A while back, Brooklyn-based artist Samantha Rothenberg posted a comic that summed up a certain type of dater: a person who, after casually dating you in the past, drops in every so often via text for no logical reason ― except to not-so-subtly remind you of their existence.
“Who remembers clippy? 📎,” Rothenberg joked to her 184,000 followers. “Well he’s here to make sure you don’t forget him.”
The comic got nearly 18,000 “likes” and plenty of “Wow, yeah, I know this guy” replies. (And a surprising amount of Clippy hate: “I remember Clippy,” one woman commented. “How irritating was that banging-on-the-window noise he did?”)
Inspired by the comic, Metro U.K. writer Ellen Scott coined a dating term: Paperclipping. This person pops into your life months ― even years! ― after you’ve ended things for no apparent reason, besides reminding you that they exist (and clearly are still single).
It’s reminiscent of Microsoft’s not-so-helpful assistant Clippy, who would jump into Word docs to see if you needed his help. (You rarely did.)
The term took off, which didn’t surprise Rothenberg given her own dating experiences.
“The comic was definitely based on a personal experience,” she said. “I remember getting a super random text from a guy who I dated briefly and thinking, ‘Wow! He just pops up out of nowhere.’”
Of course, this isn’t the only dating term used to describe flaky singles. There are ghosters, mosters, even soft ghosters. There are breadcrumbers and orbiters. There are kitten fishers and Tindstagrammers.
But to paperclipping’s credit, it might be the first annoying dating trend to come with its own mascot. (Poor Clippy can’t catch a break. This is only the second most embarrassing thing to happen to the little guy recently. Last year, Microsoft resurrected the out-of-work paperclip and put him to use as stickers in chat software. A day later, they gave him the ax again.)
Cute visual aside, the act of paperclipping is a little obnoxious, and more of us are doing it, said Damona Hoffman, dating coach and host of The Dates & Mates Podcast.
“Paperclipping has always been a thing, now it just has a title,” she said. “I dated a guy who came on strong in the beginning but then kept canceling dates last minute. I’d tell him to get lost and then he’d pop back up months later with a grand story about why he needed to see me again.”
Eventually, Hoffman discovered he was dating someone else. “When things weren’t going well, he’d magically find my number again.”
The ease of shooting off a text or DM makes it even easier to paperclip. And why wouldn’t you clip on occasion, given how big the dating pool is? Apps give us almost endless choices of whom we can date. While that’s not inherently a bad thing, the breadth of choices has made us pickier and less decisive.
The resulting “paradox of choice,” as social scientists call it, convinces us that a better match is always right around the corner. We get swipe-happy. You may have found a great match, but the fact that you’ve found them implies you could find one more ― or dozens and dozens more.
“Paperclipping happens when things aren’t going well for someone with new swipes and dates so they return to what is familiar and reliable,” Hoffman said.
There’s safety in paperclipping, but let’s be real: It’s bad form and a habit you should try to break. If you’re a perpetual paperclipper, ask yourself why you keep popping back in and out of people’s lives.
Usually, your on-again-off-again interest isn’t so much about your would-be partner, but rather your uncertainty about what you want in life, said Hayley Quinn, a dating coach in London. Be upfront about that with potential partners.
“If you realize you’re not into the idea of a relationship right now, your best bet is to be transparent about that fact when you pop back in,” she said. “Say, ‘Right now I want to be upfront about where I am...’ to allow the other person the chance to make an informed choice about whether they want to get involved.”
“This also gives you the best shot at attracting people who are on the same page as you,” she added.
Bottom line: If you must draw dating inspiration from good ol’ Clippy, be considerate and upfront about your intentions. That’s dating advice that’s actually helpful, unlike a certain Groucho Marx-eyebrowed Office assistant.