I’m not great at immediately hating a person who’s wronged me; I’d rather sit down, have a chat and understand why you’ve decided to piss all over my life instead. A Claire Underwood approach, if you will, that builds confidence in my decision to either forgive you or never know you again. Which is probably why, after seven weeks of lying about his identity, I decided to meet my catfish in person. Someone who was not really named Alan — the Crossfit enthusiast and political expert, who was charming, slightly arrogant, and totally my type.
Except for the fact that he was absolutely ungoogleable and disappeared after 10 p.m. every night. He never kept plans, went MIA for days, and refused to send selfies or talk on FaceTime. A week into the conversation, I knew something in the milk was not clean, and after several weeks I finally figured out what it was. He was a catfish — and a terrible one at that, because I found his real name in a picture he sent of his computer screen, where he was logged into the Wall Street Journal.
Confronting him felt like a card I had to play — he knew where I lived, where I worked, and other intimate details about my life. So I carefully called him out over email, which spiraled into a day-long phone call to discuss the details of the entire ordeal. He told me how his deep depression prompted the idea to create an escape through an online profile. And how five days later, after a handful of silly convos, he met me — a match he deeply regrets. “There came a time around the third week when I hated myself for doing this and tried to backtrack,” he admits. “I started to like you and I didn't want to hide. I guess all chickens come home to roost.”
Roost they did, although for some reason, I didn’t get angry. And maybe that’s because my mother has been right all these years — maybe I really do lack any sort of common sense.
But I know depression. That heifer and I go waaaaay back. And if I were in his shoes, being forgiven in person could potentially change everything for me. So I took a risk — wrote my iPhone password on my apartment wipe board, along with a short list of the bills I had to pay and a few friend’s phone numbers. I also emailed myself his picture, his IP address, and a few other details to help track him should this all go fatally wrong. (I’m not entirely dumb, Mom.) And then I met him in one of the most crowded places in New York — outside a little wine store in the Chelsea Market.
How I Let This Happen
Initially, I thought I was being plucky and curious during those seven weeks, sort of like a Puerto Rican Carmen San Diego. But plucky doesn’t blow off work for an hour just to text a boy. It doesn’t tell your girlfriends all about him and check for his texts first thing every morning. Truth be told, something was up with me, too — a curious love columnist maybe, but that was no excuse for putting up with the hijinks of an unsettling man. And after watching enough of my friends lift a speculative eyebrow, I had to ask myself, What the fuck am I doing?
But here’s the truth: The one I know I shouldn’t say out loud in 2016, because Oprah, Ellen, Madonna, Shonda, and every episode of Sex and the City should have taught me better by now. However, it’s the reason I found myself in this dark situation and I know I can't possibly be alone in feeling this way. So I’m just going to raise my hand, chuck the shame, and say it out loud in a bold-faced pull quote:
Sometimes, when the thing we want feels so out of reach, we fly close to the sun and let ourselves get burned — on purpose. It’s a self-sabotage of sorts; when you love something so wrong for you because it feels better — and more sure — than waiting for the thing you truly desire instead.
I’m just love-burnt. After a bazillion years of dating, and loving countless men, my spirit is tired and not confident about how love fits into my life. So I Tindered half-assed and attracted a scenario that totally manifested my worst fears about love. And according to my catfish, I did a ton of other things wrong, too, that, if I weren’t so lucky to find a well-meaning dude, could have been detrimental to both my identity and my life.
I Slacked on Pressing for Pictures
In person, my catfish wasn’t much different than the man he perpetrated in his photos; similar bodies, short hair, and incredibly bright blue eyes. “You’re actually kinda cute,” I mentioned as we made our way to the bar. “Why didn't you just used your own pictures?”
He shrugged at the idea and listed off a million reasons why he isn’t quite handsome enough. But similarly he later chastised me for not pressing harder for pictures. “You should have asked for a pic,” he insisted as my first major misstep. “Pictures that would have shown me in real time, so you could see it was raining where I was, too. Or snowing. You should have said, 'Red flag!'" However, I did ask for them — several times. But my attitude accepted the excuse of him being camera shy. Ultimately, he was right: A person you are dating should have no problem showing you their face through selfies or on FaceTime.
I Was Too Understanding
Part of what made his excuses for canceling our dates so plausible was that Alan was a widow. His wife had died just two years ago and dating "felt a bit like cheating, still" and he was coming to terms with it all.
However, a catfish will often make up a story that’s hard for you to question their logic. While I’ve been known to be an asshole from time to time, I don’t know if I have it in me to make a mourning man speed up his grieving. But my catfish argues the opposite. “Refusal to meet after a week of speaking” he said was enough reason to draw a red flag — no matter the excuse.
I Dated Before I Was Ready
In person, my catfish was extremely apologetic. “What I did was inexcusable,” he admited in disgust. But part of me was half tempted to offer an apology of my own. After all, I used his cray to create some sense of control over my own love life. Albeit it was more like a temporary temper tantrum against waiting for true love to come whenever the hell it finally feels like it. But I still chose to use the circumstance to feel something instead of walking away from it completely. “Did you ever make any judgements about me?” I asked. “Like, this girl is naive or kinda dumb?”
“No,” he said sharply. “Not at all . . . .
"I do think, however, your previous experiences made you want to look for love no matter where — even if it was a voice. I think that you should make guys kiss the ground you walk on and put you on a pedestal. That they should work their way up to your level, and not the other way around.”
Guilty as charged.
And I Didn’t Let Him Go
There was a clear moment in his mind, he shared, when he knew things had gone too far. “The minute I spoke to you after watching your documentary,” he said, “I was like, 'What did I just do? I don't mind if I hurt myself, but now I'm going to hurt another person.' And every second after that became about 'How do I get myself out of this without hurting her, too?'”
And he tried, multiple times, to end communication by disappearing for days at a time or picking a random fight. Most days I would let him disappear, but occasionally I would fight back — which ultimately resulted in him sticking around. I just wasn’t ready for it to be over — fully knowing we had the shelf life of a sour carton of milk, my love-burnt attitude wasn’t ready to stop playing. It wasn’t ready to get back out there for real.
If It Happens to You
Ultimately it was a confusing but cathartic experience; we left the market and walked the streets of New York, spending the evening sipping wine at the Soho Grand discussing the hows and whys of what brought us together. It was uniquely beshert; two people meeting from extremely different places in life and realizing that rock bottom was not where they wanted to be anymore.
I was lucky — oftentimes these are grander schemes that steal money from people and sometimes lead to fatal heart breaks. My catfish was just some thirtysomething Jewish guy with really pretty eyes who was on too many prescriptive medications to make real sense of his life. I would never recommend doing what I did — if you spot a scenario that smells like a catfish, chances are it probably is one. So run away. And if it’s hard for you to run away, just take a look in the mirror and ask yourself why you're really participating in it. Are you love-burnt, too? Maybe you’re tired of swiping or cheating partners and are unsure when real love will finally come your way?
If so, then deal with that. Spend your energy there — heal you instead. Read every Louise Hay book you can find, or watch every Super Soul Sunday episode you can stream. Whatever it takes. I may have successfully distracted myself for seven weeks and scored a crazy story I can share with you and my girlfriends, but I’m largely still stuck with the same problem. I’m still fucking burnt out from love, and before I can even think of getting back out there and dating again, I have to deal with that truth first. Plus, I have new scars from this time around.
Breonna Rodriguez is a Founding Creator and love and relationships blogger. When she's not writing for Vivala.com, you can find her at zenfulie.com.