dating

'After my ex dumped me, I created a Facebook profile to catfish him.'

Unless you’re the luckiest person in the world, you know what it’s like to feel the sting of rejection.

Some of us have healthy ways of dealing with that pain and disappointment. But many of us are still developing the emotional resources necessary to cope with being rebuffed.

This is a story about a time in my life when I did something desperate in response to being rejected. Unfortunately, my poor choice of coping mechanism ultimately made me feel worse.

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I’m not proud of this story, but I share it in the hope that others may learn from my mistakes.

When my boyfriend Joel broke up with me in the autumn of 2013, I took it hard.

Throughout our brief relationship, I’d respected him, admired him, and put him on a pedestal. My adoration bordered on hero-worship. I aspired to be like him in almost every way.

While I was stuck in a dead-end job, Joel was more financially successful and well-travelled than me. He got up earlier than I did, exercised more often, and ate healthier foods. He read more books, listened to more podcasts, and always had something interesting to say.

So when he put an end to our three-month tryst, his rejection seemed to confirm my relative inadequacy.

I felt even more worthless because Joel had a very specific reason for breaking up with me. On our first date, I lied to him about my history of infidelity.

I lied because I desperately wanted him to like me. But when Joel found out, he told me he couldn’t forgive deceit.

He was looking for a “high-value woman”, he explained, and my dishonesty proved I wasn’t high-value.

As crushed as I was, I didn’t know how to argue with that.

That evening, I stalked his Facebook profile

The day Joel dumped me, I drove back to my place in a daze and slumped on the couch with a glass of chardonnay.

I decided I’d spend the evening stalking his Facebook profile. By poring over his albums and ogling his pictures, I hoped to feel close to him for just a little longer before I let him go.

I was flicking through an album of his scuba diving trip to Thailand when the photos stopped loading.

I tried to refresh the page, staring confusedly at a limited view of his profile. Then I understood. He’d just unfriended me!

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My immediate response was hurt, followed by panic. Joel’s Facebook profile was the last connection I had to him. I wasn’t ready to sever ties so cleanly!

Heart racing, I paced around the lounge. I couldn’t believe how quickly our relationship had ended.

I felt awful enough about the fact that he’d dumped me. But now I was getting the message I wasn’t even good enough to remain on his Facebook friends list.

That made me feel disgusting. Was I so contemptible that he had to remove every last trace of me from his life?

I whipped out my phone again and refreshed the browser pathetically. Each time Facebook loaded up, I hoped it would grant me re-entry into Joel’s private online world. Each time, it left me disappointed.

I took another gulp of chardonnay and struggled not to cry.

I know my reaction sounds ridiculous now. But at the time, I couldn’t see how much unhealthy importance I was attaching to my digital connection to Joel.

I tried to come up with a plan

Sinking back onto the couch, I curled my hands into fists and tried to come up with a plan.

I considered sending Joel a fresh friend request. But there was no way he’d accept it or add me again. He’d made it clear he was done with me. I was a low-value, good-for-nothing nobody.

I’d never wanted to escape my own skin so much. I couldn’t stop thinking if I’d been another person — a better person — then maybe Joel would have stayed in my life.

This gave me an idea. Would Joel accept my friend request if I pretended to be someone else? Some hot chick who liked the look of his profile? I toyed with the prospect, then discarded it. Joel wasn’t the type to accept friend requests from strangers.

He’d only accept a friend request if he thought it came from someone he knew in person (and liked). As I pondered this, I had a eureka moment.

It was a long shot, but it was worth a try.

Grabbing my phone, I created a fake profile. Then I sent Joel a friend request, light-headed and fluttery with hope.

I pretended to be Joel’s high school sweetheart

During one of our more intimate conversations about past loves, Joel had opened up to me about Laura.

Laura was his high school sweetheart, he explained. They split up on amicable terms before going to college, but he still had very fond memories of her.

When I’d asked to see a picture of Laura, Joel told me she didn’t use Facebook. He had managed to dig up her Instagram profile for me, though. He’d scrolled through it to show me what she looked like.

It was this Instagram profile I now returned to. After downloading a few of her pictures, I cobbled together a fake Facebook profile for Laura. I didn’t plan on impersonating her for long, I rationalised.

If Joel accepted my friend request, I’d just spend some more time looking at his albums. Maybe I’d read some of his old statuses. At most, I’d send him a message or two and see if he responded. Something like: “Hey Joel! It’s Laura. I’ve just joined Facebook! How are you doing these days?”

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Deep down, I knew sending fraudulent messages like that would really be crossing a line. But I wanted nothing more than to see Joel’s name pop up on my screen one more time. I yearned to be the object of his attention and approval, just for a while.

