This Facebook Group Lets Women Share Dating Woes — and Find Out if They’re Dating the Same Guy
How a new crop of social media sleuthing groups aims to combat the liars, cheaters and abusers of the dating world.
On an otherwise pleasant evening in mid-May of last year, standing in the middle of a grassy lot in Fairmount Park, I spent a little over an hour yelling into the phone at my then-boyfriend, detailing all the reasons I was bringing our relationship to an end.
The next few weeks were sort of a blur of recuperation via retail therapy and plenty of doomscrolling. Naturally, the algorithm began to feed me what it thought I wanted to see in my grief: social media content that promised to serve as a guide to reentering and successfully navigating the ever-complicated and constantly changing dating world. Eventually, I was led to something that seemed like the apex of this sort of content: the succinctly named Are We Dating The Same Guy? (AWDTSG), one of a breed of Facebook groups — some centrally regulated, some not — where women in cities and regions across the country go to offer and request information on the men they’re seeing.
“Tea on Alex?” “Info on Justin?” “Anyone know Nick?” ask many of the posts that make it to the discussion board. “He’s a habitual liar,” some of the commenters respond. Others demur: “I went to college with him, he’s the sweetest.” On the other end of the spectrum: “He has two girlfriends. Maybe more.” Or simply, “DM me.” Sometimes, the posts have no words at all, just waves of red-flag emojis and screenshot after screenshot of Hinge profiles. The task at hand is obvious to the women: Share what you know.
Since maybe the dawn of time, women have jokingly wished for a version of Yelp dealing with men, often in response to feelings of burnout and disappointment with lackluster dates, exacerbated by the rise of the dating app. Throughout the pandemic, use of dating apps (and their stock prices) skyrocketed, even as users simultaneously reported feeling exhausted by the seemingly endless cycle.
Something was rotten in the state of the dating world, and single women throughout the U.S., connected by social media, had caught the scent. According to a 2022 Pew Research Center study on single Americans’ experiences during and since the pandemic, seven in 10 singles bemoaned increased difficulty in dating, while researchers with the Family Process Institute found that the increased stress brought on by the pandemic may be putting couples at increased risk for infidelity, as data shows that more and more people in the U.S. are engaging in behaviors associated with adultery. Local therapists, too, have noticed growing apprehension in their clients when it comes to dating.
“With the rise of the apps, I think there’s this really big focus on volume — like, ‘What else is out there?’ There’s this focus on uncertainty and unsettledness, because you have so many options,” says Kathy Klein, a staff therapist at the Philly-based relationship counseling nonprofit Council for Relationships. “That kind of reliance as the sole way to bring people into your environment has really exploded since the pandemic. And I think a lot of anxiety can come with that experience.”
Aside from even our routine social interactions being dismantled by the pandemic, many factors have contributed to a perfect storm of interest in these social media groups. Companies of all kinds, from Tinder to Uber, are under scrutiny for the way they’ve responded to alleged assaults that some users say occurred after they used the apps, with some claiming that the companies are lagging in solutions that aren’t simply playing catch-up. And though the safety measures are constantly updated, users are still left with doubts that the protocols are enough.
To exactly no one’s surprise, a 2023 Pew Research Center study found that women under 50 stood out as users who have faced harassment and unwanted behaviors most frequently. The drive for women on the apps to protect themselves and each other from harm is about as robust as the drive for juicy information on the “serial ghosters” and “lovebombers” who run amok on the apps, if the West Elm Caleb fiasco has taught us anything. (If you were miraculously spared from this story, young women in New York joined forces on social media for the digital castigation of a furniture designer — dubbed “West Elm Caleb” — who allegedly dated then disappeared on each of them.) Scratching the itch of human interest is just too satisfying to resist.
Such a reaction to the world of the dating app is natural, researchers agree, as our reliance on technology progresses. The essence of the groups — as a method of keeping women safe, catching cheaters, vetting potential partners — is nothing new; the means have just been digitized. “We now do a lot of our shopping online; we do a lot of our other kinds of connecting online,” says Jennifer Prah, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Ortner Center on Violence and Abuse. “So in that spirit, these related groups are evolving to try to better understand how to navigate the online conditions that we have.”
It’s no wonder, then, that membership in these groups has soared in the past year. “Are We Dating The Same Guy? Philadelphia” touts 33,000-plus members and is just one of more than 100 iterations of the group established by original creator Paola Sanchez in New York City. A smaller, independently run version, “AWSB (Philly Edition),” short for “Are We Sharing Boyfriends,” claims nearly 7,000 members. Moderators see as many as 300 membership requests on a busy day, in addition to countless posts seeking approval for the discussion board and commenters sharing bad experiences or dating advice.
There’s something uncanny and disconcerting about the dating world right now. But that unease is countered by the encouragement offered by women coming together in an enduring bid for commitment and companionship.”
