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From trainspotting to knitting, hobby dating is here to make you more attractive online

For decades, our digital love lives have been synonymous with left and right swipes on a screen—almost as if we are flinging Angry Birds in a gamified romantic experience. But it’s only after matching with a potential date that you turn into a Sim, crafting answers and finding the energy to respond without making it seem like an interrogation.

At this point, there are certain factors that help drive engagement before the conversation dries and eventually dies out. Profile pictures, for example, are a good start. Has your match uploaded images with a pet? Well, chances are that it was the major reason you swiped right on them in the first place. But even if that’s the case, you’ve got the best ice-breaker at the end of the day. On the other hand, if the rest of their profile is swamped with sweaty gym selfies and foot-long fishes they caught during the weekend, you know what to do.

Although the brazen display of muscles, motorcycles and boats have evolved into huge red flags in the dating sphere, there have been no contenders replacing these age-old trump cards—ultimately all about celebrating our individual passion, if you really think about it—until now. Fellow gen Zers, zillennials and millennials, follow me as I welcome you into the wholesome world of hobby dating in 2022.

What is hobby dating?

As dating app users look for new ways to show who they are and what they love, physical interests have become an essential part of their profiles as they are increasingly planning dates around new hobbies. Not just any hobbies, by the way. We’re talking about unconventional ones and, in this case, the nicher, the better.

According to a recent study carried out by data and analytics group YouGov, commissioned by the women-first dating app Bumble, there’s a booming trend in showcasing your niche interests when building your dating profile—from traditional hobbies re-discovered over the course of the pandemic to quirky unconventional competitive sports.

Surveying 6,770 adults from the UK, France, Netherlands, Germany and Ireland, the research revealed that more than half (51 per cent) of single people believe photos which reveal a skill for an interesting sport or activity would prompt them to strike up a conversation. In fact, almost one in four (22 per cent) of them stated that having a unique hobby trumps other desirability factors when it comes to finding the perfect partner—beating the likes of knowing multiple languages and being skilled at DIYs.

Heck, half of the UK audience even agreed that having an enthusiasm for a sport or activity can make you a more passionate partner in general. Where is the lie?

While the research helped Bumble identify the growing desire for partners who are unwaveringly passionate about their unconventional interests, it also shed light on the least favourite things to feature on one’s profile. The list in question includes gym selfies (60 per cent), duck faces (57 per cent) and photos that seem to crop out an ex (53 per cent). Messy bedrooms (43 per cent) are also a big no-no.

Top ten ‘sexiest’ niche activities

Hobby dates are undoubtedly an easy and convenient way to get back into the dating world post-lockdown. But what exactly counts as a ‘niche’ hobby in 2022? Enter Francis Bourgeois in all of his awkwardly-charming glory.

Dubbed the ‘Bourgeois effect’, the video creator has inspired an entire nation of budding trainspotters—not to be confused with train hoppers—including those who had absolutely no interest in locomotives. Now, a third of gen Zers admit that they’re more keen to date a trainspotter than ever before.

@francis.bourgeois

Luckily @ryan.windridge picked me up on the last train back to Gloucester @llanellirailway #trains #trending #fyp

♬ original sound - Francis Bourgeois

Meanwhile, British diver Tom Daley, who won hearts for his habit of knitting between events at the Tokyo Olympics, to help him cope with the stress of the competition, has driven the interest of 29 per cent millennials aged between 25 and 34 to date someone with a passion for knitting and crocheting. In fact, Daley has even converted his craft into a business due to public demand, launching Made with Love which now sells knitting kits for sweaters, blankets, accessories and even a pink flamingo named Elvis.

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A post shared by Made With Love (@madewithlovebytomdaley)

Now onto some insights that are bound to peak more fascination around the dating sphere today. According to research carried out online by Research Without Barriers (RWB) in April 2022 with 2,011 UK adults, the top ten ‘sexiest’ niche activities are: dancing (25 per cent), wild swimming (20 per cent), cycling (19 per cent), horse riding (17 per cent), karate or judo (14 per cent), bouldering (13 per cent), stand-up paddleboarding (13 per cent), volleyball (13 per cent), cheerleading (11 per cent) and golf (11 per cent). Anyone hot yet?

