Adam and I like to watch Catfish on the laptop before we sleep. It’s our guilty pleasure. We ooh and ahh over the reveals, exclaiming “she didn’t!” a lot! We have sometimes googled what’s happened to the pair if the episode was particularly juicy.
Most episodes involve a vulnerable person wondering whether the person they’ve fallen in love with online is real. They’ve been sent photos of (usually) extremely attractive people (or never seen a photo), and formed such a connection with them that they’ve revealed personal information and in some cases have sent money. They usually haven’t video chatted with them, and their chats have either been via text or phone calls. They are rarely connected on social media. And if they live in the same city, alarm bells toll if excuses are made to avoid meeting. Despite not knowing much about the person they love, they have strong feelings for them. a
Sometimes the relationship works out – it turns out the supposed catfish didn’t have a webcam or didn’t have the money to fly across the country to meet the person they’d fallen in love with, but most times the relationship doesn’t continue in person.
Generally I feel bad for the person who’s been swindled AND the catfish. Because the catfish is just as vulnerable as the person who they’ve catfished. Even though a lot of deceit has occurred, the catfish usually has esteem, body image or trust issues, and unfortunately they’ve used someone else to feel love and self-worth. (Something I found out recently was the catfish is often the first person who contacts MTV – not the person who thinks they’re being catfished. This link (contains spoilers) has further info about that.)
But a lot of the time, and perhaps because the subjects in the show are very young adults, the relationship ends upon meeting – not because of deceit but because of the way the catfish looks. Often the catfish has used photos of other people, and while they’ve claimed what they’ve said about themselves is true, the person that was catfished doesn’t continue the relationship because of appearance. I find this to be highly superficial – especially when an online relationship is based so much on personality and inner beauty. But I can understand how it’s so easy to conjure up a visual and emotional image of someone you’ve met online – because I have been there.
I am always intrigued by a catfish tale (catfish tail!). I spend a lot of time online, and fallen in love online a few times. And of course, I blog. I have, in the past, been reluctant to share my face online, so I can understand part of the catfish’s thinking and trickery. And I understand the desire to be loved and admired (more so when I was younger than now). But I can’t understand the playing with emotions, and pretending to be someone else.
But then there are lies. Pretending to lead a different life, styling a more beautiful and successful life, and pretending to look like what you aspire to is really sad. And we’ve seen that this past week when a prominent blogger’s story unravelled. When the web of lies get so deep, and a public profile is so big, it must be hard to admit the truth. In the case of romantic catfishing, there’s a chance of a real romance building, on both sides, even when that wasn’t the intention. Whatever the case, catfishing comes down to pretending to be something you’re not. It would be SO hard to remember the lies told and ensure you’re consistent with your story. And in the case of prominent people, the Internet never forgets.
He came into my life on Monday 30 August 1999. I’d taken the day off school to listen to radio the debut of the rather appropriately titled I knew I loved you by Savage Garden. I knew I loved him during our first phone call on 10 November 1999, the night before my year 12 history exam. We met in person on Friday 14 January 2000. And I knew I loved him a million times more in the nine days we spent together. We kept in touch, on and off, on his terms, for five years after we met. And in July 2005, the one I still loved wasn’t.
‘You’d better watch out for the quiet ones’ was a regular saying of his. He said it to me; he said it to my mother. I wondered what this meant, but did not overly focus on that detail because, to me, he was the world. He was a quiet one, and perhaps that was the reason I found him in on ICQ.
We chatted online for four months before he told me he was beginning to love me. I convinced my parents that this guy wasn’t some 70 year old paedophile (but how did I really know?) and they said I was allowed to give out our home phone number to him. He called me every night for two months, we would speak for up to seven hours at a time. The calls were about our day’s events, how we both loved each other, and how we both had unusual traits about us which made us perfect for each other. We spoke of our future. He sent me generous birthday and Christmas presents – an Opal necklace, a Savage Garden clock (a feat for a Marilyn Manson fan) and a CD of his favourite band, Coal Chamber. I bought him a lava lamp and would write him really long letters.
We arranged to meet in January of 2000 – he came from interstate to stay at my house for nine days. A big expense for an apprentice wage. He had 11 piercings and a penchant to dress like a gothic punk rocker meets the Australian cricket team. My parents, as strict as they are, though reluctant to have a stranger in their home, liked this guy as he was polite, respecting, and taught them how to sharpen their kitchen knives properly.
He was everything I hoped he’d be. Funny, cute, alternative, had a job as a chef, into cool music, smart. Different and eccentric. Gave me confidence. He was a myriad of firsts for me. I felt accepted. And loved. I still remember him and the time we spent together so vividly. He was willing to hold my hand and kiss me. Unafraid to touch me – he knew he wouldn’t catch my condition. He accepted me and loved me.
When he left to go home I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I’ve never seen him again.
