Tyler, 27, was tired of endlessly swiping, chatting, and meeting up with guys who turned out to be less than stand-up characters. He was always chasing the fittest, best looking men, and admits his process was more than a little shallow. It also included more than a little of something known as kittenfishing.
“I’m not kidding when I say I would only swipe if you had very obvious abs, a great job, and a super-white smile,” Tyler admitted. “And I’m not gonna lie, the photos I was using to get swipes were heavily filtered versions of pictures of me from college. In other words, not exactly recent.”
Eventually a day came when Tyler noticed all his friends pairing off and getting married while he was still going on awkward, boring dates with unrealistic men. “I decided to start being, well, let’s just say, less picky. But I kept using the filtered pics.”
Then Tyler met Ryan. A cute guy who maybe didn’t have abs, but was “tall, boyishly handsome, and funny.”
“Ryan and I decided to meet up after chatting for a few days, and for the first time in a while, I was nervous! I knew my photos were a little deceiving, but I was hoping he would see past the filters, like most of the other guys had."
When Tyler and Ryan met up, it quickly became clear that both had fudged their profiles. “It actually took me a while to find Ryan because he had used some photo editing app to make his body look smaller and his face less round. Honestly, I was doing the same thing to cover my adult acne and fine lines. It didn’t really bother either of us all that much.”
This is a mild case of kittenfishing, one that stems from being self conscious and isn’t all that different from using heavy filters on Instagram. However, kittenfishing can be a moderate form of catfishing—and should be taken seriously depending on the level of deceit.
What is kittenfishing?
Catfishing is when someone creates a fake profile using another person’s image and invented background. “Kittenfishing on the other hand, is essentially the actual person however they use white lies, deception, and other devices which put them in the best light,” said Kevin Darné, dating expert and author of “Online Dating Avoid The Catfish!: How To Date Online Successfully.”
For example, they may use a profile picture which is five or more years old when they weighed less, had more hair, or felt more attractive. Some people go as far as to lie about their age, height, weight, education, and occupation to appeal to a broader section of potential mates.
Why do people kittenfish?
Unlike catfishing, where the individual generally has no intention of ever meeting someone in person, the kittenfish wants to find love or companionship. The purpose of their lies is to increase views of their profile and have more people willing to connect with them.
Online dating, like it or not, is a competitive marketplace whereby people quickly scan through tons of profiles using various search filters. In fact, Tinder users generate 1.6 billion swipes per day with over 20 billion matches, but there are only about 1 million dates per week. While those numbers may seem high, that means that fewer than 1% of matches actually meet in real life.
“A person who is 50 but believes they can pass for 40 or 45 might state they are within those age ranges because they believe less people search for anyone over the age of 49,” said Darné. “If people are overweight they may describe themselves as ‘having a few pounds to lose.’”
Likewise, if an app allows people to search by income they may lie about how much they earn hoping to attract more people. An unemployed person might list him or herself as a “consultant,” “self-employed” or an “entrepreneur.” A short person may add a few inches to their height.
If someone has had very little or no activity with their online dating profile, they may become desperate enough to do some kittenfishing. A kittenfish hopes to have an opportunity to win people over with their personality so potential dates will ignore the white lies they initially told. In their mind the end justifies the means. Many of them believe if they could just get that “first date” they’ll be able to charm the other person.
How to spot kittenfishing
Once you meet in person, the jig is up. But according to Darné, some of the telltale signs of a kittenfish you may notice before that happens include:
- A person who refuses to video chat prior to meeting may be hiding something.
- Their photos contain dated hairstyles or fashion.
- They only have one or two photos.
- Their social media presence is sparse, with few uploads or interactions.
- There are discrepancies when you add things up based on what they have told you. For example, if someone states they have a college degree, but has a difficult time stringing together a coherent paragraph.
- They proclaim knowledge or expertise about a subject, yet they’re not familiar with a basic term or procedure associated with it. For example, someone claiming to work for an accounting firm should be familiar with concepts like EBITDA, cash flow, liabilities, etc.
If you’re still unsure, it might be worth using a people search service to attempt to learn more about your match’s identity. For instance, a search might turn up social media profiles that include up-to-date, unaltered photos.
Is kittenfishing really that bad?
“Based upon how elaborate the lies are, and the length of time the kittenfish causes people to invest with them prior to having a face to face date, kittenfishing can be pretty bad,” said Darné. “In addition, it can also be painful for the kittenfish who ends up going on a lot of first dates, but no one ever wants to see him or her again."
“Having your profile passed over on a dating site is one thing but seeing the disappointment in someone’s eyes as they meet you has to be more painful,” he added.
Online dating sites and apps are simply tools for meeting new people. It is up to the user to have her or his own mate selection/screening process. Instant messaging, texting, email exchanges, phone conversations, and going out on dates are all part of the “getting to know you” phase.
Like it or not, this process takes time. Unfortunately, you should be on the lookout for red flags, especially if you suspect your match is toeing the line of kittenfishing, or catfishing.
We’re all probably a little guilty
To some degree, anyone who has an online dating profile does a little kittenfishing, and we don’t expect people to be as perfect as they present themselves.
“Let’s face it, as much as everyone praises honesty we don’t exactly live in a reveal your warts and all upfront type of world,” said Darné, “Very few people, if anyone, will lead off by saying ‘I’m unemployed, have a hundred thousand in student debt, live with my parents, and hope to get laid.’”
It’s a natural human inclination to want to put your best foot forward—and it’s fine to do so, provided the way you present yourself paints a truthful and representative picture of who you are.
But before you post a photo from your sophomore year of college or overly workshop your job title, ask yourself: How would I feel if I found out someone did the same on a first date? If you don’t like the answer, it may be best to step back and reevaluate your strategy.