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Top 10 Tips for Dealing with Misleading Online Dating Pics

Morgan Mandriota
When your online date doesn't look like their profile pic
Meeting an online date in real life can be intimidating in and of itself. Now, imagine a first date with someone you can’t even recognize once you’re finally face-to-face.

Maybe they pretended to be taller than they really are, drastically Facetuned their pictures, or obscured their appearance with filters and some creative photo-cropping. For whatever reason, now you’re sitting across from someone who’s unrecognizable to you from their dating app profile, and you don’t know what to do. 

We consulted Heather Dugan, author, speaker, connection coach, and the founder and director of Cabernet Coaches® to give you the best possible advice for how to avoid these unwelcome surprises, and what to do if you run into them.  

1. Ask ahead of time 

If you want to be proactive, Dugan says it’s perfectly okay to ask your match about their pics before you meet in person. One template she offers for when you’re first starting to message on the app is, "My photos are from last month. How recent are yours?” Take it, leave it, or tweak it to your own preference, but being upfront will help to spare you from potential tricky in-person situations.

2. Look for clues in the photo 

For the non-confrontational amongst us, this is a more subtle way of confirming a photo’s legitimacy. Become a private investigator by closely analyzing their pictures to see what timeframe they’re (probably) from. “Was a picture taken at the concert of a now defunct band?” Dugan asks. If so, chances are that your match doesn’t look like that anymore. Plus, if it’s a scanned film photo, you can be confident it’s at least 10 years old…unless they’re artsy and own a Polaroid camera. 

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3. Do some “light” research

I like to call this method “creeping,” but call it what you will. With a few basic details, like a last name, company, hometown, or college, you can find someone’s social media profiles within just a few searches. But while it’s tempting to go years deep into someone’s Instagram profile, Dugan warns not to spend too much time researching. 

“Yes, learning all you possibly can ahead of time eliminates surprise, but it also lessens the magic of real-time discovery. And, it’s a lot easier to connect if you aren’t mentally filtering through what you’re supposed to know versus what you clicked through on Instagram.”

4. Add your match on Snapchat 

This is my own personal tip, and it’s proven to be super helpful in the past. That’s because Snapchat is all about real-time visual content – they can’t possibly hide their true identity, unless they’re constantly using filters. After you’ve been chatting with someone for a day or two, ask if they have Snapchat. If they don’t, then they’re either 1) lying or 2) not social media-savvy. If they do, then you can swap photos and videos for a few days until you get a better picture (literally) of what they currently look like.

5. Try to be sympathetic…

A misleading photo may not always be the result of manipulative motivations. Dugan claims most people post out-of-date pictures because “they’re either unaware or painfully aware of the discrepancy, which means they’re either being ignorant or lacking in confidence.”

6. ...but don’t always let them off the hook

There are varying degrees of photo-offenses, and while we can be sympathetic to confidence issues or a little forgetfulness, some situations, like sheer laziness or attempts at gross misrepresentation, are less forgivable. 

If someone claims they simply don’t have recent pics, then let’s be real. There’s no excuse not to upload an updated pic when we all have mini cameras chillin’ in our back pockets 24/7. Taking a selfie is as easy as whipping out your phone and snapping a couple in 1-2-3. If someone can’t be bothered to do that bare minimum, they may not be worth investing your time in. 

7. Decide how (or if) you want to confront it

If you find yourself in this situation there will probably be a few questions you ask yourself. Do I go home? Do I address the obvious discrepancy? Or do I push through the date then ghost them after? It’s up to you to decide whether you want to be the truth-teller who enlightens their date about the importance of using up-to-date photos, or the mercy-giver who balances the understandable irritation with a little bit of empathy. 

Dugan claims both are valid choices, but suggests always aiming for kindness.

8. Feel free to leave... but try to do it politely  

“You don’t need to spend more than a few minutes with someone far outside your posted search profile,” says Dugan, “but recognize the fellow human bumbling through a very awkward and vulnerable process.” If you feel you’ve been manipulated or misled, you shouldn’t have to stick around. But try to excuse yourself as politely as possible.   

9. Be honest, but avoid accusations

If you decide to address the noticeable difference between their profile pics to real-life appearance, then how exactly should you go about it in the kindest possible way? Dugan suggests avoiding accusations: “Simply say, ‘I had trouble recognizing you from your photos. It might have been the camera angle, but how old are your photos? I just updated mine to make it easier for everyone.’” 

10. Make sure YOUR photos are transparent 

Maybe you’ve spent so much time analyzing your matches’ photos that you overlooked issues in your own profile. It’s important to know how to identify misleading photos and deal with the situation in person, it’s just as important to assess your photos now and again so that your date isn’t in for any surprises of their own.

Dugan suggests featuring these 5 types of photos on your dating profile to reflect who you are right now and not the person you were 5 years ago. 

  1. Post both the month and year of photos taken within the past 12 months
  2. Be very selective of any photos taken beyond a year or so and only post outdated pictures that tell an interesting story about yourself
  3. Aim to show yourself in multiple environments
  4. Include a picture or 2 with other people
  5. Always include one full body shot (with all your clothes, please!)

You may also find these articles interesting:

Don’t Be Caught by Surprise

At the end of the day, photos just don’t do us justice sometimes… and that’s okay. But when you wind up in a situation like this, it’s important to determine (to the best of your ability) whether the discrepancy was manipulative or simply a slip-up. In most cases, try to remember that kindness will always be the best option when addressing the situation. 

Believe it or not, this is a common scenario that can happen to anyone – hey, you can even be guilty of doing this yourself! In the wise words of Dugan, “Give yourself every opportunity to attract a right-fit match by sharing who you are now.”

Morgan Mandriota
Morgan Mandriota writes for Top10.com. Morgan is a freelance sex and wellness writer with bylines at Betches, Health.com, and BuzzFeed. Her insight has been quoted in Cosmopolitan, Tinder, The New York Times, and more. When Morgan isn't writing about orgasms, dating struggles, or CBD, she loves traveling, eating tacos, and training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.