“I mean, you can’t make a Tinder profile without connecting it to Facebook,” my housemate reasoned. “So you kinda know people are legit, don’t you?”
I agreed, whole-heartedly. Anything to justify that upcoming Tinder date I definitely wouldn’t be telling mum about. After all, this guy was 100% a real person. I’d already scrolled back to his secondary school leavers’ photos. I knew who he went to Amsterdam with last year. I could take a pretty good guess at who his BFF was. I’d found his Insta, Twitter and LinkedIn. Oh, not to mention the match reports he wrote for his university paper back in 2013.
I’m not sure when exactly I decided a welltended online presence was synonymous with proof of identity… but somewhere along the line, I had. I definitely wasn’t about to get catfished.
The word “catfish” first crept onto my radar back in second year. My housemates and I had struck up a deal: we’d all introduce the others to our favourite trashy TV show. Alongside Made in Chelsea, Ex on the Beach and Geordie Shore (my contribution, but we won’t talk about that) something was brought to the table. Something utterly brilliant. An MTV miracle, so to speak. It was Catfish: The TV Show. From Nev Schulman’s dreamy eyes to the constant drama unfolding each episode, I was soon hooked (pun intended). Basically, the show is a spin-off of 2010 documentary Catfish – which saw Nev filmed by older brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost. To cut a long story short, he’d been having something of an online relationship with sexy girl-next-door “Megan.” Well, so he thought. Turns out “Megan” was actually older woman Angela. It’s a pretty heartbreaking tale actually, but I won’t spoil it for you. The point is: if you strike up a relationship with someone online, you can’t assume that people are who they say they are. No matter how many pictures they have on Facebook.
‘you can’t assume that people are who they say they are’
But hang on: how do you get from dodgy online fake persona to this rather odd maritime metaphor of the ‘catfish’? Well, perhaps the most striking line of the documentary was this: “They used to take cod from Alaska all the way to China,” Angela’s husband Vince explained. “By the time the cod reached China the flesh was mush, tasteless.” To keep the cod moving, someone came up with the idea of putting catfish in the tank to “keep the cod agile.”
“There are people who are catfish in life, who keep you on your toes,” Vince said. “They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh.” Poetic, right? But while Nev’s story might have ended *relatively* peacefully, the resulting MTV series showed that catfish scenarios are often anything but. Take Spencer Morrill, from Nashville. He genuinely believed he was dating Katy Perry for six years. Turns out it was a teenager from Gloucester. I’d hazard a guess Spencer wasn’t feeling too fresh after that discovery.
Neither was our anonymous Comment writer, whose chilling tale featured last issue. Thinking he’d met “the man of his dreams,” he arranged to meet someone who, it turned out, wasn’t who he’d said he was. Sharing this story was no doubt extremely hard, and we were so grateful this student felt able to. After all, you never think it’s going to happen to you.
Happily, I’ve never found myself catfished. But reading last issue’s account highlighted just how easily it can happen. You don’t have to be desperate, or stupid. All it takes is a little misplaced trust. If you’re an honest person, it can be hard to believe someone could do something like that.
‘All it takes is a little misplaced trust’
So why would they?!
Well: after some intense research (*cough* MTV) I’ve decided there are two kinds of “cat- fish.” The first? Those who simply don’t feel able to meet people as themselves. There have been some truly heart-wrenching episodes revealing would-be lovers who set up fake profiles, met someone – and then found themselves unable to pick their way out of the lies, terrified they’d face rejection. Of course it’s wrong… but haven’t we all wished we could be someone else at times? Infinitely more sinister are the catfish who deliberately reel someone in. Our Comment writer suspects his Tinder match was one of these – but luckily, friends stepped in before he got the chance to find out.
So, how does one avoid being catfished? Well, we all know the safety lecture: meet in a public space, don’t get in a car with a stranger, tell someone where you’re heading… but thing is, you can take all the precautions and still end up heartbroken. Even if you never thought you were dating Katy Perry.
So by all means keep hunting down your 2k17 romance on Tinder. But when you meet them, do me a solid and be safe. And in addition to that: guard your heart. Sure, there’s plenty of fish in the sea… but no-one wants to fall hook, line and sinker for the catfish. Not on Valentine’s Day.