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.