Picture the scene. You’re on a socially distanced train journey, and spot an attractive commuter sat opposite you. On paper, they tick every box: alluring eyes; thick luscious eyebrows; a face mask (demonstrating a strong social conscience).
But as you leave the station, they remove their mask and suddenly all the passion drains away. Conveniently, the mask had been hiding an unattractive nose, a host of wonky teeth, and lips that – sorry – you just don’t want to kiss.
Hello maskfishing, the latest trend to infiltrate the dating world. Essentially, it’s a pandemic version of catfishing, the term used to describe a mismatch between someone’s seemingly perfect online profile, and their less-than-perfect real world manifestation. In the case of the maskfisher – you’ve guessed it – someone appears more attractive than they are because they are wearing a mask. Yes, a mask not only prevents droplets of coronavirus seeping out, it also keeps eagle-eyed daters from looking in.
The trend joins a long and complex lexicon of dating terms like benching, ghosting, birdboxing, to name a few. It may sound shallow, but what’s so unique about maskfishing is that it’s happening everywhere, from trains and buses to dating apps – whether intentional or not.
At a time when face coverings are compulsory in pretty much all dating venues, how do you know if you’ve got a maskfisher on your hands? We’ve broken it down below…
1. They wear a face mask in every online picture
While yes, they may look like the socially-conscious, do-gooder type, a permanently masked dater could indicate maskfishing tendancies.
Dating coach James Preece says that even one picture of someone in a face mask could be construed as a “red flag in the online dating world. If someone has a picture of them in a mask, then they’re trying to hide something. All it does is obscure your real looks, which is a sign that they’re insecure about their facial features.”
Indeed, this is where maskfishing overlaps with more sinister dating trends like kittenfishing (where users deliberately deceive someone over their identity). Preece explains that, for safety reasons, popular dating sites such as Match.Com and eharmony always moderate any profiles where someone’s face is obscured in the pictures. However, the rules on newer dating apps such as Tinder tend to be a bit more lax, meaning masked-daters could pop up more frequently. The problem is thought to be so pronounced that one casual dating website has introduced a ‘no maskfishing mandate’, banning users from only using pictures of themselves in masks on their dating profile.
2. They lure you in with their style of mask
Since masks are now compulsory, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make a statement with yours. Brexiteer? There’s a Union Flag mask for that. Pet lover? Plenty for those too. But according to Preece, we should beware the dater who puts a little too much effort into their choice of mask.
“The type of mask someone wears on a date is very important, and says a lot about the person. But someone might also be pretending to convey a particular personality by the type of mask they’re wearing,” says Preece. “They might have a really glamorous mask they use specially for dating app purposes, when in reality they’re the type who reuses a £1 face mask ten times.”
Yes, we all like to put our best foot forward on dates – so by all means, judge someone by their choice of mask. Just be aware that they could be concealing a completely different personality underneath.
3. They look more attractive with a mask on
This may sound shallow, but it’s more common than you’d think. One female friend has been dating a new partner for four weeks. While she initially met him mask-less at a friend’s outdoor dinner party, she says being forced to wear face coverings on a recent date to an art gallery heightened the sexual tension. “The fact we couldn’t kiss definitely made the whole experience more exciting; he also looked more mysterious than usual wearing the mask,” she explains.
When he did get round to taking his mask off at a pizza restaurant later that night, she admits that some of the attraction temporarily faded. In retrospect, he was a tier-two maskfisher.
4. You love their eyes… and nothing else
A 2017 study by the University of Winchester found that men and women rate a person’s eyes more importantly than other facial features when seeking for a potential partner. And this is good news for maskfishers. For while there is no better feeling than flirtatious eye contact, becoming too dependent on the optics can spell trouble in these Covid times – because one day, that mask will have to come off. Try observing other unmasked features of your date, such as their shoulders, ears, and neck, to see if they inspire a similar physical response.
5. They might be more likely to have an affair
It doesn’t all come down to looks. “Masks make it easier for someone to have an affair because people would be less able to recognise them or identify them. It’s a disguise so they won’t get found out,” says Preece.
Of course, masks are compulsory in nearly all indoor public places now. But if you have a partner who insists on donning a face mask everywhere they go – including socially-distanced park walks, and between bites of food – it could be a sign of some adulterous behaviour. Big giveaways of this type of maskfisher are darting eyes, or an unexplained nervous energy.
6. They keep their mask on when things get…heated
This one is a little more tricky to judge. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, people having sex with anyone outside their household should wear a face mask and avoid kissing during intercourse to reduce the spread of Covid-19. And if you live in a tier-two or three area, then you shouldn’t be getting too close to someone you’ve just met on a dating app anyway. But if you’ve entered an “established relationship” (whatever this may be) and they still refuse to take the mask off – including in the shower? Then you have a maskfisher on your hands.