Once upon a time, I was “catfished.” It was an experience that messed me up for a bit, but now I’m pretty glad it happened. “Catfishing” is the act of interacting with another person under a false identity on the Internet. You may have heard of it from the movie that came out back in 2010 or the reality TV series with the same name currently running on MTV (oddly enough, I haven’t seen either). It’s a very obvious process, but as a naive and hopeless romantic, I let myself see what I wanted to see.
I was lonely, and had started talking to strangers in chat rooms. I promise it was innocent chatting! When I first started, I was already in a long-term relationship. But my boyfriend and I had been drifting apart for at least a year, and I think each of us was waiting for the other to say it was over. And, in addition to that excruciating situation, I also hadn’t been keeping up with any of my friends. So the people of the internet became my social outlet: blogs, chat rooms, Tumblr, and message boards.
And then I met “him,” and we just hit it off. It was as if we had been best friends our whole lives. His name was Matthew, and we had stupid mundane things in common, like our enthusiasm for mashed potatoes, an affinity for puns, and our birthdays, which were one day apart. He was way too cute. He was athletic, played at least three instruments, was the lead singer in his band, and was getting over the wounds of an ex who had cheated on him. He was basically a character in an indie rom-com. How could I not fall in love? Five days after I met Matthew online, my then-boyfriend had a party where I proceeded to get sloppy drunk for the first time and realized that I had feelings for this online dude. We broke up the next morning.
Matthew and I would talk for hours on MSN Messenger, and when we weren’t online we were constantly texting. He was like my own personal diary: I could tell him everything and anything. I could be completely real with him! We exchanged many photos of our lives, and this was what abated my concern over his lack of a webcam. At this point, I was still in that initial high and I wasn’t thinking about the plausibility.
As we started getting more romantic, he started getting darker (of course). He would pick fights with me over nothing. If I didn’t respond to texts immediately or if I was out with friends for a night, he assumed that I was out “sluttin’ it up” and cheating on him (and we weren’t even in an official relationship). He would get drunk and hurl hurtful accusations my way, all the while revealing personal stories of abuse and deception. These included stories about how his father abused him and threatened him, how his ex-girlfriend cheated on him, how he was responsible for the death of his best friend, and how he attempted suicide. He would say to me, “No one could ever love me,” and I tried to reason with him that it wasn’t true.
There were so many red flags, I saw them and ignored them. “What if this isn’t a false alarm? How could I abandon him?” I felt I couldn’t live with those what-ifs, so I continued to talk to him. Plus, I thought he understood me, and that felt so rare.
About a month after we met, he had another one of these episodes where I had to talk him down and reassure him that he was deserving of love. He ended the night by telling me that he loved me, and then I didn’t hear from him for three days. Three days of nothing was like a slap in the face after a month of constant conversation. I was extremely worried, given his past threats. I searched the internet for his name, location, and the keyword “death” and was relieved when nothing popped up. Relieved but, at the same time, unsettled. Nothing came up for him, even without adding “death” to the search. His MySpace was just his band’s page, and even that had only one photo of an indeterminate person and four untitled songs. No bio, and only five “friends” who were just advertisement pages. He had a Facebook, but it was private and offered no helpful information. Googling his email and usernames only ended up with “no results found.” And a reverse look-up of his phone number gave me a name that didn’t match his or any of his immediate family members. So after not hearing from him, I sent him an email and decided que sera, sera (what will be, will be).
Of course, once I let go, I received an IM from him. He said it was hard to explain, but he had OD’d the night we last spoke, and had spent the past couple of days in the hospital under supervision. As a result, his mother cancelled his phone subscription in order to prevent him hanging out with the people from whom he had received the drugs. This added up with what he had been telling me for the past month, so I believed it. But cue the creepy music: this is the part in the horror movie where you don’t understand why the main character has to go deeper into the woods—just turn around and go back home, you darn fool! I decided to not bring up what I had found (or what I hadn’t found) when searching for him. I was more concerned about appearing like a complete creeper than getting direct answers. Maybe I was also a little afraid of finding out the truth as well. And so things continued on, just as dysfunctional and needy as they were before.
Exactly one month later, he drops another bomb on me—he has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and has known about it for the past year. Now, I know this is all bullshit, I KNOW IT. But there’s still that .01% of me that can’t turn my back on him. It could be real. I usually like this quality of mine, this overwhelming need to find the good in everybody, but man, it would be so much easier if it wasn’t there. Anyways, I’m worried sick about him and prepared to do anything he wants in order to help him get through this tough time. But just like last time, I would wake up the next morning and wouldn’t hear from him. This time, the silence lasted for about three months. This time, I was really done. Or at least that’s what I told myself, in between writing him weekly emails. Welp.
When he contacted me again, we pretended like nothing happened. The intensity was also gone. I would try to subtly drop hints that it would be okay if he were to tell me who he really was, that I wouldn’t judge him. He never did. One day, I tried Googling the name that I had found linked to his previous phone number, and I found a family tree blog. The woman had the same birth date as his mother, and the ages of her husband and children matched the ages of Matthew’s family. I Facebooked all of them, and found out that the daughter was basically a male version of Matthew. Her school, major, favorite television shows were all details of his life. She only had one band listed under favorite music, and wouldn’t you know it was just the craziest thing—all of their songs were his band’s songs.
I felt so triumphant that I had finally solved this mystery, and had found what I was looking for. But was I satisfied? I never confronted her about it: I wanted her to be the one to tell me. The one thing that I never got from my search was a “why.” I’m sure this is just me overthinking emotional situations and motivations again, but maybe I gave her the chance to figure herself out. Maybe she wanted to try out being in a relationship with a female, and didn’t have the courage to do it any other way. Maybe we really did connect in that initial meeting, and it snowballed from there. I’ll probably never know. As for me, it gave me the chance to figure myself out. I was unhappy with myself and that led to loneliness, which made it easy for me to be emotionally manipulated. Honestly, I probably needed something stupid like this to happen to me. Now I love who I currently am, the loneliness is gone, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I genuinely hope that she is too.
Photo by Remi Coin