I'm Still Friends With a Woman Who Catfished Me. Twice.
Ten years ago, I was fooled by two women I’d never met in real life. The first one lied about a pending divorce and sent me fake pictures. The second neglected to tell me that she and the first woman were the same person.
"Catfishing," or the sketchy act of luring a man or woman into a relationship by using a fake online persona, is everywhere. And it especially abounds in the virtual dating world, where one in 10 online profiles are fraudulent. Catfishing has become such a problem that dating platforms like Badoo now offer photo-verification services to ensure the people chatting you up are, in fact, who they say they are.
Far weirder than being catfished in the first (and second) place is the fact that I still count the woman as a friend. The reasons for this are a little complex; starting with my own shortcomings in recognizing red flags -- and ending with the fact that after going through this experience and coming out on the other side, we actually became bonded to one another.
I failed to recognize the dangers of blogging while single
I met "Sarah" -- and later, "Kate" -- through Sarah’s blog. At the time, I was writing a lot and enjoying meeting new people from all over the world online.
As a single guy, the interaction was naturally a little more exciting when a woman was involved. When Sarah replied to me in the comments section of her posts, we clicked and I quickly switched into high school-crush mode.
In her blog, Sarah often wrote about an affair she had with a co-worker that eventually broke up her marriage. I'm still trying to untangle why that obvious red flag fanned my interest in her.
Sure, Sarah was smart and tough, her words were clever, and she brought an energy to her interaction with people that made me want to come back. But I also clung to each chapter of her sordid tale; each post further complicating her sexy, lying, regretful experience.
I was unable to gauge where we were heading
Once we clicked, Sarah and I became all about each other -- first as friends, then more. In the friend-crush stage, we adored each other’s writing. We plastered comments on each other’s pages. We exchanged email addresses and played tag all day.
Evolving into something romantic through text happens differently than it does in person. In real life, even if things happen gradually, there’s usually a moment. Someone makes a move that gets accepted or rebuffed. But online, it’s more like watching a cake bake. There’s a slow chemical change from friendly conversation to friendship to flirtation to affection to caring. Sometimes, you don't even realize the transition is happening. There's no gauge telling you where you are on the scale at any moment.
Sarah and I showed mutual affection publicly on our blogs, and intimate affection in the privacy of our email exchanges. When we decided to talk on the phone, I was sold after just a few seconds. She had this darling Aussie accent; which, combined with her pictures and clever words, secured my belief that she was every bit the woman I'd been idealizing for weeks.
After one week of us speaking by phone, my cell carrier called me to say I’d spent enough on international calls to feed a child in the third world for a decade. It's as good a case as any for an international calling plan -- or Skype.
I didn't write her off once the jig was up
One day Sarah’s blog was gone and her online profile had been deleted. I had spoken to her hours earlier, and she hadn’t given an indication something like this was in the works. I emailed her to ask what happened, but days passed with no reply.
When she finally responded, she told me that her blog had been outed to people she cared about. That email was the last time Sarah and I were ever in contact. I emailed her several times after, but she never responded.
That’s when Kate wrote to me. She and I interacted on Sarah’s blog before, but rarely emailed. She wanted to know how I was doing, because she knew Sarah and I were close. Kate began writing me regularly. I had a big empty hole from someone I liked quite a bit disappearing. And Kate was kind. She helped fill the void.
Kate’s flirting was subtle at first. Maybe that’s why it didn’t set off any alarms. But on some level I should have considered the odds. What are the chances that I’d have a virtual relationship with one woman, and the moment she disappeared, another woman in the same circle would pop from the wings saying, “Let’s go, big boy”? Things like that don’t happen outside of a late-night Cinemax movie.
"Shady" usually comes in a six-pack -- but I forgave her anyway
When Kate and I decided to talk on the phone for the first time, she only had to speak two words for me to know it was Sarah.
There’s no movie technique that’s closer to real life than the one where a character realizes he’s been fooled, and all the moments from earlier in the film where he should have realized it cycle across the screen. That was me holding the phone and stammering my words.
Kate created the “Sarah” persona so that she could write the story of her affair and what it did to her marriage anonymously. But she hadn’t started off with the intention to fool anyone.
But unlike Sarah’s story, Kate and her husband had worked it out. Kate was still married. In fact, her husband had often been milling about the house while I was talking to Sarah on the phone. She told me it was her dad at the time. Feel free to cringe.
Moving on was harder than I thought. Initially, I walked away. But every once in a while I’d wonder if we could pull a friendship from this mess. One day, maybe six years later, I woke to an email from Kate. It found me in a good place: I was with someone, and we were happy. So was Kate. She’d finally, really divorced her husband, remarried, and moved half a world away. As bizarre as our history is, the simple fact that we were both happy made it possible to put the craziness behind us. I remember talking to this young woman who was miserable and needed love, and I wanted better for her. She had it now.
These days we email here and there. We complain about work and share weekend plans and great things we cooked. We’ve shared a lot over 10 years. Actually, she shared enough for two people. Literally.
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Christopher Daniels is reformed blogger who now only dates avatars. Follow his awkward social interactions on Twitter: @DCI_Chavez.