kooter is part of a growing number of online romance dupes being “blinded by attraction”. Last week, America’s Federal Trade Commission warned that online dating scams are now costing £112m (R2.2bn) per year – a huge jump from £25m R456m) in 2015. Those aged between 40 and 69 are the worst-hit, while over 70s reported an average loss of £7,800 (R142, 000).

Most of these scams work without in-person meetings – flattery and profession of strong feelings are all that’s needed to gain trust. The promise of true love from a perfect stranger is desperately intoxicating. You don’t have to be a middle-aged man to know that the temptation to conflate fantasy with reality can be extremely hard to resist.

Kooter’s story reminds us that dating apps are not just a young person’s game. And older folk, brought up in an era of greater social accountability, can be more vulnerable to digital smoke and mirrors.

Perhaps this generational divide in values and perception explains the success of Lumen, a dating app for over 50s, which launched in September and already has 300,000 users. But the reality is that whatever your age, when it comes to love, and certainly to lust, we tend to see what we want to see. And the wake-up call, when it comes, can be extremely upsetting, costly and above all, humiliating. – The Sunday Telegraph