Advice and Insights for Modern Daters

Kittenfishing: It's "Catfishing Lite" And You've Definitely Experienced It

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Katie*, a 28-year-old New Yorker in software sales, sat at a tiny East Village bar waiting for Ben. She’d connected with him on one of the swiping apps she had on her phone, and, having suffered a bad breakup several weeks earlier, was looking forward to getting back out in the dating scene.

“I met my ex-boyfriend before dating apps were really a thing, so I didn’t have much experience with apps,” Katie said. “My friends all told me to try it, so I thought, what the hell, why not?”

What Katie didn’t anticipate was the person who walked in five minutes after she sat down. In his bio, Ben had advertised himself as 6’2 — important to Katie, who, at 5’11, prefers a partner taller than she is. Ben, she says, had to be around 5’10.

“I hate to be that girl who makes a big deal about height,” she said. “But I’m a tall girl. And that night I was wearing heels, which made me even taller. It was awkward.”

Worse, though? The conversation. What had been witty banter via the app fell short in real life.

“When he sat down I think he could tell I was way taller than he was. Maybe that made him nervous, but I mean, his personality was totally boring and different in person. He was so funny online. I don’t know what the hell happened, but I felt totally deceived. I kind of wonder if someone else wrote his bio.” 

What happened? Katie was “kittenfished,” a practice so common in the world of modern dating that we at Hinge had to give it a name. The definition: the phenomenon of well-intentioned dating app users presenting themselves in an unrealistically positive light. A kittenfisher’s profile is often comprised of photos that are outdated, heavily-filtered, or strategically angled, text that has been ghost-written by a particularly witty friend, and height that has been rounded by more than two inches.”

Unlike traditional catfishing, in which the person has assumed a completely different identity, kittenfishers craft profiles that cast themselves in an overly-positive light — and it’s a real problem.

Curious as to how widespread the “kittenfishing epidemic” is, Hinge took a June 2017 survey of its Members to find out exactly what type of deception runs rampant in the dating app community at large — particularly on swiping apps, which, unlike Hinge, do not provide last names once the connection is made, therefore making “online research” to confirm appearance, job, or education level more difficult.

Kittenfishing: the phenomenon of well-intentioned dating app users presenting themselves in an unrealistically positive light. A kittenfisher’s profile is often comprised of photos that are outdated, heavily-filtered, or strategically angled, text that has been ghost-written by a particularly witty friend, and height that has been rounded by more than two inches.

The results? 38 percent of men report being kittenfished, as do 24 percent of women. Interestingly, only two percent of men and one percent of women report having kittenfished someone else.

Types of kittenfishing reported ranged to misrepresenting their appearance (height and weight were the most commonly listed deceptions) to outright lying about their job or education level. Several respondents also had experiences with their dates lying about their age.

38 percent of men report being kittenfished, as do 24 percent of women. Only two percent of men and one percent of women report having kittenfished someone else.

“[I’ve] met people who have lived in their cars and lied about every aspect of their lives,” said one survey respondent. “I’ve even found a few of my friends’ finances on dating apps.”

Another male user reported that his date was “10 years older and probably 75 pounds heavier than the profile and photos showed. I arrived and parked 15 minutes early. When I texted her I was there, I almost instantaneously got a reply asking, ‘Is that you in the black truck?’ I started looking around for who I’m meeting, and all of a sudden my passenger door opens and someone I don’t recognize gets in. For a second I was unsure if It was I was being robbed or kitten-fished, but all confusion was eliminated when she said ‘You got here 15 minutes early too. Guess we’re both excited to meet.’

Not all kittenfishers are so brazen as to hop into a stranger’s car — some simply lie about something their date wouldn’t have cared about, but when the truth comes out, the insecurity that prompted the lie is a turn-off.

“My date listed himself as three inches taller than he was,” reported one survey respondent. “I’m fine with short guys, and wasn’t upset. That said, I think his insecurities were part of why things didn’t work out.”

Cultural kittenfishing, it turns out, can also get you in trouble. In one particularly hilarious anecdote, a survey respondent had the following to say: “The guy was married and didn’t look like any of his pictures. Also, hadn’t read any of the books or watched the films he was quoting!”

So, what can a dating app user do to prevent being kittenfished? 

“My date listed himself as three inches taller than he was,” reported one survey respondent. “I’m fine with short guys, and wasn’t upset. That said, I think his insecurities were part of why things didn’t work out.”

“This is why I look people up on Facebook, or reverse image search them before the date,” suggested one survey respondent. “Facebook usually has more accurate pictures.”

Hinge is taking steps to combat the kittenfishing epidemic, as well. After over 61 percent of Members said they believed “kittenfishing would be less likely to happen if you could see a video of the person,” the product team decided to introduce video, making Hinge the first dating app to do so. The result? A way to, VP of Member Experience Tim MacGougan said, “give users a good feel for what it might be like to go on a date with someone, before you meet them.”

Download Hinge with video and see your dates in a new light

“Video helps that confidence partly through ‘verification’ that the curated photos in a profile are representative of the person, but the bigger impact will come from revealing the unique personality and subtle mannerisms that drive genuine attraction. A laugh is so much more endearing than a posed smile.”

61 percent of Members said they believed “kittenfishing would be less likely to happen if you could see a video of the person.

Still, the best course of action is to make sure your own profile accurately represents who you are, and hope that others in the dating app community follow suit. 

“If everyone was just honest, things would be a lot easier,” said one Hinge Member. “Yeah, you might have to face some of your insecurities, but in the end, people don’t like liars, and if you lie, it probably won’t work out anyway.”

*Names have been changed.

** 2017 survey of Hinge Members.

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