Catfish

For those unfamiliar with the term, a Catfish is someone who creates fake profiles or personas online. I was introduced to the term when I watched the film by the same name and was amazed that anyone would go to that much trouble to dupe anyone into meeting them. In cases of fraud where a false identity is a way to con someone out of money, the reasons are more obvious, but in cases where money isn’t the motivation, I can’t quite get my head around it.

Now there are certain things you’d be stupid not to take into account. If you expect everyone to look exactly like their airbrushed, snapchat filtered profile pictures, then I can’t help you. My general rule of thumb is to add at least 8 years worth of ageing onto someone’s face, along with some scars or moles, and you’re there. But if you’re meeting someone having talked to them online, then your reasons should probably go beyond their appearance anyway. Most people will be honest about the fact that their pictures are angled and filtered to appear more flattering, I know I am. If they’re not, then that’s where the dishonesty comes in, which can be more of a problem than how someone looks. 

We’ve all heard the more extreme tales. Those living double lives, who create multiple accounts and have several girlfriends on the go, or worse, have families they’ve neglected to mention online. The most recent, a story just this week about a man who used the picture of a Bollywood actor and a fictitious profile on a dating site, who was eventually found out. Unfortunately, Catfishing isn’t a crime unless money’s involved and even then, it’s difficult to prove that their means of obtaining it were fraudulent if it was a voluntary transaction. 

What interests me more, are those people who lie about their feelings online. They don’t necessarily pretend to be someone else or use a fake profile, but strike up a friendship on social media and pretend to have fallen in love with you or make promises they have no intention of keeping. I’ve heard of cases where they’ve gone on to meet in real life and then ceased communication abruptly, or even backtracked when their offer to meet has been accepted. 

The obvious reasons would be that they’ve enjoyed the fantasy aspect of social media. Many of us think of it as escapism. There is clearly nothing wrong with that, or with forging friendships in person with people you’ve met online. It’s easy to get carried away and see things through rose tinted glasses when reality is kept at bay and that is where the problems begin. Talking to someone about mundane everyday things, having a joke and a giggle, discussing things that aren’t important, are all fun and easy. These are not the things relationships are built on. It’s not until you’ve encountered anything negative, any kind of crisis, an illness, a problem with family or at work, that you can even begin to understand if you have something solid that goes beyond a bit of fun. 

I’ve spoken before about a relationship I had with someone on twitter. How despite him lying about things almost from the start, I fell for him and supported him through major events in his life, only for things to change when the roles were reversed. He was never unkind enough to say that he didn’t fancy me in person or that we just didn’t have the same chemistry, in fact, I had been ready for that. Even the day we first met, I had been looking out for even the slightest giveaway, a look of disappointment or a shift in behaviour, and I hadn’t seen any evidence of it. In fact, immediately afterwards, he had seemed more keen than ever. To this day, I don’t know if he was overcompensating or just a very good liar or I if am projecting my own fears onto him. The breakdown of our relationship may well have had nothing to do with him feeling any differently about me in person, but just real life getting in the way or his circumstances changing, but I’ll never be able to shake off that feeling. 

That was the first and last time I ever took things that far with anyone online, but several men have tried and their motives still puzzle me. Your average DM slider looking for a bit of fun is one thing, but I’ve been discussing this with various women on twitter, and the sheer number of intense men who insist they’re in love or have feelings for you, who either take it back or back off completely after a real life meeting are quite staggering. 

In the space of a year, I’ve had 2 men say they loved me. One stopped talking to me almost immediately after I said I didn’t feel the same and didn’t want to meet up, and prompted a mass exodus of people from my twitter. I still have no idea what he told them. The second, I got a lot closer to, believed to be a good person, but later proved to be no different than all the others, still insisting, right till the end, that he hadn’t played me and that I needed help for my “distortions.” This, despite him being completely unable to explain his actions and behaviour towards me. Recent events had armed him with the vocabulary and science to denigrate anything I said instead of considering why he had done the things he had. 

Take this as an example: I was horribly sick a few months ago, to the point where my sister was insisting on taking me to A&E. I declined and it passed, but during that time, he was busy trying to impress another woman on twitter too much to even once, ask how I was feeling. To add insult to injury, he later told me he had called his ex girlfriend because she was upset about her sick cat. We spoke about this many times afterwards, with his reasons varying wildly from me not being sick enough to warrant a call or even ask “how are you feeling”? to me not being “real life” enough, just a virtual friend. Calling isn’t something he would do for someone he had previously claimed to love (something he steadily took back as well, until now whenever I bring it up, he can only bear to talk about it in the third person) because they’d only “regularly” called people they were in a relationship with (though extenuating circumstances only seemed to apply to ex girlfriends’ cats, not me)  Never had I asked why he didn’t call me regularly, it was the direct comparison that hurt. At one point, he even hinted I had exaggerated or made the whole illness up. At the time, I had found the not calling impersonal. Now, he’d consider a text a huge effort. 

We went around in circles for months before he admitted his behaviour was inexcusable. It shouldn’t have taken that long, but he did seem to have learned his lesson, alas just for a few days. His behaviour continued in much the same vein until I couldn’t take it anymore and asked him to leave me alone, which he did when it suited him and didn’t when he was bored or lonely. It got to the stage where every comment felt like a barb and his complete inability to show any warmth or kindness towards me or show any regard for how his actions would make me feel, no consideration (a packet of camomile tea to help me sleep when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety was the extent of his support) when I needed it, meant I had no choice but to make him promise to stay away. He’d always blamed a lack of reassurance from me for his behaviour, but just as I had always suspected, nothing changed even when he got it. He said I always thought I was right. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case if he hadn’t always proved me right in every misgiving I had about him. 