“Dating, especially in the early days, is about finding things to connect over and understanding who the other person is. Your photos are your opportunity to reflect who you are, what you love, and what you’re looking for,” said Bumble Sex & Relationships expert, Dr. Caroline West. “For example, a hiking photo can highlight your love of the outdoors, a particularly tough achievement or signal that you prioritise fitness and well-being. Representing what makes you happy is key to finding an authentic connection and by highlighting your unique interests and passions you give people an easy conversation starter.”

The visual way forward

There’s no denying that you can learn a lot about a person by simply listening to them talk about their favourite pastimes. By giving others yet another reason to connect with you, such hobbies also provide great fodder for first and second dates by helping you pick out ideal locations for meetups—with the ultimate potential of individualising the entire experience.

In short, how we spend our free time influences our relationships. In light of this, Bumble has even launched Bumble Shoots, a unique photography experience that seeks to help users put their best foot forward and craft a profile that shows off their niche skills. The free-of-charge photography session (which can be easily signed up for via the dating app’s Instagram account) offers daters the opportunity to be captured in the activity they enjoy the most, be it striking an intricate yoga pose or landing tricks on a skateboard.

To champion all the booming niche activities, Bumble is also launching seven new ‘Interest Badges’ in the coming weeks—including trainspotting, knitting, parkour, frisbee, beekeeping and more. “So far, 2022 has been a year of discovery for dating, and we’ve seen that people on Bumble are looking at new ways to show who they are and how they date,” said Naomi Walkland, Bumble’s Head of UK and Ireland.

“We identified a trend of hobby-dating earlier this year and have now added new interesting sports and passions badges on the app, including trainspotting and knitting which are new hobbies we’ve seen emerge from the pandemic,” Walkland continued. “People on Bumble can still pick from old favourites, like skateboarding, that speak to the return of millennial culture.”

By launching new badges, the romance giant hopes to empower users to show off even their quirkiest interests. In the end, it’s worth noting that pursuing your passion never goes out of style. The only changes are your hobbies which are bound to evolve over time. So what are you waiting for? If you’ve got some long-lost obsessions in the attic, now’s the time to revisit them and enrich your relationships along the way—as long as you don’t kittenfish your way out of the trend, that is.

Kittenfishing is the toxic dating trend we’re all probably guilty of

Does benching, breadcrumbing, breezing, cushioning, negging, hogging and pocketing ring a bell? What about catfishing? Introduced to the dating world in the 2010 documentary film called Catfish, the term refers to the deceptive practice where someone pretends to be a completely different person online than they are in real life. A catfish will typically steal another individual’s identity (including their pictures, date of birth and geographical location), avoid showing their face on video calls and make up stories that are often too good to be true.

In Catfish, photographer Nev Schulman documented his own journey to uncover who was really behind the long-distance relationship he’d been having with 19-year-old singer named ‘Megan’. Eventually, he finds out that the person on the other end—who he’d engaged with over hundreds of text messages, Facebook posts and phone calls—had been a middle-aged man based in Michigan.

Although Schulman went on to create the MTV series Catfish: The TV Show, we’re here to acknowledge a growing offspring of catfishing today—which, to be honest, we’re all lowkey guilty of to a certain extent. Welcome to the wildly exaggerated world of kittenfishing. Now, before you ask, no, this toxic dating trend has nothing to do with furry little munchkins dunking their paws in water or staring rather greedily at a fish tank.

What is kittenfishing?

Coined by the dating app Hinge in 2017, kittenfishing is the diet version of catfishing if you will, a tactic where you purposely misrepresent yourself online but not to the extreme extent where you have a full-fledged false identity complete with a fake passport and accent. Think about deploying tiny white lies—like exaggerating your height, age and interest or even adding a country or two to those you’ve actually seen—all in the hopes to hook a potential date.

https://www.tiktok.com/@kittypuffrug/video/7034524723098815750

A kittenfisher is an expert at enhancing their dating profile. Be it with tiny tweaks (like embellishing their job title and lifestyle to sound more impressive), or full-blown clickbait antics (for instance, using old and heavily edited pictures of themselves to match the adjusted age description), a kittenfisher would bend the truth about anything to round favours from their matches. Heck, examples of the dating trend on the internet also include bald men—apologies, males with receding hairlines up till the nape of their necks—wearing hats in all their snaps.

Essentially, kittenfishing refers to a well-intended phenomenon: painting yourself in a more positive light. What harm could it possibly do, right? According to a study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, more than half of online daters (54 per cent) admit that their matches have “seriously misinterpreted” themselves in their dating profiles. When Hinge surveyed its users they found that 38 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women reported being kittenfished on the platform. What’s more interesting is that only two per cent of men and one per cent of women admitted kittenfishing someone else. Simply put, the toxic dating strategy is so elusive that people are not even realising they’re doing it.

