Last year, one of my biggest guilty pleasures was watching Catfish: The TV Show (and I still do). After having his online romance be exposed as fake in the independent documentary Catfish, Nev Schulman and his filmmaker friend Max Joseph started Catfish: The TV Show with MTV to follow people as they try to find out the truth about their online relationships. Frequently, these are very serious, long-term relationships between people who have never met in person that turn out to be based on partly or entirely false pretenses. Watching the fall-out as the truth is revealed is so scandalous that the show is rather addicting. The term “catfish” was coined in the documentary, when someone recalled the practice of putting catfish in with vats of cod to chase them, keeping the muscles active while they’re being transported. He contended that there are some people in life who are like those catfish, keeping you on your toes and making sure you’re constantly guessing and thinking – keeping life from getting boring.
Which is one way of looking at it.
For the past three weeks, I explored the world of online dating: Adventures, Part 1 and Part 2. In this short amount of time, I’ve probably seen more prospective suitors than I have in the past 22 years of my life – such is the fast-paced nature of online dating. To say that I’m burned out would be an understatement, which is pretty sad after only three weeks; I’m sure there are plenty of people who rely on online dating as a primary method of meeting people on a regular basis.
Dating in general is an eventful activity that’s bound to yield a number of crazy stories – some bad and some good. But my experience with online dating in particular has really just been a journey of tragic hilarity. A couple of weeks ago, I started talking to a guy I met on Tinder. He was 25, and graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in history. He told me that he was a teacher at a high school in a city next to my hometown and taught government and basic English, and also coached football. We talked every day, and met up in person while I was home for fall break. He was definitely the guy in his pictures, and that’s always a good sign, right? But towards the end of the week, he started acting kind of strange. I figured he was just busy, but by the time I got back to ND, I could tell something was definitely off.
One of the (questionable) appeals to Tinder is that there’s a degree of anonymity – all you get is a person’s pictures, their first name, their distance away from you, a short blurb, and any mutual friends or interests that match up through Facebook. You don’t get anything truly identifiable, such as their last name or actual location. But I needed to know more about this guy; he wasn’t listed as faculty at the school he said he worked at, nor was he listed as a football coach. I convinced myself that the websites just hadn’t been updated with the new instructors yet. I tried typing his phone number into Facebook search to see if a profile came up, but had no luck there. Finally, I Googled his phone number and first name – the only two things I definitely knew. This yielded only one search result – a profile on a job search site called guru.com. The profile advertised him as a voice actor with skills in broadcasting and modeling. From this, I got his last name and searched for him on Facebook, only to find that this person not only lied about his job as a high school teacher, but about his living situation and relationship status. Almost everything he told me was a lie; in reality, he worked at a radio station as a newscaster and was engaged with a one year old son.
Looking back, there were several red flags that I shouldn’t have let go, such as when he initially said he lived in my hometown of Auburn and was attending the university for a masters in education administration. When I found out he actually lived in a neighboring city, he easily covered his lie and said he commuted for class only once or twice a week through a distance-learning program. In my defense, his lies seemed very solid; he even talked about what it was like to facilitate discussion in his classes. But as Nev and Max pointed out on MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show, when you really like someone, you don’t always see all of the red flags that an objective person would. I was lucky enough to figure out the truth before things went on for too long.
After all of that, I joked with my friends that I figured everything out all on my own, and I didn’t need MTV or national television to help me. Really, anyone with Internet access and decent search skills could have done it. However, when Catfish: The TV Show came out last year, Nev explained, “Whether or not two people are totally lying to each other and it turns out to be a huge disaster, that’s only the first part of the story. We then want to know why they are doing it, who they are, what they are feeling, what led them to this place, and why that resonates with thousands of other young people…”. And that’s something I’ll never really know about my “Catfish” of sorts – why he felt the need to fabricate the details of his life beyond hiding his fiancee. People cheat, and it’s terrible, but I understand that it happens. What I don’t understand is constructing an entirely different life just for fun.
Needless to say, I have officially deleted my Tinder. If ever there was a cosmic sign to do so, it was this. But things could have been worse. And at least I wasn’t the only one.