I grew up thinking catfish was a type of seafood that was best served Cajun style.
In my adulthood I have learned that catfish is also a term used to describe a group of people who pretend to be someone else, online. Unfortunately, I have met a lot of them. As recently as today-three of them in less than 12 hours! So I am starting to get pissed about this. And as a result, I am digging into the psychology of it and yes, it is extremely complicated.
The etymology of the word in this regard comes from the historical placement of catfish with cod when cod is being shipped. Apparently keeping catfish within a vat of cod keeps the cod agile and alert. So, the term catfish with dating is meant to dictate that the catfish keep us daters on our toes. Well…it seems to be doing something. But, I’m not on my toes.
Dating online exposes a vulnerability of oneself to the world. You become an easy mark for anyone to do what they want digitally. You could be ‘speaking’ to anyone in the world-it could be a child/woman/man/robot and you would not necessarily know. There are men who have lied to me about their age, name, ethnicity, race, occupation, place they live, what they want from dating. AND there are men who have lied to me about who they are. THEY are the catfish. (This is not limited to men, but I only search for men, so my experience is with men. But note, women play fair game here too).
These catfish aren’t all looking for the same thing. Some of them seem to like the chase. Others like the flirtatious and sexual conversations. And there are those who try to get something from you-financially. Like a man I was talking to last month who told me he was moving from one state to another for work. When I asked him why he sounded upset about it, he said the moving company isn’t able to ship his stuff to the city he’s moving to unless someone can sign for the shipment…and he didn’t know anyone in the city who could do that for him. I did NOT fall for that trap.
Earlier this year a friend of mine tried online dating for the first time. She met someone who wasn’t very kind to her, in my opinion, but she always gives people the benefit of the doubt. He never answered her questions about what he did for work. Always wrote poetry to her instead of real conversation. She thought that meant he was sensitive but whenever she tried to know something more about him he’d get upset. One day he told her he needed a loan to take care of business he didn’t expect to have trouble with. He got upset that she asked him what is was for. He tried to make her feel bad about herself and double guess her suspicion. They hadn’t yet had a phone call/video chat. He was apparently in another part of the world. Eventually she said goodbye and ended it. She was jaded after that…and left online dating. Thankfully, she met someone the conventional way and now is being given the love she’s been waiting for.
Last year, another friend of mine was talking with someone who said he was in Dubai temporarily on a work trip for a couple of weeks. He was all roses with her on the phone with texting and the occasional phone call but wouldn’t FaceTime. They texted and talked on the phone for hours, but the lack of desire to video chat was fishy. After one month of a multitude of hours on the phone and no follow through with either his coming home or getting on a video chat, she finally figured out he wasn’t real. She was heartbroken. It wasn’t easy for her to understand the motivation and she took months to get back into trusting.
As I mentioned earlier, I went fishing three times today. One was a man who had been talking to me for the past 2 weeks. He already blew me off last weekend but I gave him another chance when he behaved extremely apologetically. Such sincerity, I thought, that despite my telling him that forgetting a date is one of the worst things you can do in dating, he asked for another chance and that he’d be bringing me flowers. Not only on the upcoming date, but at all dates. So, I kept speaking with him and actually started to build up excitement to meet him. I was starting to like him.
And our date was supposed to be tonight. But I’m here, writing this blog instead, because he NEVER confirmed the date and still hasn’t replied to my messages. In his case, perhaps he got off on the conversation that was becoming sexual. I put limits on how far I would go and the more I do this, the more limits I continue to put out. But, maybe he doesn’t get ANY action so just the image of kissing each other is enough for him to get off. Can’t imagine what else he got out of this.
The other man was telling me I have entered his heart already (I have only been exchanging messages with him for 4 days-he says he is out of town and will be back next week). HOW is that possible? We have hardly messaged. I challenged him and asked him. He hasn’t set up a date despite my asking him to and when I asked him to video chat/talk on the phone, he became silent.
The third one-a man sent me a message and started telling me he was visiting another country but at the same time told me he was in a city a few hundred miles away and then a second later said he was in my town. All of that in less than 2 minutes. I caught him off guard and told him I was sick and tired of catfish-men pretending to be someone else and I didn’t have the desire to engage with fake men. He deleted his profile immediately.
This is only today. In the past 1.5 years of my doing this, I have met many more than 3 catfish.
There is so much energy that goes into dating. Each time we start communicating with someone we have to shed some of our layers so we can get to know the other one sincerely. And when we are met with someone who is scamming us, it feels deceptive and leads to mistrust.
I can’t pretend this doesn’t bother me. It absolutely 100% does. It’s sadistic behavior. The psychology behind it suggests the catfish are people who may have self-esteem issues/are confined to their homes/don’t socialize or have a community of their own/are purely criminal minded.
I began this journey with trust in humans and faith in the process that dating will lead me to my life long partner. I still do have that belief but I’m not sure it it’ll be online. I am not jaded but if I don’t learn from these experiences then what am I doing? The definition of insanity is doing something repetitively with the same result each time.
I have tried Match, E Harmony, Hinge, Ok Cupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Elite Singles, Fitness Singles, The League. That’s a whole lot of sites! Without a boyfriend to prove it.
Catfishing didn’t seem to be a problem years ago when I was doing this but now, it’s pervasive. So much so, that I am walking into each new interaction with suspicion. I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s like being armed if you are an officer-you need to be prepared if you find yourself up against an enemy. The men I meet are definitely not an enemy-hopefully they will be the exact opposite-but until I find the one who isn’t posing as someone else I need to be careful and protect myself.
I am only responsible for one person in this-myself. If I allow myself to be trampled on and served as bait then I have lost. Instead I stand up confidently, believing in my intuition that so far has been correct and call the shots. If you are not who you say you are, you will most definitely run away.
Fish don’t like to be caught.