More recently, I have been suffering from health problems which I know he has been following on twitter. Had he stayed away like I asked, I’d have been grateful, but he let me know he had seen my tweets and told me to call 111 if it happened again. That was it. Not so much as a “how are you feeling” or “what’s happened?” which felt far worse than if I hadn’t heard from him at all and could’ve at least pretended he didn’t know. That was exactly what I had wanted to avoid when I’d asked him to leave me be. He said he was only doing as I’d asked by leaving me alone, that anyone would, conveniently forgetting the longest absences were his decision alone, with a belief that I would just suck it up and things would be fine when or if he deigned to return. 

Near strangers on twitter, by comparison, have sent emails, texts, DMs and the sweetest tweets asking after me. In my lowest moments, when I’ve been worrying about how serious my illness is, which in turn has been feeding into the depression, I’ve spent so long beating myself up for caring about someone who is incapable of caring about me and cursing my judgement once again, that I’ve no doubt ended up feeling far worse. 

But what prompts people to behave in such a way and still insist it’s you who needs help for feeling hurt, and not them for being unable to exhibit what they claimed to have felt to the person they said it to, but go out of their way to be kind and compassionate to relative strangers in front of you? The unanswered questions often keep me up at night. When I had previously told him about people whose behaviour had made me feel like this, he had told me to forget about it and how he hated them for it. But now apparently, it’s all in my head. He never could take it when I questioned his words. Insisting he missed me, but choosing to disappear repeatedly without explanation. Making a point of telling me about occasions where he apologised to others for silly things, but never unprompted to me, despite always taking me for granted. Arrogantly assuming I’d always be there, putting up with being treated like that, and seemingly only using anything he learned to tell me *I* needed help, deviate from any wrongdoing on his part, accept no responsibility, even for things he’d previously accepted, not take any criticism and just appoint blame constantly. The introspection part appeared to have passed him by. This new version of him was so different, a cold and distant stranger, it made it easier to let go and move on, something I had steadily refused to do for months despite not hearing from him. The inexplicable behaviour however, made it harder to get any kind of closure.

Once is a mistake, twice is deliberate. I always did say, behaviour is everything. If all you can offer is advice and presents to make up for your complete lack of human kindness that you can offer to a pet belonging to someone you no longer speak to, then perhaps it’s not upto you to advise others on getting help. If you don’t have the capacity to care about someone beyond fun and games, then don’t say you do, or take offence when it’s pointed out to you that that’s what it is. This is no different to Catfishing, a made up persona that you may want to be, yearn to be, but isn’t you. 

By sharp contrast, friends in real life, even those I haven’t known for very long, have put up with endless tears, moaning, worrying, anger (even directed at them), frustration and lengthy monologues about how scared I am and feeling sorry for myself, without holding it against me. They’ve made no promises. They haven’t fobbed me off with numbers or gifts. They’ve put in the work, provided words of comfort, been there even in the middle of the night, put me first and simply stayed. I haven’t had to ask for help because they’ve stayed close enough to see when I’ve needed it, asked questions, shown an interest. Love? Love is just a word to be thrown around and then locked away, because you can. A means to an end that didn’t quite pan out, but was still justified repeatedly. 

It was understanding this and accepting it, that finally prompted me to move on and free him to do what he wanted while he got to distance themselves from the decision. Knowing the sweet, caring person I had once known was no longer there, or had never been there, who now seemed to change his mind on a daily basis about everything, would never be someone I could rely on. I can’t imagine finding out anyone I had once been close to was suffering and not caring. I had always believed some things were more important than any differences you had with someone, but past experiences should have taught me by now that that’s not the case with everyone.(I’ve no doubt there will be a number of excuses for that too, because that’s what helps them to answer their conscience now.)  Not with someone who consistently put you last and whose need to be desired by everyone, even those they had no interest in, would always be paramount, me included. 

What I hadn’t wanted, was the erosion of everything that I had loved about us. I had tried to avoid it by walking away months ago, to preserve the good, but hadn’t been allowed to until everything that had ever meant something, had either been taken back, denigrated, or disappeared entirely. After all that, telling you it’s not something intrinsically wrong with you that makes people behave this way just seems comical. It’s not their issue for treating me that way, but mine for believing it, and something I should seek help for. What do you say to that other than “leave me alone.” To continue talking to soneone in that headspace who is completely unwilling to listen, not hear you, but actually LISTEN, is pointless. I came to understand that I would always be alone when I was upset or hurting. It had only ever worked one way, with me wanting to make things better for him, pick up the phone when he was upset, mop up his tears, ask what I could do to help, let him lash out at me even when it wasn’t my fault, to stop him crying. It never worked both ways. That’s not something that can be learned or someone can help you with. You either care or you don’t, and he didn’t. In a stupid, twisted, cruel way, knowing that has helped to close that chapter off in my head. I came to belatedly realise that if we couldn’t meet in person, our friendship meant nothing to him. It was always conditional. 

Although this doesn’t apply to the first man I mentioned, the thing to look out for seems to be excessive secrecy. This has certainly been the case in all but one of my experiences and those of my friends. It stands to reason that the deceit probably isn’t limited to just you. Social media is their playing field and they’re making the most of it with as many people as they can. Either that, or they want to keep their options open if things don’t work out with one person. What they haven’t factored in, is women talk. I’ve learned my lesson not to do that anymore. People don’t want to be told and often want to buy into the myth, nor would I listen if anyone tried to warn me off a friend. Unfortunately, most truths are learned the hard way, but a woman scorned, with the benefit of hindsight, is not to be messed with. Let that be a warning to anyone who is thinking of trying this method of Catfishing. 

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