real life

It happened to me: I was catfished. 

As a single woman who doesn’t much like bars (or staying up after 10pm come to think of it) I have occasionally used online dating sites to meet prospective partners.

Despite my mother’s fear that I shall be cut into little pieces and slowly devoured with an accompanying fine shiraz, I have actually found the vast majority of men I’ve met lovely. I’ve always assumed maybe my positive experiences have a lot to do with the fact that I have a finely tuned bullshit radar; hey – I used to be a High School teacher (lie detecting is a job necessity) and I have co-written an entire book on dating and relationships.

But then I met a Catfish.

The term “catfish” was popularised by the documentary film of the same name and the subsequent MTV reality show in which the hosts, Nev and Max, help those who suspect they may have been duped online track down who their online love buddies really are.

I started binge watching this show a few weekends ago – and yep (pardon the pun), I was hooked. Some of the people on the show had relationships lasting many years that they took very seriously – yet so often, sadly, found out it was all built on a lie. In many cases, the person they were really speaking to wasn’t even of the same gender as the persona they created.

Spurred on by watching these cyber investigations, I decided to do some research on a man I first met online about 6 months ago.

When we met, he had pursued me passionately – many texts, emails, roses, chocolates, dinners out… Big. Romance.

For all of a week.

And then he disappeared overnight. Emails and calls were unanswered. It was a huge mystery. Had aliens abducted him, I wondered?

A few months later and he was back in my inbox begging forgiveness. He had a very dramatic excuse for why he had had to suddenly disappear, and claimed that he had met a girl he had just started seeing so wanted only to be my friend and check that I was ok.

I did eventually relent and agree to catch up as friends. Hey, I am a forgiving girl, and he is a particularly charming guy. We started texting and emailing frequently and having the odd picnic / lunch date. He would always flirt up a storm and tell me how much he wanted me. I would remind him he now had a girlfriend and all we could be were mates. And, honesty alert, of course it was flattering to receive such (seemingly) enamoured attention.

He told me he did not yet love the new woman in his life yet, and that although he would stay with her, we should think only of our own happiness and be lovers regardless.

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I’m sorry – what?!

My moral compass screamed TIME OUT. And I decided that I needed to do some more thorough investigating. Who was I actually talking to?

Sure I had done the initial almost-obligatory Google search but after delving a little deeper this time, all was revealed. I decided to look for the “new” girlfriend’s Facebook page – and I found it. And in doing so, I found the real him.

Mr Charming had actually being seeing her for years. And they were engaged to be married. In fact, he had gotten engaged only a month prior to him going online to search for love and meeting me for the first time. Lie after lie was revealed.

I wasn’t desperately hurt as my radar was already up as he had acted like such a cad early on. But I was truly shocked at the extent to which he had been prepared to deceive. And I was relived I had followed my gut instincts and did some research.

But the real shocking thing about the whole Catfish phenomena? It’s not that unusual.

U.S. research indicates that more than half of the people online lie in order to secure a date. Perhaps I am incredibly naïve but this statistic shocked me.

In the TV reality show Catfish it is clear that many of the people that have been lying and impersonating others really don’t seem to think they’ve done anything wrong at all either. They see it almost as therapy for themselves (“No one wanted to talk to me the way I actually look, yet when posing as her I got a lot of attention which made me feel good”) or, bizarrely, as a community service for those they dupe (one man who had mislead a number of women said he thought what he did was a “gift” as his false protestations of love made the women he targeted feel happy).

And unless there is a “benefit by deception” Catfishing is not illegal.

So forget the cyber-stalker rhetoric that may deter us from being practical. I think it is only wise to become proficient in doing our own on-line research. Call it doing due diligence if you like.

Because you know what? Statistically? I have probably met plenty of Catfish. And if you have dated, or even flirted, on-line, you probably have too.

What are your best on-line research techniques and how do you ensure that who you are talking to on-line really is the person they claim to be? Have you ever been caught by a catfish?

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