After his stay, we remained in touch via the phone and the internet. We couldn’t continue our romance because he told me he was to become a father. He was also grateful for my online support when his mother died. He called me at ridiculous hours of the night, just to talk.
To be honest, this guy fucked me over. I was 17-18. Impressionable. Naive. Wanting to be loved.
Before we met, he told me he was going to be a father – in early January 2000 he found out his ex girlfriend was pregnant. We spoke for hours that night, we were going to make things work. He cried. I cried. Then I
stupidly honestly told my parents, who flipped out. I remember the next day, my Dad was so angry. “He’s not Jesus you know”, Dad said about my love for him. Still, my parents let him stay after seeing him when he arrived at the airport.
When he left, he got back with his pregnant ex girlfriend. He told me about how badly she treated him, and if she wasn’t pregnant we’d be together. And sometimes she’d be logging onto his ICQ account. The baby arrived, a daughter. I sent a card and a dress. He’d tell me stories of what progress she was making – milestones – first steps, pre-school, school. He’d tell me how his girlfriend left him with his daughter to be a single father.
In March 2000 his Mum died. I sent a condolence card to his house. He told me not to talk about my dog that’d just died because it upset him too much.
He told me he still loved me. He told me he wanted nothing to do with me. Then he came back. Months apart. Time after time. Calls at all hours. For six years. I remember saying to Mum that I feel he and I will always have a connection.
I had no reason to disbelieve him. Except for four things. Before we met he sent photos of himself that really looked like him but were actually of a musician. After we met he’d send me poems he wrote, and just by chance (reading a music magazine) I found out they were Marilyn Manson lyrics. I never saw photos of his daughter. And his phone would often go dead when he called me.
Six years after we first chatted online I found out that everything he ever told me was a lie. In July 2005, his then girlfriend called me soon after his phone had gone dead. She’d called before, maybe a year earlier. This time in 2005, the first thing she asked was how I knew him. She was angry. She said my number was all over his phone bills. That he spoke about me a lot.
When she calmed down and found out I was not a threat and didn’t know about her (I’d always ask if he had a girlfriend and he said “no, why do you think I’m calling you?”), we got to know each other.
She revealed some truths. There was no baby, his mother was not dead – she actually lived with his mother. The mother of his ‘daughter’ was a woman he’d met once – and when we contacted her, she was as freaked out as we were.
He seriously fucked me over. While he hurt his then girlfriend – she left him after he ‘accidentally’ sent me a picture of his penis to my phone – he had shattered six years of my life too. Before I told him I found out his lies (I told him by writing a letter to both him and his parents) he would call me while his then girlfriend was in the other room. Once he called me on my mobile while she was on my home phone.
The only things I really know about him is his name, age, occupation and location. Oh, and that his warning about the ‘quiet ones’ rang true. This ‘quiet one’ was telling similar lies to other girls he met online, though none quite as large has those he told me. He had my love, so I trusted him, but he also had the distance between us in his favour, which meant that I’d probably never find out about his real identity. And he had the benefit of a saved message history to keep track of his lies.
I took it surprisingly well. Of course I was angry, hurt, numb and sad. I can’t say I grieved for the man who wasn’t – I spent years before that grieving that we weren’t together. I can’t believe he won my parents over and that he wasn’t a murderer. But on the upside I was excited to have a topic for my upcoming journalism assignment.
I asked him why he did it. Why he maintained the lies to me for six years. He said he wanted to be better than he was so I’d love him. I realised he was so unwell, aside from his drinking and drug use. A pathalogical liar. I was lucky my emotions were the only thing he harmed. Looking back, he was a regular impersonator and chameleon – wearing make up to look like his idols.
I’ve become friends with his ex girlfriend. We met when I was interstate in 2007. She’s lovely. We had a few things in common because of his interests – books, music and sayings. We recently saw him on Facebook, looking well beyond his 30 years – so washed up. He has a real baby now. Neither of us have contacted him.
I often wonder if I hadn’t found out the lies would I still have put myself through the hard times he caused with his toying? Finding out was a good thing. About a year after I found out his lies he called me at 3.00 am. I told him that I loved not having him in my life and never to call me again.
Even though this awful thing happened to me I am still so willing to form online (often to offline) relationships and trust people I meet on the Internet. I am always cautious though. You’ve got to watch the quiet ones.
In 2000 I wrote this poem. And it now reminds me that his lies being revealed meant I was no longer alive just to please him.
draw a life, name it blue
because sometimes it’s that way
and place me in the corner
I’ll be the one you can play with
when you’re sick of it all-
looking for something more
and I’ll obligingly return
when you tire of me
I’ll bathe in misery
to have the smallest part of you
do you want me for my plumage,
or for the idea that
I could make your mind
Edit: someone asked me had I read this aged 17, would I have thought my catfish was different? I don’t know? But I was so desperate to be loved that I don’t think so. I would have chased that love.