Offering a Shoulder to Cry on – as a Dating Strategy – Is Now Rightfully Called ‘Vulturing’
Vulturing involves circling people on the brink of a breakup, waiting to pounce with insidious intentions upon their wounded hearts.
Ever heard the phrase: “A shoulder to cry on becomes a d*ck to ride on”? There are many versions of it — each one of them, crass, and most of them, predatory. In modern dating jargon, this is called “vulturing.” Much like the birds of prey it’s named after, vulturing involves a person circling people on the brink of a breakup, waiting to pounce with insidious intentions on their targets’ wounded hearts when the time is right — often, as soon as their former relationships have ended, leaving them emotionally vulnerable. If this sounds desperate, rapacious, and just inherently nasty, that’s because it is.
“The vulture does their homework. If you recently became single and suddenly they’re in your life, it might be a coincidence… or it might not. They might be watching you from afar, waiting for the right moment to ask you out,” explains an article on Bolde. “They not only turn up and give you all of their time all of a sudden, but they also make you feel like the most amazing, special, beautiful woman in the world. But, much like a love-bomber, they’re manipulating you.”
Per se, there’s nothing wrong with someone developing feelings for a person they turned to for comfort and compassion at their lowest moments. After all, everyone does want a partner who’s going to be by their side through thick and thin. The nastiness, however, arises when the support they provided wasn’t, in fact, driven by friendship, but by opportunism.
It is the intention that decides whether someone is vulturing. And this is an important distinction to make in the dating space — primarily, because it’s a huge red flag. Exploiting and capitalizing on the vulnerability of individuals riding the emotional rollercoaster that breakups can throw one into — either to pursue them romantically, or obtain their consent for a casual encounter — is manipulative at best, and predatory at worst.
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Targeting people who are emotionally fragile, and disregarding the potential havoc that manipulating them at such a juncture can wreak on their mental wellbeing, isn’t a good look for anyone. The trickery and mind games that accompany vulturing can hinder the process of mourning the end of a relationship and healing from the grief of its demise — a phase that, arguably, can offer one space for personal growth and reflection. Instead, by distracting one from addressing emotional wounds, vultures delay their process of moving on, and deny them the windows of self-discovery that can follow breakups.
Not only that, but being vultured can also cause one to develop trust issues — inspiring them to invariably wonder whether their friends and acquaintances who treat them with kindness, have any ulterior motives driving them — straining their dynamics with others, too, in the process. It can also cause them to wonder if they’re worthy of love at all since a sense of commodification — making them feel like an object valued simply for its desirability and physical attractiveness, even beyond the realm of romantic and sexual pursuits — can set in, in the aftermath of being vultured.
In essence, then, engaging in the act of vulturing attests to one’s selfishness, besides speaking to their abject lack of respect for the autonomy and agency of people they’re preying upon. Perhaps, speaking to the smarminess of the human condition, a 2018 survey of 1,000 users on a dating app led to 20% of the participants admitting to having engaged in vulturing previously.
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However, vulturing is far from a modern phenomenon; it just has a new name. As travel and lifestyle magazine Flashpack argues, “There seems to be a new dating trend every other week, explaining how Generation Z is getting it on in ways never conceived of before. Except, they’re not.” According to an article on their website, “hovering on the edges of a dying relationship, hoping for scraps when it all goes tits up,” is what used to be called “[being] on the rebound [or waiting around for] sloppy seconds.” But even they admit, “[S]ocial media makes it a lot easier to scan crippled relationships on a national or even international level, before digitally swooping with a commiserate DM. What hasn’t changed is the stench of desperation emanating from anyone who indulges in this practice.”
Indeed, with social media offering people sneak-peeks into the lives of absolute strangers — including details of their romantic attachments, interests, state of mind, geolocation, what have you — vultures can, now, circle their prey virtually, monitoring their posts and interactions for signs of crumbling relationships.
So, naturally, with the digital age having enabled the act of vulturing to grow leaps and bounds — so much so that it’s a trend now, and not merely a occassional occurrence — the subject it’s bound to enter public discourse as an identifiable phenomenon.
Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.