If You're Dating, You've Almost Undoubtedly Been Kittenfished

Kittenfishing sounds cuter than catfishing, but it's almost as bad.
Online versus IRL -- a little different!
CSA Images
Online versus IRL -- a little different!

Daniel Green, a 35-year-old DJ from London, has encountered so many Snapchat-filtered pics on dating apps, he now has a disclaimer reading “please, no dog filters” on his Tinder, Bumble and JSwipe profiles.

“I like to see the person I’m talking to and not a dog face, which, let’s be honest, looks ridiculous,” Green told HuffPost. “I don’t mean to sound shallow, but we’re attracted through physical appearance. I think we should all just be a bit more honest and we’ll stand a better chance of meeting someone who appreciates the way we actually look.”

Like so many other online daters before him, Green has felt the sting of being kittenfished.

“Kittenfishing” ― a term coined recently by the dating app Hinge ― is like a lower-grade, less-egregious version of catfishing. A kittenfisher is an ace at presenting themselves unrealistically on their dating profile, whether by using heavily edited or old-as-hell pics, or by lying about their age or lifestyle to curry favor with their matches.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a very common practice. More than half of online daters (54 percent) said dates have “seriously misrepresented” themselves in their profiles, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

What are singles most likely to lie about? Men are prone to exaggerate their height, while women often fudge details about their weight, according to Dan Slater, author of Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating.

Oh, then there’s this fun fact for single readers: According to OkCupid, the more attractive a photo, the more likely it is to be dated.

Lying about your age is a popular choice, too. Years ago, yoga instructor and lifestyle podcaster Ali Washburn had an especially weird experience with an age-defiant kittenfisher.

The man claimed to be 35 on Tinder, but as the evening wore on and he shared more details about his life and world travels, Washburn couldn’t help but wonder: How’d this guy get all of that done by age 35?

“Finally, I said something like, ‘Wow, you’ve done a lot since college,‘” she told HuffPost. “Turns out, he was using his much younger brother’s birthday on dating apps. He was actually in his late 40s and claimed he ‘liked meeting younger ladies’ since he was so young at heart.’”

That’s one way to keep track of your “age.”

“As you can imagine, that was the end of the date,” Washburn said.

Therein lies the problem with kittenfishing: You might lock up that first date, but by selling a decidedly off-brand version of yourself online, you run the risk of putting people off. What’s more, you’ll probably be going on more first dates but fewer second dates than if you were just being honest.

Even if your date is into you, that initial lie ― the fibbed age or your claim to be a huge old-school hip-hop fan when you confused Method Man with a Marvel character during dinner ― probably isn’t the greatest look, said Damona Hoffman, a dating coach and the host of the “Dates & Mates” podcast.

“The most important element for a successful, long-lasting relationship is trust, so when you lie in your profile, you’re only setting your date up for disappointment when their expectations don’t match reality,” she said.

“You might be able to make it through a few first dates with secrets, but if your relationship evolves, eventually you will have to come clean,” Hoffman added. “That could mean the end of an otherwise great partnership. It’s a missed opportunity to find someone who will love you as you are.”

For what it’s worth, this isn’t some newfangled millennial dating trend: People have been putting their best foot forward in highly exaggerated ways long before internet dating was a thing. (Your dad may have won your mom over by telling some slight lies about his GPA and career goals.)

But now, our carefully curated online alter egos speak so loudly for us, our real selves are bound to fall short when we actually meet in person, said Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California. We pick and choose our best angles for our dating profiles and only show the highlight reels of our personal lives on Instagram and Facebook. No one ― not even Chrissy Teigen is as witty and great as they portray themselves on social media.

“Our image precedes the physical presentation entirely now, kind of like our digital ambassadors,” he said. “Online daters rationalize kittenfishing by saying, ‘Hey, this really was me at one time, and it could very well be me again if I hit the salads and gym on the regular.’”

These days, minor to not-so-minor kittenfishing is so common, we almost expect some fakery from our romantic interests.

“There’s this idea that, if you don’t call me on my misrepresentation, I won’t call you on yours,” Howes said. “There seems to be a buffer of acceptable unreality that accompanies online dating, whether from age, filters or other attractiveness measures.”

“I’d say it’s much easier to wait and find ‘your person’ by being authentic and honest about who you are and what you’re looking for than just telling people what you think they want to hear and ending up faking it forever.”

- Ali Washburn, lifestyle podcaster and former online dater

But honesty ― or the closest thing to it that you can muster up ― is a much better policy. Be bold and pick a photo that isn’t Facetuned. Tell the truth about your job instead of plugging “entrepreneur” or “owner at self employed” into the occupation category like so many have before you.

Eventually, your candidness is going to pay off. Take it from Washburn, the woman who went on a date with a “35-year-old” and eventually matched with an honest dude on Tinder who’s now her boyfriend.

“I’d say it’s much easier to wait and find ‘your person’ by being authentic and honest about who you are and what you’re looking for than just telling people what you think they want to hear and ending up faking it forever,” she said. “Plus, that’s a fast way to end up going on a lot of camping trips you really don’t want to endure.”

Ugh, camping.

For more dating trends, check out our modern dating dictionary.

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