During their most impressionable and formative years, Millennial and Gen Z women have been sold the idea that true love is a handsome prince swooping you off your feet and carrying you away into a blissful happily ever after. Netflix’s newest documentary, "The Tinder Swindler," proves how dangerous this mentality is.
There are very real risks when it comes to dating, especially online – sexual exploitation through human trafficking is a problem throughout the world, and even someone you think you know well could end up hurting you. There’s also a risk of heartbreak. Dating can get exhausting and demoralizing: filtering through people, getting to know them, opening yourself up, and getting rejected.
In spite of this, people still buy into the idea that the perfect Prince Charming is out there, with all the boxes ticked and then some. The Tinder Swindler illustrates why believing so can be utterly life-altering and why caution and critical thinking over everything else – especially when things seem too good to be true – are imperative.
There are spoilers ahead.
A Story of Three Women
In the documentary, we’re introduced to three women involved with the titular swindler, whom they knew as Simon Leviev. (He went by many other names, and his real name is Shimon Yehuda Hayut.)
Cecilie Fjellhøy is a romantic Norwegian woman living in London who calls herself “a bit of a Tinder expert,” having used the app for just under a decade with a little over a thousand matches at the time of filming. She highlights her desire for love, as being in love brought her some of her happiest moments in life. She shares her love for Beauty and the Beast and how she relates to Belle, the protagonist. She very much identifies with the small-town girl – they both “want more than this provincial life.”
Pernilla Sjöholm is a confident Swedish woman who had reportedly split from her fiancé before meeting Simon. On Tinder, she was looking for a smart guy, who was funny, impulsive, and “ideal.” Having always been an independent woman, she wasn’t necessarily looking for a Prince Charming who would sweep her off her feet and take care of her, but rather someone to share her life with.
Ayleen Charlotte is a Dutch woman who had been in a long-term relationship with Simon when she learned about his swindling ways. They’d been talking about settling down and having children together. Ayleen felt like they were meant for each other.
Simon’s Instagram was full of pictures of him in suits, in sports cars, on yachts, at beaches.
All of the women had met Simon on Tinder, and similar things about him drew them to him almost instantly. His Instagram was full of pictures of him in suits, in sports cars, on yachts, at beaches, in business meetings, and attending parties all over the world. This appealed to Cecilie's desire for something larger-than-life and to Pernilla’s desire for someone fun and exciting.
How Fairytale Fantasies and Social Media Facades Collided
Cecilie and Pernilla both matched with Simon, and (spoiler alert) shortly after they went on (separate) dates with him.
For Cecilie's big first date, Simon met with her at a Four Seasons hotel for coffee and afterward flew her to Bulgaria on a private jet for a passionate, Disney-esque, romantic night.
Sometime after that, Pernilla matched with Simon, and he immediately invited her to visit him in Amsterdam. She accepted and sent over her passport details (only after does she Google him). They have an expensive lunch and visit a diamond museum, and although Pernilla doesn't feel romantically attracted to Simon, she wants to pursue a friendship with him.
Now, to any normal woman, these extravagant first dates should be red flag territory. After all, how many men can afford to fly you to another country in a private jet at any point in the relationship, let alone on the first date? In both scenarios, Simon made sure to remove these women from the safety of their home cities in order to get them to be vulnerable. Even better for him that this exploitation was disguised as over-the-top romanticism.
Simon made sure to remove these women from the safety of their home cities in order to get them to be vulnerable.
Social media helps create this facade. Perhaps because we are all so used to seeing Instagram pics of jetsetters flying to exotic locations in their private jets. What used to be reserved for only the richest people now seems just within our grasp, thanks to social media. The problem is, pictures are too easy to fake and social media allows people to cultivate a facade of their life, rather than showing the reality. And what better way for a con man to convince women he's exactly who he says he is than to have the glamorous, expensive social media posts to prove it?
Lovebombing may seem like the buzzword du jour, but it's a very real, and sometimes dangerous, phenomenon. Manipulators are masters at distracting you from reality. After all, what better way to distract a woman from asking the hard questions – Where did you get this money? Why are you trying to get me isolated on a first date? – than to overwhelm her with an extravagant romantic gesture?
