By Kate Richlin-Zack
“Catfish” — it’s a term you’re probably familiar with given the recent Manti Te’O scandal and the growing popularity of the MTV reality series bearing the same name. But for those of you haven’t, come out from under your rock so I can explain. “Catfish” refers to someone who creates a false identity online in pursuit of romance. In Manti’s case, the length of the alleged hoax is a bit unclear because the details around how/when he first came in contact with this fake girlfriend are fuzzy. But some of the relationships featured on the MTV show have lasted anywhere from several months to several years.
YEARS?! I can understand being duped for a few weeks or even a few months but years? SERIOUSLY?!
Most of our current reality is virtual. Face-to-face interactions have been replaced with texts and tweets. I have friends that won’t answer their phone but if I text them, I’ll get a response within seconds. I’m probably just as bad as they are, but at least we’ve met in real life. How long are you willing to date someone without having confirmation that they are who they say they are and you’re not being taken for a ride? How is this even possible?
As someone who’s fascinated with relationships and dating, I really had to dig deep to come up with an explanation and truthfully the only thing that explains why anyone would go to such great lengths to fool someone and why anyone would fall for it is the epidemic that’s sweeping our nation (and no it’s not norovius): low self esteem.
I’ve done lots of stupid shit in the name of love and I’ve made some bad choices when it comes to men. I’ve put up with drug addictions, pregnant wives, and all-around assholes, so I’m not one to point fingers. But I can promise you, the only reason I chose to date losers is because I had a crap opinion of myself. I ignored all the red flags. And when it comes to catfishing, there are lots of red flags:
- He has a job that requires frequent travel – Possible but if you’re travelling so much, use your frequent flyer miles to facilitate a rendezvous.
- She doesn’t have a lot of pictures of herself – Really? Are you still using a Polaroid camera? Come on over to my dark room. Everyone has a digital camera or an over zealous friend with an iPhone. You can’t NOT have pictures.
- There’s always a reason why he can’t meet you in person
- Airfare is too expensive
- He’s too busy
- He can’t leave his dying grandmother who happens to be on life support
- Blah blah blah…
- She always cancel at the last minute if she does agree to meet up with you
- He won’t video chat with you - Last I checked, webcams came standard on most computers … unless your computer is a decade old. If he’s not going to take you on a Skype date, he’s probably never going to take you on a real date either.
- She just seems “too good to be true” – It’s because she is.
These signs are hard to ignore unless your self esteem is in the toilet.
If you didn’t think you were total loser, you’d trust your instincts and kick this charlatan to the curb, stat. If you had the confidence to talk to the girl you see on the train everyday or the courage to ask out the cute guy at the coffee shop, you wouldn’t settle for a pen pal. If you believed that despite all your flaws, you still had a lot to offer, you wouldn’t be happy with a half-assed “relationship” (and I use that term loosely) that existed solely over email. Good lord, how long can you talk to someone and not have sex with them or at least make out like teenagers in a Honda? At least hold hands! Even my mother told me, “Test drive it before you drive it off the lot.” Sage advice.
I hate to blame the victim, but to all the Manti’s and Nev’s out there, you have to share some of the responsibility. I won’t call you idiots, but I will say you’re intentionally ignorant and unrealistically hopeful that this virtual relationship will eventually develop into something… oh… I don’t know… REAL.
The majority of the blame falls on the “catfish,” but their self esteem sucks too. You misrepresent yourself because you believe you have nothing to offer. You create a fantasy world where you’re a drop dead gorgeous jet-set executive/model/actress who’s constantly travelling to exotic locations. You make lots of money (even though you claim airfare is too expensive). You have nice things. Now all you have to do is keep track of all your lies, download a plethora of pictures of a hot girl who posts lots public pictures on her Facebook profile, and find some unsuspecting miserable loser to cosign your bullshit.
Maybe these people are actually made for each other…
Now one would think that the internet would make it impossible to carry on this dog and pony show for very long. It’s nearly impossible to not show up in a Google search. Just admit it, you’ve googled your own name. If you haven’t, it’s a good thing you came out from under that rock earlier. But the reasons that it shouldn’t happen (modern technology, social media, email, etc) are the same reasons why “catfishing” is feasible in the first place: access and anonymity.
Thanks to the internet and smart phones, we have access to information at any given moment. When was the last time you asked a stranger for directions or went to the library to research a paper or opened an encycopedia? Does anyone even remember microfiche? And you have access to a lot of people thanks to social networks. You have over 1000 friends on Facebook and you only hang out with a handful of them but you know exactly what your college roommate had for dinner last night. You haven’t spoken since you moved out of your dorm freshman year, but you know she was thrilled with the surf and turf. You know that guy you went to high school with is a staunch republican. You only know his name because it’s on his profile, probably because you only spoke to four times in your whole life, but you could recite one of his political rants verbatim. You can’t even remember how you know Mary Smith-Baumgardner, but you know her wedding dress was Vera Wang, she honeymooned in Fiji with her hedge fund manager husband Harold Baumgardner, and they just had a really ugly baby but that hasn’t stopped them from posting photos of the latest addition to the Smith-Baumgardner family… or is it just Baumgardner?… Hmm. But you haven’t called your best friend in over a week because you’ve been “so busy.”
We don’t need each other the way we used to. We don’t need other human beings to answer our questions or give us directions or entertain us. We can access anything and anyone at any time without having without having to interact with a single person.
And it’s that access that allows you to steal someone’s identity pretty easily. Its easy to misrepresent yourself because we’ve got access to all kinds of stuff. Download a few photos. Choose a name, occupation, hometown and you can be anyone you want online. There’s no one to verify that you are who you say you are. You can remain anonymous while you hide behind this internet persona you’ve created. It’s not like the internet police are going to expose your farce.
Catfishing will evolve as technology does and we’ll end up with some other urban dictionary term for pretending to be something you’re not. But the act of misrepresenting yourself in the name of love is nothing new. Ever heard of Cyrano de Bergerac? You’re probably more familiar with recent film adaptations like Roxanne or The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Or perhaps you’ve been on match.com. People lie constantly. We will always try to hide our flaws and put our best foot forward. I’d even argue there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s basic sales. Just be careful not to take it too far.
Kate’s Dates runs every other Wednesday on Kate-book.com. It is written by the lovely Kate Richlin-Zack, who fully admits to majoring in engineering to meet guys. Her articles have been featured on xoJane, YourTango, and Romance Never Dies. She’s been quoted in Fox News Magazine and featured on Huffington Post Live. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.