Dating Glossary: Catfishing

Spoiler: It’s not the catch of the day.


(Last Updated on June 20, 2019 by Datezie Editors)

As dating has evolved to a much more digital landscape, a slew of new words and trends have emerged, requiring singles to brush up on their knowledge before diving in. To ensure you’re up to date and ready to tackle the ever-changing vocabulary, reference Datezie’s Dating Glossary. Our collection defines, explains—and offers humor and strategy—to the new ABC’s of falling in love.

TLDR: Catfishing is when someone pretends to be someone they aren’t online—and never wants to meet you in person.

While your grandpa might associate this lake creature with a fun Friday night with a six-pack of beer, being catfished in modern dating doesn’t equate to reeling in a big one. Unless, of course, you enjoy the wrong kind of gigantic surprise—and most of the time, a huge disappointment. Thanks to a growing population of eligible singles who swim their way upstream toward dating apps and sites, catfishing has become a more common occurrence. So much so, that many daters have developed strategies for fighting against this cruel trick to protect themselves from the sting. If you’re worried you might be a victim of catfishing, here’s everything you need to know:

What is Catfishing?

Psychologist Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. explains catfishing is when a person deliberately tries to attract someone into a relationship with him or her by using a fake online profile. Sometimes, this is for financial gain or another sinister, dishonest purpose, where the catfisher takes advantage of an innocent worm.

What do they lie about? Lots of things. Or rather, most things—if not everything. Dating expert and founder of Lori Bizzoco says catfishers will use a picture of someone who they think is better looking, or lie about their marital status, weight, height—and even their gender. Gulp. “They catfish to feel loved and appreciated behind the computer screen because deep inside they are not happy or secure enough with themselves to meet in person. They pretend to be someone that they are not and lead on the other person who they are engaging in conversation,” she adds.

Where the Term ‘Catfishing’ Came From

It’s a strange term to illustrate the act of deceit, but it derives from a 2010 documentary titled—you guessed it—’Catfish.’ Bizzoco explains toward the end of the move, the husband of the ‘catfish’ told a story about cod being shipped to Asia from North America. When it arrived, the fish weren’t active, so their flesh became mushy. Yuck! To solve this threat to their inventory, fisherman put the cod in the tank with catfish so they would nip at them, and make them wiggle. “Using this analogy, it was said that everyone has catfish in their lives that keep them active, on their toes, and thus, suggesting that people should be wary when socializing online.”

As the term grew in popularity, MTV jumped on the phrase and created a series catching catfishers in the act, and helping trusting victims understand who is really on the other end of the dating app, chat room or text message. It ran seven seasons deep—illustrating how often this trick is played.

Why Catfishing Matters

To put it bluntly: if you want to save yourself from heartbreak (and perhaps some embarrassment), understanding catfishing is clutch. As the saying goes, if someone seems too good to be true, they likely are—and you can prevent a sting by paying attention to how your match interacts with you and how willing they are to meet up in person. When you aren’t on your game, you could be manipulated, impacting future relationships and interactions. As Bizzoco explains, “Catfishing someone can cause uncertainty and distrust in online relationships. If you have been catfished then you may never trust online dating again.” This is huge, considering one in five people meet their spouse online!

What are some indicators you might be floating toward the deep end? If you’ve been chit-chatting for weeks and keep suggesting a drink, but they avoid it. Or perhaps they don’t want to exchange phone numbers. Maybe the aren’t keen on connecting social accounts, either. While professional catfishers have developed ingenious—and insane—measures of creating a new identity, most will reveal the true colors of their fins quickly.

Where You Might Hear Catfishing

More than likely, you’ll hear it when discussing past experience with your friends. And often, probably with an over-the-top, dramatic delivery. “Someone might hear the term ‘catfishing’ when describing being tricked into a relationship with a person who pretended to be someone he or she was not and/or had romantic feelings towards him or her,” Dr. Thomas explains. You might also be texted this from a match if you’re holding back on an invite to drinks, as he or she could be nervous you aren’t who you say you are.

Example: “I was totally digging this guy. We talked everyday for a week. And when we met up for dinner? He was nothing like his profile—the photo wasn’t him at all! I was catfished.”

How to Use It In Conversation

Want to show off your newfound vocabulary? You can use it as a verb or as a noun. Someone can be a ‘catfish’—meaning they put on a show. Or you can be ‘catfished’—if you fell for their disguise. A catfisher is someone who does the catfishing. You following?

Bizzoco does note if you’re having a convo with a pal who was recently burned in this situation, be thoughtful. “When using ‘catfishing’ in conversation—especially around someone who you think may be a victim, tread lightly as this may bring up feelings of resentment. Finding out that you have or may have been deceived for so long can be a hard pill to swallow for some,” she shares.

Notable Catfishing Quotes

In the end many of us are looking for love, and believe we may find it in the most unlikely of situations. It’s the rare, quirky story some imagine telling the grandchildren. Yet in the pursuit, staying grounded in reality is paramount. Though certainly featuring some of the more extreme examples, shows such as Catfish remind us objects in the mirror aren’t always as they appear.”   Goali Saedi Bocci Ph.D.

She needed to spout facts and figures and definitions and not feel a damn thing. “Someone took your pictures and created an online profile for you and put it on a singles site. Two women who fell for the catfish-you are missing.” Harlan Coben

“Most users of social media have experienced catfishing (which cats hate), senseless rejection, being belittled or ignored, outright sadism, or all of the above, and worse.” Jaron Lanier


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