Getting Cecilie on a private plane on the first date is just the millionaire's version of taking her to a backroad instead of to the restaurant. Except, because private planes seem so much chicer, Cecilie's guard was let down on what should have been a massive red flag. Instead of being freaked out, she replies with "YOLO!" in response to a smart friend who points out “This does NOT sound safe!” in their friend group chat.
Turning Lovebombing into Defrauding
Despite the obvious red flags, both women decided their interactions with Simon were lovely and there was a sense of deep emotional connection despite having met with him for just one day. He told both women that he was the son of billionaire diamond tycoon Lev Leviev.
He begins a long-distance, almost exclusively text-based relationship with both of them, while at the same time, keeping up a pre-existing one with Ayleen.
Eventually, Simon asks Cecilie to be his girlfriend while visiting her in Oslo. And it’s at this point that he shares that he’s securing a $70 million deal, and because of this, several of his enemies are pursuing him, with threats against him worsening. Soon, this lie has escalated to asking for Cecilie's help in getting an American Express credit card in her own name for him to use, since location and activity can be tracked through credit card usage. Happy to help her man, Cecilie does so.
Simon maxes out the card repeatedly, and Cecilie is asked to call Amex and raise the limit. She’s also asked to take out loans for massive amounts of money – to the ultimate tune of about $250,000 – so she can send him cash.
We should be wary of men who insist that if you love them, you will put yourself at risk for them.
And here we can see the lovebombing at work. By overwhelming Cecilie with romance and lofty promises, Simon puts her in his debt. When he turns the tables and now needs her help, she feels she has no option but to do what he wants.
While this is an extreme circumstance, we see this behavior played out day after day in abusive relationships. The abuser starts off making the victim feel like they're the most special person in the world. He overwhelms the victim with professions of love and grand romantic gestures. Once she's fallen for it, he's now safe to start displaying his abusive behavior a little bit at a time. That's when the gaslighting comes in.
Gaslighting and lovebombing are the two classic signs of manipulative and abusive relationships. Get the girl hook, line, and sinker, then make it impossible for her to listen to her gut instinct about what's clearly wrong by convincing her she is the problem. So, while Cecilie should have stopped engaging with him from the very beginning, Simon was able to keep her from asking what should have been obvious questions. It's not like they were married, after all, and isn't he the son of a billionaire who could cover him? Moreover, how is it okay for someone to leave you alone if there's an impending threat on his life and yours?
The Price of “Love at First Sight”
It's hard to say if love at first sight exists. You can surely be intensely attracted to someone at first sight, and maybe some people would say that’s indicative of a sign that something good could come out of a relationship with that person, but love entails being willing to persevere through hard times together and to build a solid foundation for a life together. Ideally, that should be done with someone you trust and who shares your values and beliefs. How can you know that this person ticks those boxes at first sight?
We all want that fairytale ending, to find a charming prince who sweeps us off our feet with storybook aplomb. Unfortunately, real life isn't a fairytale, and bad men know how to use this fantasy to get into the hearts and minds of women.
Bad men know how to use this fantasy to get into the hearts and minds of women.
It’s best to move past the idea of Prince Charming being someone who looks just like Henry Cavill, who’s wealthy beyond belief, who's charming, and who says and does all the right things straight away. It takes time for love to grow, and it doesn't take the form of sweet nothings – they're called "nothings" for a reason.
When pursuing relationships, it's infinitely more worthwhile to focus on finding a man who has a healthy sense of boundaries, who shares your values and beliefs, and who genuinely cares about getting to know you, wanting to build with you, and not taking from you the moment you grow close. Real love isn’t straight out of a movie – attraction can be, but love takes time to build. We should be wary of men who insist that if you love them, you will put yourself at risk for them – it doesn't matter how pretty or wealthy they are.
The heartache and misfortune these women went through are terrible. They were blinded by their attraction, and the appearance of a successful, wealthy, and loving guy – Prince Charming. And now, they’re literally paying the price for that.
You need to think critically about who you’re getting involved with, be it a romantic or platonic relationship. You should never need to risk your well-being (mental, physical, emotional, or financial) for someone you’ve known for a short amount of time. If someone actually loved you, they wouldn’t ask you to ruin yourself financially for them, and they wouldn’t be so nonchalant about it.
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