If you've been swiping lately, you need to read this.

By Claire Gillespie
August 07, 2020
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Dating apps have always had catfishers and manipulators. But in 2020, cyber daters now have a new type of creep to look out for: people pretending to be politically progressive to charm unsuspecting folks looking for love. 

The term “wokefishing” was coined by writer Serena Smith in a recent article for Vice to describe a situation where someone pretends to be “woke” (i.e. aware of issues relating to social and racial justice). 

Board-certified psychiatrist and author Gayani DeSilva, MD, explains it further. “Wokefishing is when a person, who is talking to another person, starts asking them vague questions regarding progressive causes in an effort to determine their interest level, and then mirrors their responses,” she tells Health.

Smith, from Leeds in the UK, said she was a victim of wokefishing. Her ex convinced her that he shared her political and social beliefs, but when Smith decided to go vegan, he quickly showed his true colors.

“I can still remember one of his appalled, patronising texts: ‘Oh god, you’re not gonna become one of those vegan feminists, are you??’” Smith wrote. “I was confused. He hadn’t come across like someone who hated ‘vegan feminists’–so where had this come from?”

Although the term “wokefishing” might be a new one, this is far from a new phenomenon, Dr. DeSilva says. “It’s a twist on an old practice of manipulating others to achieve a desired outcome—in this case consent for sexual activity. It’s simply a classic manipulative tactic with a catchy new name.”

A man using the pseudonym Tom also shared his experience of being wokefished with Vice. “I remember on my first date with this guy, we spoke about racism in the UK,” he said. “Over the coming weeks we spoke a lot about diversifying the curriculum and issues surrounding the monarchy. It was all great! But then we passed the honeymoon phase and, oh boy, did this guy turn out to be something else.”

Tom soon realized the guy he was dating was all talk and no action. “As much as he would talk about being progressive, he would laugh at racial slurs,” he said. “It was like he used being a ‘social justice warrior’ as a personality trait, but did the exact opposite.” 

It can be difficult to spot a wokefisher, largely because their initial attempts to ingratiate themselves can often be mistaken for genuine interest. However, it pays to be cautious if a stranger seems to be too agreeable–especially when their views mirror your own, Dr. DeSilva says. 

To elicit their true beliefs, she suggests asking a new, specific question. If they respond with a vague answer, or turn the question back to you, they may be wokefishing. 

If you’re so inclined, you can beat a wokefisher at their own game, New York and Florida-based psychologist Carmen Harra, PhD, tells Health. She suggests asking questions about the other person’s beliefs before you disclose much about your own. 

In particular, inquire about things that reveal their core values: how they regard family, what relationship they have with their parents and siblings, where they see themselves in five years, what their dealbreakers are in a relationship, etc. 

Next, you can dig a little deeper into their supposedly “woke” beliefs. For instance, if a guy claims he’s all about women’s rights, ask what specifically he’s done to support this cause. 

The purpose here isn’t necessarily to catch someone in a lie, but to save time and energy—and potentially embarrassment and heartache—in the long run. 

“Being honest from the beginning helps avoid mistakes that were made in former relationships,” Harra says. “It will save you much time if you come to the conclusion that this person doesn’t hold the same values as you. Allow yourself to be led by your intuition.” 

And if you realize you’ve been truly wokefished, there’s only one thing to do: move on swiftly. “That wokefisher is not interested in you,” Dr. DeSilva says. “Find someone who is genuinely interested in learning about you and in sharing themselves with you. Healthy relationships with potential for true intimacy don’t begin with lies and manipulation.” 

Not every wokefisher is a master manipulator intent on destroying your confidence and ruining your life, of course. Sometimes, Harra says, it simply means someone really likes you and wants you to think you’re a great match. But even in this situation, she advises erring on the side of caution, and being realistic. “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is,” she says.

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