Before the MTV show Catfish aired on television, I experienced a catfishing story of my own. Catfish is a popular MTV reality show that reveals the truth behind online relationships. More often than not, one person finds out that the person he or she fell in love with online is not who that person claimed to be.
All the pieces are there: fake profile, fake pictures, deceiving someone on the opposite side of the screen. I’m a fan of the show, but every time I watch it, I get flashbacks to a time when I was the one behind the screen, hiding behind a fake profile. On the other side of the screen was my ex-boyfriend Sean*.
I’ve never been a malicious person, and I never intended to hurt Sean by creating the profile. The two of us had been in a very weird place for a few years. We started hooking up when I was a sophomore in high school. Though we never defined our relationship as boyfriend/girlfriend, we cared a lot about each other; that much was clear.
The whole relationship was a major roller coaster. One night we would be on the phone until three in the morning talking about everything under the sun, and the next day we would be fighting. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk for weeks at a time. This cycle went on until I lost my virginity to him during winter break of my freshman year of college. After that day, I didn’t hear from him at all except for brief small talk. He seemed to want nothing more to do with me.
After months of crying myself to sleep, some friends and I created Monica* on Facebook. We didn’t create Monica to hurt him; I was just curious to see how he acted around other girls who weren’t me. I wanted to figure him out. I wanted to know if there was someone else, because he had led me to think that having sex would only bring us closer, and it did just the opposite. I wanted to know if he was mean and cold to everyone, or if it was just me whom he would hurt.
My friends and I had fun setting up Monica’s Facebook profile. We found some random girl on a Google search and used that picture as her Facebook profile picture. We created a few more fake profiles to be Monica’s friends and had them write on her wall so it looked less suspicious. We uploaded a few other profile pictures for her, and a few days later, we sent Sean a friend request.
It went exactly as expected. As soon as Sean accepted Monica’s friend request, he messaged her. Their first conversation went well; I knew enough about Sean that it was easy to make them hit it off. We talked about everything: the hobbies they had, their families, their futures. We ended up talking for hours, and eventually he asked “her” to hang out with him next time she was home (which we said was a few towns away from where he lived). This was supposed to be their only conversation, so we had fun playing around with what Monica was like.
I found out what I had needed to know to get some closure: he just didn’t have the feelings for me that he had led me to believe he had. However, it then went beyond him having a connection with this girl; he started saying things that really upset me. He told her how he would love to have a girlfriend but he hadn’t found the right girl, when all I had heard for the past few years was how he wasn’t ready for a relationship. I was hurt, so we decided to take it one step further.
There were times when I would forget that I was talking to him as Monica, and we would be able to talk so easily in a way that we never could in real life. It was such a strange feeling, because I showed my exact personality. I was honestly surprised he didn’t put two and two together and realize she was me.
The whole relationship lasted for only a little more than week. Their only means of communication were Facebook and a friend of mine who texted him from her phone, but they mainly talked through Facebook. Sean opened up to her about really personal things in his life. It wasn’t until the day when Sean revealed a serious personal issue he was having that I realized how wrong this all was.
After Monica went to bed (meaning, my friend and I logged out of her Facebook account), I got a call from him—to the real me. He opened up about those same issues he had just unknowingly revealed to me through Monica. I never felt as horrible as I did in that moment. He was looking to me for help, yet at the same time I was doing something so wrong behind his back. As angry as I was about everything he had done to me, I knew this was worse. Though I could tell he was developing real feelings for Monica, I also knew that he still cared about me, and since I was one of the few people he could actually count on, I knew he would be devastated if he knew the truth.
As soon as I knew he was going to be hurt, I sent him a Facebook message as Monica saying that it was nice to meet him but she couldn’t talk to him anymore. He sent an angry response back, and I immediately deactivated the profile. That was the end of it. I was relieved to end it without trouble.
That night, he messaged me on Facebook saying he was angry, and I asked him why. He told me that he had just been “screwed over” by a girl pretending to like him. I didn’t get the kind of satisfaction that I had hoped I would get from seeing him hurting. Just because he had hurt me over the years didn’t mean that I should have done the same to him.
It’s been more than three years since I deactivated the profile, and Sean and I are still close. He isn’t upset about it anymore (knowing him, he forgot about it in two days), but I will always live with some guilt about the whole situation. We’re not in a relationship, and we never will be (which is my choice now!). I don’t think I will ever be able to have the courage to tell him what I did, but I will take it as a lesson learned for the future.
Catfishing may make for entertaining television, but when you’re involved in that experience firsthand, it’s crazy to realize how your actions could affect someone.
*Names have been changed.
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