If the renowned children’s poet Dr Seuss was single today, I like to think he’d rethink some of his work. For example, we’d probably have One Fish, Two Fish, Catfish, Wokefish. Children would be learning about the myriad follies of dating in 2021, when you not only have to worry about courting someone who might not be who they say they are, but also about falling for a person who’s lying about their political beliefs.
“Wokefishing” is a new term, coined by Vice’s Serena Smith. It describes someone who pretends to hold more progressive views than they really do. This can be done “either intentionally as bait to reel in matches with forward-thinking ideas or due to lack of understanding of what it means to be ‘woke’ itself,” explains Damona Hoffman, a dating coach and host of The Dates & Mates Podcast.
It’s arguably worse than traditional “catfishing,” she says. “People commonly blur the facts when it comes to age, height, income, and things that don't necessarily translate into the kind of partner they'll be or what they believe,” Hoffman says. “Wokefishing means you are changing details about your core beliefs and character, which is far more misleading.”
Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, LCSW, agrees. “On the spectrum of lies, wokefishing does seem like it’s on the pretty severe end,” she says. “Wokefishing is more than a little white lie; it’s [sometimes] done purposefully to deceive someone into thinking you share in the same core values.”
Even after years of calls to cancel the word “woke,” wokefishing is a very 2021 tactic. This past year, the charge to dismantle white supremacy and fight for racial justice was as strong as ever across the globe. As Smith wrote in Vice, after the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Dominique Fells, Ahmaud Arbery, and Riah Milton galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement, “it’s no surprise that singles are now consciously choosing partners who are on the same wavelength as them — just as it’s no surprise that others are adapting to circumvent this.”
There are a few psychological explanations for why someone might attempt to dupe a romantic interest in this manner. “Typically, individuals don’t lie with the purpose of intentionally hurting someone else,” Hoffman says. “Generally, they’re reluctant to tell lies unless the truth poses an obstacle for their goals.” So, yes, someone might wokefish you to get in your pants. But it also could be because they hate conflict, or because they want you to like them.
If you find yourself dating a “wokefish,” it can be a lot trickier to identify than your garden variety catfish. In fact, it could take years for them to show their true colours, Hoffman says. I can attest that I once dated a guy for months before realising he was actually much more conservative than initially advertised. It really came to light for me when he argued that gender wage disparities didn’t exist in the middle of a game night.
Hoffman shares another story of a woman who dated someone for a year and a half before realising he wasn’t being honest about his stances. “She tolerated side-eye and off-colour comments from his mom for a long time, but in the wake of BLM and subsequent re-awakening around racial justice, she discovered he also held some of those same family beliefs,” Hoffman relates. “They had to break up.”
One good way to keep your eyes peeled for wokefishers is to engage in real conversations, rather than just texting or keeping your dialogue exclusive to dating app messages for too long. When you speak on the phone or over FaceTime, or see each other on social distancing dates, you’ll have a better shot at decoding whether someone is being genuine. If you do fall prey to this sick dating scheme, know that it’s on them, not you; you were being honest, the other person was not. Still, Hoffman warns that “side effects” of being wokefished include feeling betrayed or misled. You might also begin to question yourself and your own ability to screen dates.
And if you’re a “wokefish," Hoffman would urge you to cut it out — whether you're doing it maliciously or out of a fear of conflict. It’s not good dating etiquette, and it’s an upsetting way to waste someone’s time. “I tell my clients to look for matches based on shared values,” she says. “However, if someone is misrepresenting their views just to bring in dates, the connection is starting off on a lie and people could be subjected to a lot of go-nowhere conversation about the issues, and a broken heart.”
There’s another kind of “wokefish.” “Many people are struggling with the realisation that they are not actually as progressive or open-minded as they once believed they were,” Hoffman says. “This cognitive dissonance has some surprising behavioural side effects, including wokefishing.” If this is you, it’s not a bad idea to educate yourself about what social justice really means by reading books, watching documentaries, and thinking hard about why you believe what you do. If you’re ashamed of your views to the point that you think you have to lie to a potential lover about them, consider why that is. It’d be nice to do this before you wade too far into the dating pool.
The bottom line? Dating is hard enough without people trying to hoodwink each other about their belief systems. Be kind to one another, and practice catch and release with the “wokefish” of the world.