Paperclipping: How to Avoid the New Toxic Dating Trend

Yeah, you’ve heard of ghosting, but if you’re single, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the latest toxic dating trend, known as paperclipping. It’s origins are sort of amusing: According to psychologist Bruce Y. Lee, MD, in a Psychology Today article, the term gets its name from Clippy, the animated character that appeared as a digital assistant in Microsoft programs in the early ’00s. But when it comes to romantic relationships, engaging in paperclipping isn’t as harmless as accepting the help of a cute anthropomorphic office supply. Let’s get into it.

What exactly is paperclipping?

The term has to do with the behavior of the character Clippy, who would pop up from time to time to ask questions that distracted you from what you were doing and didn’t really help that much, which became more of a nuisance than an aid.

Similarly, paperclipping is when a potential love interest pops up from time to time on one or more of your platforms to ask some frivolous questions. The question can be a simple “Hi, how are you?” or “How you doing?” via a text or a DM. Either way, the common theme is that when you answer the question posed, the conversation rarely ends up going very far. In fact, you may not even get a response to your answer, writes Lee in Psychology Today.

According to Lee, the question is asked and gives the impression that the person wants to talk to you or has something to tell, but an answer never actually comes. This can be a ploy to stay in touch but leave the relationship always on the back burner and “without any real commitment.”

Who can paperclip you? Lee says: “That person could be someone who went on a few dates with you, never progressed further, but is trying to keep you engaged on the sidelines in a low-effort way. Or that person could be an ex who’s looking to see if you’re still under their emotional control. You might even get a clip from a prospective employer who doesn’t currently want to engage with you in any way but wants to keep in touch in case it really does become ‘important’ someday.”

The problem with this is that it gives you false hope, while at the same time letting you know that you’re not that important to the person paperclipping you and that they could be playing games with you, which not only creates stress and frustration but affects your self-esteem and confidence, in yourself and in others.

What can you do to protect yourself from paperclipping?

Lee says that while not all short messages or those not answered promptly are a case of the toxic practice (maybe the person went to a meeting or is in in the shower), but when the messages are frequent and conversations never move forward (and when there is no commitment to see each other, spend time together or plans that include you), then it may be paperclipping.

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