Catfish. It is more than a weird aquatic animal with whiskers that is tasty when lightly fried. It is now, thanks to a popular documentary and MTV television show, also a term in the dating world.
The film Catfish, released in 2010, follows filmmaker Yaniv “Nev” Schulman as he embarks on an online relationship with Megan. As the film progresses, it is revealed that Megan is not who she claims to be online.
The term comes from a moment in the movie where Vince, husband of the person pretending to be Megan, relates a story about cod and catfish being shipped across the world. It is a confusing and touching moment that will make you say, “Wait, did he just compare his wife to a fish?”
To catfish means to pretend to be someone or something you are not. Often it involves using another person’s picture and information. Sometimes the purpose behind this facade is to scam money, and sometimes it is just a person with low self-esteem who is unhappy with his or her own life and appearance.
During my time experimenting with online dating, I was catfished. Kind of.
It started when I received a message from Jay. I met Jay on the dating app Plenty of Fish. If you read the first part of my story (November, Maine Women Magazine), you may remember that I hate POF because there are no restrictions on who can send you a message.
It was the first message I had received on POF during this experience from someone that I might actually be interested in! Jay seemed to check the boxes on what I was looking for. He had a sense of humor. He appeared to be attractive in his pictures. He had a steady job. He lived close by. He could hold a conversation. He seemed to be interested in pursuing a relationship without immediately crossing my boundaries.
The first message he sent me said that journalists are all liars. So, he had at least read my profile. This belief he expressed can be a common sentiment in the day and age of “fake news media,” so I was a little annoyed but responded anyway. I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was trying to be silly and flirty.
I told Jay that I actually worked very hard to present the truth in my stories and not allow my opinions to sway anything that I write.
Jay fired back that I must not be very good at my job, then. At this point I should have recognized that Jay was attempting a common tactic called “negging,” where you put a woman down in order to gain her interest. The theory behind this approach is that women prefer men who treat them badly. But it was late at night, and I had been trying to find someone decent to have a date with for almost a month at this point.
I informed Jay that my editors never had an issue with my work, which is really all I care about anyway.
Our conversation continued, and eventually we traded phone numbers to message a bit more easily. Jay appeared to give up his attempts to insult me into being interested. We had a pleasant conversation about our lives and got to know each other.
I was always honest with anyone I communicated with on these dating programs. On my profile, I listed my job as a reporter and a writer. During the course of any conversation with potential dates, I revealed that I was going to be writing about my experiences.
When I told Jay this fact, he wanted to know more. What were my experiences with these dating apps?
I told him that with POF my experience had been mainly a lot of sexual harassment and weirdos. He was curious and asked for more details. “Will you include me in the sexual harassment list or in the weirdos list?” he asked.
I told him I hoped he would be in neither list and that he could possibly be the nice local guy I met and went on dates with.
At this point we had been trying to make plans. Well, actually, he had been trying to convince me to come over. To his place. In the middle of the night. In the middle of a pandemic. Instead, I suggested we meet up the next day, in the daylight and outside—preferably in a crowded place with lots of witnesses and possibly a security camera.
He asked if he could come over. I told him he could not. He said I was being mean. Was I? I don’t think so.
Jay wanted to know more about my article. How exactly were these men harassing me? How were they weird? I explained that some of them sent me a lot of messages, and some of the messages were explicit. I explained I never answered, but some of these men continued to write to me.
Jay wanted to know why I had answered his message, then. I said I thought he was cute, and he had not tried to sexually harass me.
“So, it’s all about the look, I guess,” he said. I attempted to explain that his accusation was not true, but he was convinced it was. Then he revealed he was not actually interested in me.
“You’re really, really shallow,” he wrote. “And I was just wasting time with you, listening to your hypocrisy . . . Gotta learn to be humble and see the heart of things, not just looks and material.”
That was the last text I got from him. It left me feeling weird. Was I shallow? Had I been materialistic?
The short answer to both questions is: no. The longer answer to both questions is: noooooooooo!
As women we get a lot of mixed messages. We are supposed to provide people with what they want. We are trained to be people-pleasers and caretakers, and often that comes at the price of ourselves. I had dared to refuse to waste my time with men I knew I was not interested in, and Jay had attempted to knock me down a peg. He failed.
It is 100 percent not shallow to be interested in someone based on their looks at first. After all, there has to be an attraction for a relationship to start. You cannot know a person’s heart just by looking at him. You can know if you find him attractive, and that is a start.
You do not owe any man anything. Or woman, if that is your sexual preference. You do not owe him or her a date just because they ask you out. You do not owe them a message just because they wrote one to you. You are a rock star, and your time is too valuable to waste with that nonsense.
It is also not shallow to want to date someone who has a job and stable finances. A relationship is meant to be a partnership, and one partner should not carry all the load in any aspect.
By this time, it was well past midnight, and Jay and I had been messaging for hours. He had, indeed, wasted my time. However, he also taught me a valuable lesson and caused me to do a bit of soul-searching. In the end, I found myself not at all wanting.