If you’re active on social media, or have any interest at all in online dating, you’re probably familiar with the concept of catfishing: people pretending to be someone they’re not, for one or another malicious purpose.
There’s another scenario you’re likely to encounter, in which the person is indeed who they claim to be but — and it’s an important “but” — has misrepresented themselves in a significant way. The term for that is kittenfishing, which neatly conveys that it’s less serious than catfishing but still significant enough to be called out. Here’s how it works (and why you may even be guilty of it yourself).
Kittenfishing Reflects Human Nature
Wanting to be liked is ingrained in our makeup, and it’s especially natural to want to put your best foot forward in the specialized environment of a dating app. Most of us are willing to feign a shared interest in someone else’s hobby or play up the areas where our enthusiasms overlap with someone else’s during that crucial getting-acquainted stage. That’s perfectly normal, and won’t usually get you into hot water.
That being said, you could constructively think of those minor deceptions as representing the innocuous end of a spectrum of untruth, which gradually scales up and eventually peaks with deliberate, malicious scams. All of us draw a mental line somewhere on that spectrum, marking the point where the untruth — however well-meant — becomes significant. That’s when it graduates to the point of kittenfishing.
Examples of Kittenfishing
So what are some specific examples of kittenfishing? There are plenty to choose from:
- Using photo apps’ filters to improve your appearance
- Using old (really old!) photos, if you’re…ahem…past your youth
- Exaggerating your income or misstating the importance of your job
- Pretending the hot car in the photo is yours when it’s actually rented or borrowed
- Lying about your height or fitness
- Diligently hiding your baldness in photos (this actually has its own nickname: hatfishing)
How strongly you feel about kittenfishing depends which side of the equation you’re on. The term was originally coined in 2017 by the dating app Hinge. A survey of the app’s users found that over a third of men on the platform, and almost a quarter of the women, reported being kittenfished. Tellingly, only 2% of men and 1% of women fessed up to having kittenfished someone else.
The bottom line? We feel we’ve been lied to when someone else does it, but we see no issue with a “slight exaggeration” or “little white lie” when we’re doing it ourselves. In fact, we may not even realize we’re doing it.
How To Spot a Kittenfisher
So how can you tell when someone is kittenfishing you? There are a number of signs that can give the deception away, if you know to look for them. Some of them are social, much the same set of tells you’d look for if you were interacting with someone in person:
- There are inconsistencies in the stories from one conversation to the next.
- When you try to press for details, you get evasions or excuses.
- They present themselves in a way that makes them feel just a little too good to be true.
- They seem to have a startling range and depth of life experience for someone of the age they’re claiming to be.
- They hastily abandon a given line of conversation when they discover that it’s a topic you’re really knowledgeable about.
If you’re already starting to feel that there’s something about your new acquaintance that’s not quite right, you can take some proactive steps to test your suspicions. One is to use Spokeo’s people search tools, since — unlike a catfish — you’ll have the kittenfisher’s real name, and perhaps a phone number or email address.
Searching those might turn up any number of telling details: , an address in a rather less desirable part of town than the one you were told, or social-media accounts that display a real birth date, graduation date or recent photos that paint a rather different picture of the person.
Check the Photos
Speaking of pictures, those can be another telltale sign of kittenfishing. If all of the other person’s photos seem to come from the same time frame, examine them closely for details that seem wrong: A Blackberry phone, dated fashions or hairstyles, or pics that look filtered (for a younger person) or oddly low-res (for a less-young person) are all grounds for suspicion.
Phones and digital cameras routinely record metadata (“EXIF data” is the industry term) as part of each image, including the date and time of the shot and its location, expressed as GPS coordinates. If you search “EXIF viewer” or “photo metadata viewer” on the App Store or Play Store, you’ll find apps that can extract this data from pictures for you. There are also websites that can turn a photo’s GPS coordinates into a map location, quickly and easily.
If the photos all prove to be several years old, or were taken in a much less glamorous location than the one you were told, then you’ve caught a kittenfisher. If they weren’t taken with a digital camera, and your acquaintance isn’t a vintage-photography enthusiast, well…that tells a story as well.
So You’ve Caught a Kittenfisher. What Now?
Once you’ve demonstrated to your own satisfaction that you’ve been kittenfished, the next question is what you’re going to do about it. For starters, you might acknowledge the possibility that the other person wasn’t even conscious of misleading you (remember that survey?). Many of us have a photo that we really like, so we keep using it until one day we realize — or someone points out to us — that it’s been 20 years, and maybe we should stop?
It’s not as if there was any likelihood of maintaining the illusion once you meet in person. So why persevere in a lie that’s certain to be uncovered? Some theorize that it’s all about getting a foot in the door and having the opportunity to make a case for yourself. Sports fans will recognize this as the same kind of irrational optimism that says “once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.”
The hard truth is that most of the time, it doesn’t. It’s hard for a prospective date or romantic partner to not feel that a person who lies about small things will also lie about bigger things.
We’re Only Human
At the end of the day, how you react to the situation is up to your individual judgement. As long as the kittenfishing seems relatively innocent, and your digging didn’t uncover a history of violence or other significant red flags, you may still want to consider meeting. Try the direct approach: “If we’re going to meet, we need to be honest with each other. I did a little digging, and…”
If their response is defensive or hostile, just walk away. On the other hand, if they own it and are willing to start over on an honest basis, maybe they’re worth getting to know. We all have our insecurities, after all, and someone padding their height by a couple of inches or Photoshopping stretch marks from a swimsuit photo doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.
You might even challenge yourself to have a blunt-spoken friend or relative give your own profile a reality check. If the results are chastening, perhaps that’s a sign you might cut the other person some slack as well.