When the news story broke about football player Manti Te'o and the online hoax he was involved in, that was for most of the world the first time they'd heard the term "Catfish"
For those not familiar, it sprung from a documentary a couple of years ago about an attractive guy named Nev Schulman, that met a beautiful young woman online through FaceBook. Turns out she was not the woman she was purporting herself to be. In the movie (I'll try not to spoil it any further) but let's just a a "slow" guy in the movie explains the role of catfish in life - hence the term.....Catfish.
Flash forward, now it is a term that simply stands for those that pretend to be someone or something they are not online. Nev has gone on to have a weekly show by the name Catfish on MTV. Nev and his camera crew follow people on the quest to discover if the person they are communicating with is real or just a Catfish.
For many people that have never established a relationship online, they don't understand and question how you can develop feelings and emotions for someone you have never met in person. That is at the core of the Manti Te'o saga, people just can't understand how he could possibly have fallen for a woman he never met face to face. It can and does happen everyday.
I happen to be of the school of thought that the world if filled with lonely males and females of every age, ethnicity, profession and sexual orientation. People that have a difficult time connecting with others, or those with identity or self esteem issues. People that want love and companionship but are uneasy about meeting someone face to face. So they turn to the internet. There, they can be whoever and whatever they want. They can hide behind the anonymous nature of the internet. I say if you want to have a connection with someone online there is nothing wrong with that. As long as both parties agree it will be kept online.
In other words if you are a loner type guy living in New York and you are texting, emailing and chatting with an active woman that wants more than just online, you're not a good fit.
I have dated and communicated over the years with countless men I met online. I have made friends and in a couple of instances ended up in relationships with men I met online. From my vast online contact with others I can spell out 5 simple red flags to look out for to avoid being caught up in a Catfish relationship. Manti Te'o is kicking himself for not having me in his life. It would have spared him an enormous about of heartache and public embarrassment in the press.
1. To Busy.
If you meet someone online and they tell you how much they care about you, love you, want to touch you.....yet they never seem to have the time to meet you face to face (especially after 2 months) they are a Catfish. Catfish the TV show illustrates this point perfectly. There are people that have connected for years with someone online only and they never thought it was odd that the person they were dealing with never had time to meet them in person. If you make a date to meet and the other person repeatedly comes up with a reason to avoid following through - you need to not only ask yourself, but you should ask the person you're dealing with - how invested in the relationship are they?
2. "My dog ate my homework"
Pay close attention to what is said to you online. If the person you are communicating with lies to you....even once, and you catch them in a lie, walk away. I have people contact me often through my personal website for friendship, online chats and yes...sometimes men that flirt. I had a guy that tried his best to "come on" to me last year. I received an email out of the blue from him that was one of the most well written and entertaining emails I had ever received. I had to respond.
He claimed to be a head writer for SNL (NBC) and also claimed to have been the head writer for all of Dana Carvey's skits. One of the funniest comedy skits I have ever seen on television period is Head Wound Harry, so I was impressed. Any mind that could conceive that was a mind I wanted to get to know. I love a man that can write and a guy with a good sense of humor, so again I would say, I was impressed. We exchanged a flurry of emails over the course of a couple of months in which he would regale me with stories about his favorite skits he had written. When he told me he was one of the head writers for Tina Fey's Sarah Palin skits, that's when I began to wonder what was true from fantasy? Surely this man knew it would be super simple to verify if he was telling me the truth.
It took me less than 3 minutes to discover he was a fraud. When I called him out on it, he said (ironically what a cheating ex of mine once said) "I can't be with someone that doesn't trust me!"
If one day the person you are connecting with says he only has one sister and her name is Sally. And then a week later he is referring to her as Sue....that's a red flag. As I always say, if people lie to you about the little things, why would you be shocked to find out they lied about something big?
3. Use Technology
We live in a day and age when everyone loves to share photos. Of themselves, family, friends, animals, hobbies....you name it and it is all but guaranteed someone has taken a photo. There is an abundance of software available that allows you to use facial recognition technology to find out if who you are communicating with is the real deal. Catfish TV Show uses Google to do so each week. By simply taking a photo of any person's face and entering it into a search, it will scour the internet and find other sites where that person is on. So say for instance you have fallen for a guy on FaceBook who says his name is Rich. You can track his photo and if it comes back that he is on different sites with a different name.....red flag.
Then it is a matter of determining who is telling the truth. Is he really Richard or is he Juan?
4. Gay or Straight?
Another really big lesson I learned from the Catfish show, there are A LOT of gays and lesbians pretending to be people they aren't online....I mean A LOT!
When someone is hesitant about meeting in person, my first and gut instinct is the person doesn't look like they are portraying themselves to look. But if they avoid phone contact, that is a HUGE red flag because that means they don't want you to hear their voice. There was one episode where this guy had fallen head over heels for this beautiful young girl. She was always provocative with him and sexually explicit with her emails and text messages. She was always asking him to share photos of himself nude (which he did).
Long story short - they finally met in person and SHE was a HE! He was a gay guy trolling for guys online and offered up a weak apology about how lonely he was and how because he was from a small community, there were no other gays for him to connect with.
It's bad enough if someone is putting off meeting you in person, but if they won't even speak via phone........you're dealing with a Catfish.
5. Use your Psychic Abilities
We all have them, it's just some of us listen to ours more than others. It's that little voice in the back of your mind that tells you something isn't right. When you hear it, believe it! Trust your gut, no matter how lonely you are or how much you are starting to fall for this person....trust your gut.
By watching Catfish the movie and TV show I will say this. For myself, I could fall in love with someone I have never met face to face. I get it. It is possible (especially if you're like me and you are moved far more than words and emotions than looks) what a man says to me can and does lure my mind and heart in. I get it. Especially if you are interacting with someone over an extended period of time, sharing your life virtually, your day to day activities, wishes, hopes, fears, drama and such.....you can come to love someone. I get it.
But.....sometimes there is that moment when you can tell something isn't right. For goodness sakes, it happens in real life away from the internet. You can be married and have this nagging feeling your spouse is cheating on you. Sadly for too many, they find out they were right. Or that business colleague that you just don't trust, but can't put your finger on. That feeling that you should turn left instead of right. That is your psychic ability at play. Learn to listen and trust it online and off.
Lastly, I watched an interview Nev Schulman had in the aftermath of Manti Te'o's Catfish drama in which he said a red flag is when the person you are connecting with has a string of big issues in their lives, they may be a Catfish. Looking to lure someone in and keep them on the line with all their drama. I disagree.
I have learned in life there really are millions of people that just have lives that are always in flux. Just like Manti's make believe girlfriend that had a car accident, cancer, etc. etc.etc. If you are connecting with someone that has a ton of baggage, don't let that be something that prevents you from being with them. That doesn't make them a Catfish.
They can have all the drama and heartbreak in the world, but if they are avoiding being with you, meeting you and seeing you in person because of it, then and only then can you officially call them a Catfish.
If they do follow through and meet you despite all their baggage, that is simply called life.