Research has additionally proved that men typically exaggerate their height while women are more prone to mess with details about their weight. Statistics collected by the dating app OkCupid further noted that the more attractive a photo, the more likely it is out of date.

Although kittenfishing is a lighter version of catfishing, the dating tactic can have serious consequences on a relationship. Sure, knocking a year or two off your age doesn’t seem like a big deal when you haven’t even set up a lunch date with your match yet, however,  the further the in-person meetup goes, the more likely it will be that you’ve based the entire relationship on a lie. And we all know how that usually ends.

“The most important element for a successful, long-lasting relationship is trust, so when you lie in your profile, you’re only setting your date up for disappointment when their expectations don’t match reality,” Damona Hoffman, dating coach and host of the Dates & Mates podcast, told HuffPost. “You might be able to make it through a few first dates with secrets, but if your relationship evolves, eventually you will have to come clean. That could mean the end of an otherwise great partnership,” the expert continued. “It’s a missed opportunity to find someone who will love you as you are.”

Are you being kittenfished?

By this point I’m pretty sure most of you are either recalling your experiences of being kittenfished or realising you might be guilty of the crime yourself—which has become commonplace in the dating world today. Either way, here are a few pointers to help spot kittenfishing before it gets out of hand, as recommended by psychologist Ana Jovanovic in an interview with NBC News.

1. Look out for inconsistent claims

If you pay close attention to the conversations with your potential match, you may notice contradictory details in their stories or “see them fail to respond to a relatively simple question about a topic they seem to be very passionate about.”

2. Lack of details

Next up is the absence of details surrounding the element of a person’s life that they’ve lied to you about. If, for example, someone has embellished their job title in their dating profile, they may avoid going into specifics about what their position entails as there may be a high chance they accidentally reveal the truth in the process of explaining it.

3. Idealistic self-presentation

Lastly, according to Jovanovic, if it seems like your match has no flaws whatsoever, there’s a high chance they’re probably too good to be true. At this stage, it’s up to you to decide if you want to investigate further. But Jovanovic ultimately advises to ask yourself: What is the person trying to cover or lie about, how severe is the kittenfishing and how important is this to you? “You will need to make your decision on what to do based on the answer to this question,” the expert added.

Or… are you the kittenfisher?

Be it with an edited selfie or adding a few inches to your height, if you think you’ve kittenfished someone else, it’s time to address the speculations—once and for all. On these terms, Jovanovic recommends asking yourself the following questions and answering them honestly:

1. If a person was to meet me now, what differences would they find between who I am online and in-person?

This is one of the most basic exercises you can do to analyse if you’ve been kittenfishing your matches. Imagine yourself showing up for a date with someone you’ve met online. Would they recognise you easily from your photos? Sure, we all have good angles, but are you intentionally tweaking the way you look on the internet a tad too far?

2. How many white lies have I told this person?

In an interview with Bustle, Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, explained how kittenfishing has become a common practice today—given how dating is a competitive sport and we all feel the pinch. “So we resort to embellishment,” Armstrong said. “We do what we need to gain an edge. Second to this, we believe it is harmless and that our charm and wit will win out in the end.” But the ugly truth is that even if you chant “I know I’m not really six feet but she’ll love my sense of humour,” you might just land a first date but blow all your chances of subsequent ones. 

3. How do I think this person would describe me? Is this how I would describe myself, too?

Disclaimer: the answer to this question may be a shocker if you believe you’ve engaged with the dating strategy in question.

4. If a close friend who knows me well and this person were to talk about me, would they be able to recognise me as the same person?

A good beginners exercise is to get feedback on your dating profile from your close friends. Cringy, I know. But the insights you’d receive are bound to be the most honest ones—which will help you put your best foot forward and analyse if you’ve been misleading your matches all along.

Now, if you really think about it, kittenfishing has been a thing long before dating apps were even birthed into existence. Your parents might have won each other over with slight tweaks about their GPA and life goals. Heck, over here in India, families have been downright lying about their healthy dynamics to land matrimonial matches for centuries.

Though we won’t be able to eradicate kittenfishing altogether from the dating sphere anytime soon, it’s time to at least be self-aware of the toxic practice—and the earlier, the better.