“Honestly, I think it takes a lot of balls to post in the group. The fact that you’re willing to spread important information to protect others — I really do commend the women that do that. I think that’s why me and the girls go so hard for them,” Cara, a moderator for AWSB and an attorney in her regular life, says of the group’s content, much of which details violent experiences and warns fellow members of abusers who may reappear on popular dating apps or even offline. (She asked that her real name be withheld.) “We believe what these women are saying, because why wouldn’t we? This is what this page is for: protecting each other.”
Cara, who joined AWSB last year and took on her position after another moderator sought help managing the group, sees only further growth, and with it an immense amount of work and scrutiny needed to keep things functional and dedicated to the site’s strictly kept rules, which experts say will be crucial to its sustainability.
“Any group that is trying to function as a safe space has to set very clear guidelines, and they have to be followed,” Prah says, citing examples like Al-Anon, where the rules around communication and anonymity are both consistently repeated and tightly enforced. “That is how you keep a safe place safe.”
And the guidelines are plentiful. The groups have many of the same do’s and don’ts as any run-of-the-mill Facebook group: no spam, no misinformation, no bullying (of members or the subjects of their posts); more distinctive rules mandate post format, a bar on men in the group, and a ban on sharing any information gleaned from the group beyond its digital walls.
And yet, a virtual gathering as steeped in human interest as this isn’t without its drawbacks. Philly’s versions of both AWDTSG and AWSB have cycled through numerous administrators and moderators. Conversation sometimes veers towards needlessly harsh criticism of the crop of single men in Philly and has to be reeled in. Disagreements between members pop up. And then there are the snitches.
“There have been, as of recently, more and more girls messaging us like, ‘Hey, this got out and that got out and now this guy is threatening me.’ I just think that’s wildly inappropriate,” Cara says. “I just feel like I’m very much a girl’s girl. Even if I don’t know you, I’m gonna ride for you, because we’re the same. I will pick you over a guy, without a doubt. And I feel like not everybody thinks that way.”
In response, the moderators do what they can to refine the mechanisms of the group: removing problematic members, being more stringent about approving new members and posts, offering resources to those seeking help beyond the group, encouraging anonymity, constantly reaffirming the rules. They’ve even gone so far as to set up decoy posts to catch snitches in the act.
“I hope to be in the group for a long time,” Cara says. “But for whatever period of time I’m in it, I fully plan on doing everything I can to protect these women.”
There’s something uncanny and disconcerting about the dating world right now, with all the newfangled methods of scoping out the intentions of dates and an avalanche of strange new terms to describe our behaviors. But that unease is countered by the encouragement offered by women coming together in an enduring bid for commitment and companionship.
In early March of this year, I joined about a dozen members of AWDTSG in Rittenhouse for a night of barhopping. As the hopping continued and the group dwindled, we found a small, dark corner table at Rouge and began to talk — mostly about our jobs, our apartments, our hobbies, our zodiac signs, and our experiences in AWDTSG. Some of us had never posted in the group; some had. Some mostly commented on posts about individuals they’d dated; some had never seen anybody they’d dated in the group’s hot seat. Each of us, though, found the community helpful and reaffirming. Unsurprisingly, we soon meandered into theories on why the world of dating is so fraught. None of us could quite pinpoint the root cause of our dissatisfaction, though we joked and commiserated and mulled it over until the room emptied, a waiter flicked on the lights, and we were kindly but firmly asked to leave. Before we went our separate ways, attendees offered a few of their personal dating mantras:
“Trust your gut and stick to your boundaries.”
“Don’t be too accessible.”
“Be more realistic.”
Their words shocked me a little. My choice probably would have been, “Give it a rest.”
Though slightly more singles say they’ve completely given up on dating since the pandemic, of the remaining 44 percent of singles who are still looking, the majority long for a committed relationship, according to a 2022 Pew study. In fact, singles under 30 are by far the most likely to say the pandemic made them more interested in commitment. In a piece for NPR, Helen Fisher, chief science adviser for the online dating company Match and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, called this phenomenon “the great reset.” According to her yearly studies on the behavior of singles in America, young women in particular are looking past small talk and hookups and instead at someone to lock down.
It seemed worth questioning whether dating apps can really deliver us companionship in this age of anxiety, yet the women in these groups appear undeterred in their searching. Cara, though she feels “surprisingly chill” about her single status, was a little taken aback when I told her I don’t expect to ever get married. (Don’t tell my mom I said that.) I hadn’t been single since the beginning of the pandemic, and with all that’s now changed, I’m simply out of practice and out of energy for the whole dating scene. Klein, from the Council for Relationships, often stresses to her clients that dating is an anxiety-inducing activity and recommends they take breaks from it as needed. My break will likely be a lifelong one. But despite everything they’ve seen or had to relive in the groups, Cara and many other members haven’t lost their faith in romance.
Published as “Thank You for Sharing” in the June 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.