Socially distanced dating as a digital abuse survivor

As dating apps warn users to keep communication to the chat box and Health Departments suggest video dates and even sexting to avoid contamination, our Client Relations Manager Norma Buster contemplates what the switch to digital-only interactions means for singles trying to mingle in the wake of internet-enabled abuse.


It was only a couple of nights into the start of this quarantine that I mindlessly opened the Hinge app and starting scrolling. It took a few scrolls and swipes before it dawned on me— say I match with someone, then what? Weeks, even months, of texting without knowing when we’d ever meet in person? The thought was enough to make me snap the app shut and throw my phone to the other side of the sofa. If I wasn’t going to meet anyone in person for a while, I’d just put dating on hold.


You see, for those of us who have survived any form of intimate partner violence, dating can be tough. And, given the ease with which abusers frequently weaponize tech, online dating can be terrifying.


I am the Client Relations Manager at C.A. Goldberg, but I started out here as a client. After I went through stalking and NCP at the hands of my ex, my phone became a trigger. I couldn’t handle feeling it vibrate because the sensation would throw me straight back to the same state of anxiety I was in when I dreaded my ex’s name popping up on the screen in 2014. That’s why my phone is always on silent now.


Truth be told, I’ve had a habit of unintentionally ghosting people simply because I couldn’t take their messages coming in—I’d panic and stop responding altogether. It just felt easier. And I know I’m not alone in my dating app anxieties; every day in my job I hear about the fears and concerns that victims like me have to overcome just to live a normal life.


Over the years I’ve built the confidence to set boundaries and accumulated the tools to communicate what I need, but for a long time, trauma made dating in this digital age feel impossible.


The entire world is in a heightened state of anxiety right now—we’re all in ‘survival mode’. But for trauma survivors, this is no foreign feeling; in fact it’s been our daily reality. Another former client, and who’s now a therapist, Francesca Rossi explains, “For those of us who have survived emotional, physical, sexual, and structural violence, we already live with our nervous system scanning for potential threats to our safety. The reality of the deadly virus has exacerbated this. We live in a continuous reactive state.”


For those of us who have survived any form of intimate partner violence, dating can be tough. And, given the ease with which abusers frequently weaponize tech, online dating can be terrifying.


Right now the NYC Health Department suggests video dates, sexting, or chat rooms instead of in-person dates. Dating apps are suggesting users keep communication to the app or video chats while social distancing. Hinge happily reports that 70% of its users would be interested in a digital date. But as a survivor of abuse that largely took place online, seeing this figure actually scared me. …Is this the future of dating? Where does that leave me, someone who tries to avoid online communication as much as possible? We’ve all seen article after article with encouraging tips for online dating under quarantine, and while I’m sure they’ll help a lot of single people out there, they don’t offer much comfort for me. As Francesca put it, “We already feel isolated in our PTSD symptoms – people do not understand how triggering the internet is for us as technology has been the weapon of our abusers.”


Some victims of digital violence are happy to swear-off social media forever. But the rest of us either can’t, or don’t want to be excluded from the world of tech, because some asshole weaponized it against us.


We need to connect with others. With the C.A. Goldberg team, we’ve had daily morning video meetings and end-of-day chats, therapy sessions, karaoke, and comedy happy hours. I’ve continued meetings with my writing group on Zoom, and I’ve made new friends on Instagram through groups where we send each other some daily positivity (and quarantine outfit and makeup inspo). Finding ways to connect despite the physical space between is helping us get through this together. “Connecting with others who make you feel supported, safe and cared for will physiologically help you. Feeling cared for by others during this time will help your nervous system to regulate, increasing your feelings of calm in the body and clearness in the brain,” Francesca explains.


As useful as social media has been for working remotely, it’s just different when it comes to dating. Perhaps this quarantine, with all the triggers and fears that it bought in the beginning, was offering me a chance to grow in my healing. I began to rethink dating under quarantine – it’s not dating that I was afraid of; I always want to interact with people, it was the thought of being bombarded with triggers that felt paralyzing. As Francesca ponders, “When we approach dating from a place of fear we are coming into it on the defense and preparing for potential threats. How can we approach dating from protective confidence instead?”


So can a survivor of digital violence like me start to think of apps as an opportunity to open myself to new, meaningful connections, rather than a terrifying beast spitting triggers from my phone?


Some victims of digital violence are happy to swear-off social media forever. But the rest of us either can’t, or don’t want to be excluded from the world of tech, because some asshole weaponized it against us.


Because of what I’ve been through, I’ve always had a negative association with the idea of digitally connecting with someone. And I know the negative associations and neural pathways that trauma forges take time to undo. But I do think the more we talk about these challenges, the more we dissect and understand and share with others where our fears come from, the more we progress in our healing journey. And the more we can see and benefit from the possibilities that tech can offer (even after it’s been weaponized against us).


As Francesca puts it, “Dating is about compatibility, pleasure and safety. Consent is a theme that runs through it all. We can use this time to figure out what safety actually means to us, and dating is a great avenue to experiment in finding out how safety is supposed to feel.” At one of our morning meetings, we started talking about this topic, and our star JD Annie Seifullah suggested that maybe if video chats really are the future of dating, it could be a positive, protective thing; a way for us to feel safer before meeting someone in person. It could be ‘the new normal’ to vet someone for red flags via video before committing to taking things IRL. Annie recently pointed out, “if the first date was always on Zoom, it might be so much safer. You could assess attraction and chemistry without going to a bar and drinking (which would also save money and time). And as a bonus you can see the inside of the person’s apartment and make sure they have sheets on their mattress!”


Video chats can help narrow down the people you want to spend your physical time with, from the safety of your own home. You don’t have to give out your phone number for a app-based video chat, and you can always ‘x’ out if things get weird or uncomfortable. You can take extra precautions, too, like making sure there are no name tags or degree certificates hanging on the wall behind you.


Healing from digital violence in an ever-increasingly tech-reliant world means we have to take steps help us feel more secure, and ease some of the fears that we associate with digital communication, especially if we want to open ourselves up to dating.

Francesca suggests that all of us who are dabbling in distanced dating “Use this time in quarantine to attract all the things you want to feel connected with.”


“Be mindful of things that make you uncomfortable, as they are most likely yellow flags telling you something is likely to be off. And if this was the end of the world – why would you settle for anything less than what you deserve?” Damn right. And should you find yourself mixed up with a psycho, asshole, perv, or troll, we’re (working from home, but) still here for you.



Our attorneys and staff have never been more devoted to helping clients. We are fully staffed (although working remotely) and are able to do consultations, meet with clients, and handle all aspects of legal cases remotely. Please contact us or call 646.666.8908 to schedule a case evaluation.


Stay connected to us via social media:




Mailing List

Related posts

We are not your attorney. Nothing on our website, blog, or social media should be interpreted as legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. You should not act or rely on the basis of information on this site without seeking the advice of an attorney. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please keep in mind that the success of any legal matter depends on the unique circumstances of each case: we cannot guarantee particular results for future clients based on successes we have achieved in past legal matters.