The Paperclipping Dating Trend Explained

If you really thought that we were done with toxic dating trends — as if! — then you were sadly mistaken. As long as people continue to date and as long as we have access to technology that allows people to act badly, there will always be another dating trend on the horizon. And since these two things are probably not going anywhere for a while, you might as well settle into the realization that dating in the modern era is basically like playing dodgeball — eventually, you're going to get nailed and not in a good way.

But what's interesting about dating trends is that, for the most part, they're really nothing new. Even before dating apps, social media, and texting (yes, there was a world before those things), when it comes to dating there have always been those who have behaved badly. It's just that access to these apps has made carrying out bad, and often toxic behavior, far easier. If someone wants to infiltrate your life after the fact somehow, à la breadcrumbing, haunting, and many more techniques, they will. That's why you need to be aware of these trends, know the signs, and be wary every step of the way. That's why you need to inform yourself about the paperclipping dating trend stat.

What's paperclipping?

Although Gen Z might not be old enough to remember this gem, once upon a time you couldn't open up a document in Microsoft without Clippy trying to "help" you in whatever assignment you might be trying to take on. Clippy, a drawing of a paperclip with eyes, was easily one of the most annoying features because it would pop up when you didn't want it to, it would get into your business offering help you didn't need and was a general nuisance. Because Clippy was pretty much universally loathed, the evil thing was finally retired just in time for Office 2007 and Office 2008 for Mac.

But in July 2019 illustrator Samantha Rothenberg briefly brought back Clippy on her Instagram account, Violet Clair, in which she compared everyone's least favorite part of the 1990s to a person she had formerly dated. This person was someone who would text for no reason from time to time, someone who was damaged and flakey, someone who didn't actually want to date, but also someone who felt it necessary to make the occasional appearance via text so Rothenberg would be forced to remember they existed — this person was Clippy in human form.

Paperclipping is similar to breadcrumbing, but also a bit different — as is the case with all these dating trends. But what Rothenberg posted that day really resonated, because who hasn't found themselves being haunted by a Clippy of yesteryear? Not many.

Why do people paperclip?

While paperclipping could be a way for someone to "keep their hand in," just in case they want to eventually date the person they're paperclipping, it could also have something to do with a lack of maturity combined with the need to be given attention. Basically, the type of personality trait combo you don't want in someone you're dating.

"Paperclipping is generally a sign that the individual is emotionally immature and unable to engage in a meaningful relationship," clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly tells NBC News. "A person might paperclip due to unconscious fears of being abandoned or rejected ... the paper-clipping person 'disappears' before things get meaningful — and then reappears in order to feel validated and important."

Although a lot of us sometimes need to feel like we're special, especially if our self-esteem is in the toilet, there are healthier ways to do that which don't involve using someone else and playing mind games with them. If we tie our self-worth to others, we're never going to get anywhere, and we just end up looking like a jerk in the process. You know, just like Clippy, the ultimate jerk.

Why paperclipping is toxic

Just when you think you've rid yourself of someone, then they show up in your life again, it's rarely a good feeling. When this happens, we're forced to not just remember this person and what they did to us, but we often find ourselves re-experiencing the emotions that are associated with them and their behavior, revisiting the hurt they may have caused, and now the confusion they're bringing with their reappearance.

While the person doing the paperclipping may not see it this way or even understand how a "hello" text might invoke such extreme feelings, the reality is that it can, and it does. We can't read people's minds, so we don't know the impact we have on them. If someone is paperclipping you and they have zero desire to fix what was broken or try again in a healthy, respectful way, then it's nothing but toxic, heartless, and downright cruel. 

Signs you're being paperclipped

The biggest sign that you're being paperclipped is if a blast from the past, usually someone who ghosted you, keeps randomly popping up via text or social media. Sometimes they'll just drop a quick "hi" or ask you how you're doing, then that's where it ends. Even if you respond in kind and ask them how they're doing to be polite, you get nothing but silence from their end.

Another sign, in addition to the intermittent reach-out, is that in some cases they go so far as to make plans with you but flake on those plans. A true paperclipper will do this over and over again, with no intention of following through. For them, all they need is for you to agree to the plans, so as to give them the ego boost they need. Once they get the validation they crave, they disappear again just so they can reappear several weeks or months later.

How to stop a paperclipper in their tracks

First of all, know the signs. Although there may be part of you that will want to go down that road again, don't do it. There is no road to go down because a paperclipper doesn't want to go down any road with anyone. So instead of letting yourself get sucked in, don't respond. Ever. Remind yourself that they're reaching out not to get in touch with you or see how you're actually doing despite what their text might read, but for their own need for attention. When you respond, you feed into that need and you give them exactly what they want. You make them feel important, you validate their existence, and you even make them feel wanted and desired if you agree to see them.

The best thing you can do, above all techniques of nipping paperclippers in the bud, is to delete their messages, block them, and let yourself forget them. In time, you will, especially if you put an end to their paperclipping cycle and they can no longer reach you.

How to protect yourself for future paperclipping

Although when we start dating someone we want to believe they really like us and there's a future, that's not always the case. Sometimes the person we're seeing isn't ready or mature enough to have a healthy relationship, which also means they're not sure how to end things like an adult so they usually resort to ghosting you.

Ghosting is one of the most toxic dating trends out there because you're left wondering what you did wrong and what you could have done differently, when it's not about you at all. If someone ghosts you, that's on them. If this happens, your immediate response should be to block them. Don't linger in the hopes of them reaching out to you in the future, because you're just allowing them the opportunity to creep back into your life and paperclip you. You don't need that toxicity and you don't need to feel like someone's personal yo-yo that exists only to make them feel good about themselves. That's why the best and only way to protect yourself from being paperclipped is blocking the individual. If they can't reach you, they can't start their toxic cycle with you as their prey.