After I’d scratched that itch, I’d stop, I promised myself. I’d delete “Laura’s” account and get outta there.

Joel accepted the friend request

Sure enough, Joel accepted the friend request from “Laura” within a few minutes.

Almost immediately, I received a message from him. The sight of the notification sent my heartbeat into a frenzy.

"Hey! Didn’t know you were on Facebook! x"

I pursed my lips as I stared at the “x”. So even after all these years, Joel still ended his messages to Laura with kisses?

Over the past few months, I’d observed his texting habits a lot. I knew he didn’t add kisses to all of his messages. I wondered if he still had a soft spot for Laura.

I felt jealous, but also weirdly turned on. If Joel was still into Laura, maybe I could get him to sext me. In some strange way, I was already starting to identify with Laura. I basked in the friendliness Joel sent her way, even though it wasn’t directed at me.

I took another swig of chardonnay and messaged him back.

"Yeah. Just joined Facebook! That’s why my profile’s a bit sparse. How are you doing these days? xx"

As soon as I’d pressed ‘send’, I re-read my message and winced. Had I put my foot in it by trying to justify the sparseness of my profile? Maybe that came across as more suspicious than saying nothing.

There was a 10-minute gap before Joel replied. When he finally did, my stomach dropped. Reading his message made me feel ill.

"Angie? Is that you?"

“Shit.” My heart thudded in my chest. How did he know? Had I really been that transparent?

My hands trembled as I gathered my thoughts, trying to figure out how I’d given myself away.

Then it dawned on me. Joel had probably checked “my” profile and realised he was the only person on my friends' list. Maybe he’d even messaged Laura on Instagram and asked her if she’d just joined Facebook. An answer in the negative would have set off alarm bells.

My face burned with shame. I hoped he didn’t think I was some kind of obsessive stalker. “I’m sorry, Joel,” I wrote.

Distraught and humiliated, I threw my phone at the wall.

The problem with seeking validation online

I’ve thought a lot about why I dealt with Joel’s rejection by trying to pass myself off as Laura. I’ve spent hours talking to my therapist and reading books recommended by her.

A few years ago, I came across a great explanation of the psychology behind catfishing. I read it in a book called In Real Life written by Nev Schulman, host of the MTV show Catfish.

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In his book, Schulman says many people who create false identities online are motivated by a “desire to be liked.” In their day-to-day lives, he explains, such people often struggle with “feelings of isolation and insecurity” and “a negative self-image.”

Hence, they use their fake profiles to live out a fantasy. They “create the version of themselves that they would like to be in order to see what kind of attention they would get if they could transcend their issues.”

Based on my experience of impersonating Laura, I find Schulman’s breakdown strikingly accurate.

When Joel broke up with me and told me I wasn’t a “high-value woman”, my self-esteem plummeted. Instead of being myself, I wanted to be the kind of girl he thought well of.

Joel often spoke highly of Laura, and I believe that’s why I posed as her. I wanted to feel, for a moment, like the recipient of his good favour again.

But, as Schulman says in his book, “you can’t rely on someone else’s approval to feel good about yourself.” If you tie your self-worth to someone else’s opinion of you, you are giving away too much power.

I couldn’t see it at the time, but I should have slowed down and asked myself why I needed Joel’s approval in the first place.

Focus on improving yourself in the real world

It’s been over six years now since I catfished Joel in desperation after our breakup. I’m happy to say I’ve come a long way since then.

Over the years, I’ve learned to prioritise my opinion of myself above other people’s. But first I had to practice loving and nurturing the person I am in the offline world.

It wasn’t easy, but I started by taking a good, hard, long look at the things I didn’t like about myself. I realised that I couldn’t rely on someone else like Joel to validate me. I needed to work on improving myself to please myself.

So I made a conscious effort to learn from my flaws. I practiced honesty and vulnerability with my therapist. I set daily exercise goals. At an ayahuasca ceremony, I faced my demons. I began journalling, and as an indirect consequence, I found my passion — writing — again.

In the end, it was my commitment to myself that helped me heal from Joel’s rejection.

I took responsibility for myself — for my self-image, as well as my shortcomings. I knew if there were aspects of myself I didn’t like, only I had the power to change them.

As a result, I have a newfound confidence that is no longer dependent on Joel. I don’t have to escape into a fantasy land, pretending to be Laura. These days, I’m OK with who I am, both on and off the internet.

So if you’re waiting around for someone else’s validation, I want to invite you to seek your own approval.

Strive for your own betterment. But do it for yourself first and foremost. That is the most beautiful gift you can give yourself.

This story originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

Feature Image: Getty.

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