Catfished or Just Bad Lighting? How to Navigate the Surprise of Deceptive Dating Profile Pictures

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For dating app users, swiping right to actually meeting up IRL has become as routine as that first cup of coffee—but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. The excited butterflies in your stomach, the adrenaline rush when you’re just about to push open the door to where your date awaits. You really hope you get on! You hope it’s a true match that could lead to something amazing. 

But what if the maiden voyage of a first date is setting sail and you find out that your date looks absolutely nothing like their online photos? Your stomach sinks, just like the Titanic. It happens to everyone, and we are going to give you some tips to deal with the deceptive dating profile picture debacle. 


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The “Oh, Is That You?” Moment

You’ve worn your favorite outfit, have all of your cute anecdotes memorized in case there are any awkward silences, and even gave yourself a quick lil’ pep talk in the mirror. You walk into the joint, ready to lock eyes, and know this is “the one.” Instead, your eyes dart around the room and you feel a sinking feeling. Is your date disguised as an entirely different person? Nope, that’s them, waving from the corner, looking, um, unrecognizable. Sigh. 

It’s like expecting a Michelin-star meal and being presented with a PB&J sandwich with grape jam. It’s not awful; it’s just not what you ordered and def not what you were promised from their picture.


confused woman wearing pink sweater

The Model vs. Mugshot Pickle

Imagine you were expecting to meet someone who, in their dating profile pic, looked like they just walked off a Vogue photo shoot. IRL, they look disheveled, almost as if they’ve just come from a totally different kind of photo shoot—maybe one at a police station. The difference is so jarring you do a comical double-take and feel like asking them for some identification to make sure it’s the same person.


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The Head Crop

Listen, we are not making fun of the follicly-challenged. There is nothing wrong with you if you’re balding, but a lot of women don’t know the signs of those who are trying to hide the fact in their dating profile pics. 

Here are the red flags:

  • Wearing a baseball hat in every photo
  • Wearing a beanie in every pic
  • Cropping their pics at their forehead 

As we noted, losing your hair is nothing to be ashamed of, but these tricks are deceptive—when you show up to meet someone who you assume has a full head of hair, and they don’t have as much (or any), it’s startling! 


confused woman wearing green shirt

Dr. Who, Is That You?

This one is pretty common—it’s when your date’s photo looks like it was taken when The Office was still airing new episodes (not the US version, the British one, so much older). Meeting them in the flesh feels like you’ve hopped into The TARDIS. It’s not that they’ve aged—it’s that they’ve time-traveled forward and didn’t let their dating profile picture in on the plan. 


confused woman wearing orange shirt

The ‘How Many Filters Did They Use?’ Question

The photo looked ethereal with just the right lighting and skin smoother. In reality, your date looks less like an angel sent straight from heaven and more like an everyday, regular human. It’s a good reminder that while filters can add sparkle and Botox-like baby skin, they can’t disguise the mere mortals we are when you show up in person.


confused person wearing purple shirt

Let’s Not Jump to Conclusions

Now, hang on just a dang minute—before you brand them as deceptive, remember that photos can be misleading for a lot of reasons. Maybe they’ve gotten a haircut, put on some weight, or perhaps the photo is from five years ago. Maybe they think their dating profile picture, albeit outdated, is the best one, and they don’t like saying “cheese” to the camera or think they’re not photogenic.


confused person wearing blue collared shirt

The Graceful Response: What Would James Bond Do?

Would James Bond, 007 himself, the epitome of suave and sly, bolt for the exit? Nope. Instead, he’d sit down and order a martini—shaken, not stirred, of course. It’s super important to be respectful, even if you feel bamboozled or hornswoggled.  After all, your date is also nervous, excited, and hopeful that the date goes well. They are human beings, and although you don’t owe it to them, you should attempt to give the date a chance.


confused woman wearing blue tank top

Conversation Is the Best Litmus Test

At the end of the day, if you chatted online and had fun, your connection isn’t merely solely based on appearance. Talk to them and see if anything sparks—after all, looks aren’t everything! A nice smile, a great sense of humor and wit, or a kind soul can often outweigh an outdated or misleading dating profile picture.


confused man wearing dark blue v neck shirt

Plan B: The Getaway Strategy

Now, if halfway through your pumpkin spice latte you find there’s zero chemistry or worse, the conversation drifts into weird or uncomfortable territory, it’s time for Plan B. Excuse yourself politely; maybe you have an early morning meeting, or your landlord texted that your apartment building is on fire. Make your exit graciously but firmly.


confused woman wearing pink sweater

To Ghost or Not To Ghost

If the date was a shipwreck, but you managed to swim to a buoy and get picked up by the coastguard, you’re probably contemplating the pros and cons of ghosting. Instead, think about sending a polite but honest text. A simple “It was nice meeting you, but I don’t think we’re a match” should do it. Ghosting is not very nice, even though it’s the easy way out.


The ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ Option

Maybe you’ve processed all the discrepancies and reached the sad but clear conclusion that this date is going nowhere fast. If James Bond could make a debonair exit after dodging 17 bullets, you can surely manage to dodge a second date in a polite manner. Just remember, honesty is always the best policy. 

Gracefully exiting a less-than-ideal date can be an art form in itself. And although you always try to do it in a courteous way, there’s no fun in that! 

Here are some lighthearted, yet still bordering on respectful, ways to make your exit:

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The Alien Abduction

“My oh my, would you look at the time! My planet needs me–there’s an intergalactic council meeting I absolutely cannot miss or I’ll be laser-gunned into oblivion!”

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The Astrology Approach 

“I’m so sorry, but my life coach just texted. I need to meditate and get my chakras aligned before Mercury is in retrograde!”

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Reality TV Emergency

“I have to go; I’m late for my audition for ‘Love on a Desert Island.’ They’re sending me to an undisclosed location, and I have to pack!”

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Culinary Emergency

“My sourdough starter just texted me. It’s about to reach its peak fermentation, and I need to be there for the big moment–it’s all happening!”

Remember, keeping the mood light and the conversation respectful is key–using humor can help ease any awkward tension, but make sure to follow up with a sincere follow-up message or text if you’re not interested in a second date. Unless they are rude or hostile and don’t take the rejection well; then you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) engage. 


Takeaways

If you want to avoid this scenario, you should ask a potential match for more photos if you think you sense a rat or even a quick video call before the date–that’s always the best bet! A little bit of “pre-screening” will not only confirm how they really look but it can also serve as a great icebreaker before that oh-so-scary first date. 

So, the next time you find yourself in a café, searching for the crowd for someone who only vaguely resembles their online profile, take a deep breath and count to 10. Sometimes, you can find love where you least expect it—even if it’s not the mirror image of a profile picture.

Whether you discover true love or just get an amusing story to tell (once you get over the shock, of course) every date is a learning experience and a chance to grow on the sometimes-pot-hole-filled road to what is hopefully a happily ever after ending.

Because at the end of the day, dating is not about obtaining perfection–it’s about finding someone whose quirks match up with your quirks. And sometimes, that means rummaging through a few (or a lot) misleading dating profile pictures to find your person.

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