This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
When it comes to the internet, you can’t always rely on people to be completely honest. Whether it’s picking an unrealistically flattering selfie for your Hinge profile or making your job sound more exciting than it really is, a lot of us have bent the truth to get a date.
But it seems that some single men are trying their luck in a different way – by posing with non-existent girlfriends on hookup apps such as Feeld (which has been called ‘Tinder for threesomes’) as a means of meeting women.
Feeld is used by people in open relationships, swingers, and those looking for casual group sex or polyamorous relationships. The app has 200,000 active weekly users – much like Tinder, users swipe right and then chat through DM. Unlike other hookup sites (like Adult FriendFinder), Feeld is specifically marketed towards couples and people looking to meet couples. Couples can join the app through individual accounts that are paired together – but it seems that not all of these couples are legit.
I first became suspicious about fake couples when browsing Feeld with my partner. A number of men I matched with – all of whom had paired accounts with a girlfriend and photographs of themselves with said girlfriend – would start to make excuses straight away when we asked to meet.
“My partner is out of town for work,” said one user, despite having previously claimed she was in the room during our online conversations. “Actually, I kind of do the admin,” said another. “She just decides whether to turn up on the night.” Something about their excuses just didn’t ring true.
Then one night, a woman who was chatting to my partner asked if he’d be happy to “verify” my presence. We sent a selfie of us together, waving. “Ok cool,” the woman said in a DM, before apologising: “Sorry, it’s just I’ve had a lot of single guys claiming to be a couple.”
At one of Feeld’s monthly social events, where users can meet face to face at casual London venues, I got chatting to David, a non-binary bisexual person who uses he/him pronouns. David is on the app hoping to find love in a polyamorous relationship. When I told David about men posing with fake girlfriends, he seemed shocked. “I haven’t encountered that,” he said. “I’ve found the community to be really genuine.” It does seem to be single heterosexual men who are doing the catfishing, with women largely on the receiving end. The problem seems far less pervasive for gay and non-binary users.
In contrast, Anna, a single heterosexual woman, nodded emphatically when I started talking about fake couples. “Oh yeah, that happens all the time,” she said. “As women, we’re constantly batting away the bullshit. I had a date once with a couple where the guy turned up on his own and said his partner was ‘unexpectedly’ held up at work. She never turned up. Looking back, I’m convinced she didn’t exist.”
Feeld’s Community Rules state: “We are a real community of real people looking for real experiences. Fake profiles, catfishing, and other forms of falsified personas and identities will not be tolerated.” I reached out to Feeld to ask what they’re doing to combat the problem.
“We have noticed misleading behaviour in the past,” wrote Feeld product lead Ana Kirova in a statement via email, “and because we're catering for couples specifically, since early 2018 we've introduced a change addressing this – in order to be a couple, one has to invite their partner to 'pair up' with them i.e. the partner has to sign up and pair up in order for the profile to become officially listed as a couple on Feeld.”
This may be making it more difficult for single men to pose as couples on the app, but a little extra inconvenience doesn’t seem to be stopping the catfish. Another Feeld user, Lizzy, has been using the app for more than three years, back when it was called 3nder. She says catfishing has gotten worse: “It’s really gone downhill. It used to full of very fun, filthy, smart people who didn’t mess around.”
She’s dealt with her fair share of catfish over the years. “I’ve had people fabricate entire complicated scenarios, then go everything from quiet to aggressive when I push for a video call or meet up.” Lizzy explained. “I had one guy who wouldn’t set up a group chat ‘because he had more couples interested in joining’ and kept changing locations to more and more unlikely venues (the Hilton on Park Lane!). He basically set up an imaginary orgy.”
As women specifically looking to meet couples, Anna and Lizzy aren’t interested in dating a single man (that’s what Match.com and Tinder are for). So, what’s the end game for the catfish? “I think they get off on it. And they do it to picture collect,” Lizzy says, referring to nudes that are commonly shared between users prior to a meetup. Still, it seems odd that anyone would want to be deceptive in a community so open and honest about sex. Why lie to try to get laid when you could just ask for what you want?
Dominique Karetsos is a sexual relations expert and the co-founder of the Intimology Institute, an organization dedicated to providing judgment-free sexual education. I asked Karetsos what she thought might be going on. “Exploring a non-monogamous, swinger or threesome experience as a lifestyle is attractive to many on different levels,” she explained in an email. “But we haven’t been given the social permission to navigate these without guilt or judgment. So, what may feel like deception could also be fear, ignorance, blind curiosity or just plain bad sex manners.”
Most of the women I spoke to believe this behaviour is inherently malicious. Lying to get someone into bed is pretty much a dick move, and these guys appear to be doing it in an elaborate and premeditated way. But then Karetsos introduced me to David and Carol, who have been swingers for over twelve years and public spokespeople for the lifestyle. Their Instagram account has 196,000 followers and their weekly podcast The Sexy Lifestyle over 700,000 listeners.
“The fakers have been around forever,” Carol told me over Skype from their home in Montreal. “You always have to be wary.” But they didn’t agree that the behaviour was coming from a hurtful place. “They just don’t get it; they don’t understand that open-minded lifestyle. They’re just looking to fuck someone. And maybe they’re insecure and don’t know how to talk to people.”
But we’re not talking about awkward teenage boys here – these are grown men. Feeld explained in an email that they “cultivate and sustain Feeld as a platform for and community of real humans, and take immediate action to remove fake or misleading profiles”. Any profile that is flagged up five times is immediately removed. When I asked how many complaints they receive weekly, or how many accounts have been removed, I was told that Feeld “cannot disclose exact numbers”.
The demographics of Feeld are mainly 20 and 30 somethings, and you have to be over 18 to sign up. Shouldn’t these men know better? Gigi Engle certainly thinks so. Gigi is a certified sex coach, sexologist and author of All the Fucking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life. “I have to disagree with Carol and David here,” she instantly responded in an email. “There is a clear distinction between withholding information because you’re nervous to reveal it or lack communicative skills and deliberately lying or misleading someone. I do not think it does anyone a service to brush off this behaviour.”
I decided to give the catfish I’d encountered a chance to explain themselves. I got in touch with some accounts that had seemed shady. “Hey, how’re things?” I wrote in a message, “So I’m writing an article for VICE and I’m getting in touch with some of my old contacts from Feeld. The piece is about fake couples. Let me know if you’re up for talking.”
Two accounts ignored me and four disconnected from me immediately, effectively blocking all future contact. Only one replied – a user who was happy to verify that he was part of a couple. He sent me a cute selfie with his girlfriend, both doing peace signs and smiling. I apologised for being suspicious, but they weren’t offended. “I get it,” he replied in a DM. “I can understand why some couples would get pissed off. But I see where you’re coming from.”
Hookup apps like Feeld are opening up a world of sex-positivity and connecting like-minded people to talk and fuck openly. The community, online and offline, prides itself on putting honesty first. Consent, communication and open-mindedness go hand in hand with good sex. The catfish don’t seem to have figured that out. But if there’s one place they’re likely to get called out for their bullshit, it’s on platforms like these – so here’s hoping they’re a dying breed.