Catfish

When I was a younger adult, I learned to go catfishing in the Juaniata River (a tributary of the Susquehanna River). My (ex) husband and I camped there and had a ‘permanent’ site in our campground, where we were almost every weekend from May through October (earlier or later, depending upon the weather). There was a boat dock within walking distance from the campground, and we were regular night fishers from that dock. Now, I have to let you know that I like catching fish and I was decent at it. I, however, have never touched a worm, never put a single finger inside any fish’s mouth once it was on my line, never gutted and never cleaned a fish. I could, however, after a catfish was beheaded, gutted and cleaned, learn how to use a filet knife to separate it from its skin. To this day, I still think channel cat (not the farm-raised stuff you can find sometimes in stores or restaurants) was good eatin’!

But, there is now a totally different meaning to the word “catfish”. Now a catfish is defined as “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” Unfortunately, I’ve been exposed to these types of catfish as well.

When dating sites had begun to popularize, I succumbed to the temptation of them. For the questions that were asked, I used genuine and authentic answers (because that’s who I am). And silly me, of course, assumed that everyone did the same! Because my photo was also authentic (and I’m not a blonde, svelte bombshell!), I didn’t get a lot of interest. Hey, we all have our types – looks that are pleasing to our own eyes – so I didn’t let that bum me out too much. I even remember trying out Harmony, which advertises itself to be about finding compatibility with another person, and out of over 500 people who met my criteria, there wasn’t a single match for me – that is, someone’s criteria who I met! Talk about being stung! I remember telling my mentor about that and how it felt, and he told me words to the effect of, “It’s not that you’re not good enough for them, it’s that they aren’t good enough for you.” Because I was so stung, I chose to believe that while knowing it wasn’t true.

Eventually, I initiated contact on the Plenty of Fish (POF) website with a guy. We seemed to hit it off pretty well and, after over two months of correspondence, I brought up meeting. He lived in northern Virginia, about a 5-hour drive from me, but I was willing to go there. However, when I brought it up, he gave me some excuse about how he couldn’t commit to that right now because there was a ‘situation’ at work and everyone was supposed to be available 24/7 for the next couple of months. I accepted that (hey, in the hotel industry, I KNEW how tough it was to get time off to make plans!). Shortly after that, he shared with me that he was in a custody battle over his son and that the lawyer’s fees were eating up every cent he was making. He mentioned that he was $200 short for his next month’s rent. I saw the red flag out in the distance, but I’ve been in tight financial circumstances, too, so I ignored the red flag. Eventually, he asked if I could help him out and I said yes, but only that I would pay the missing rent direct to his landlord, not give it to him. Initially, that didn’t sit well with him, but eventually he acquiesced and gave me the name and address of his alleged landlord (a female in Ohio) and I mailed that check.

Correspondence quickly became less common between us, and he insisted that it was because he was so busy with work and his custody case. Well, communicator is high on my list of priorities in a partner, and when he had less and less time for me and only a few short lines when he did find time, I called it quits, telling him that when he wanted a person IN his life, not hanging out at the sidelines, to let me know.

So, I dropped off the dating site routine for quite a while. Eventually, also on POF, I saw a photo of a really attractive guy, who said he lived in Philadelphia. After several days of going back to look at his photo and profile again, I initiated contact. He responded, telling me that he was about to put his profile “on vacation” because he was leaving the country to go oversee the build of a brand new hotel for his company, and that hotel was in Turkey. But he liked my profile as well, and we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers so we would keep in touch. This was in August, and he expected to be back home by Thanksgiving.

Well, he was very good at communication, more by text than email, and his texts were so romantic (pushed exactly the right button!) that I was sharing them with my colleagues and friends! I would send him photos of me, sometimes with a coworker or friend, and he would always text back with something like, “Oh, isn’t my baby looking fine today?” or “Honestly, how did I get so lucky to find you?”. Yep, I fell in, hook, line and sinker!

One day, he asked me if I could do him a favor. I said I’d try, and he explained that he needed to get a software program for work and it was available on iTunes and he couldn’t buy it there because he didn’t have any American currency, plus he was waiting on a refund for expenses from the company for his credit card and he was close to maxing it out. He asked me to buy him a $25 iTune card. Because it was such a small amount, and he wasn’t asking me to give money directly to him, I didn’t hesitate. I had to take a photo of the account information on the back of the card and send it to him. And that was that! We continued on, much at the same pace – he was sending me links to romantic tunes, his texts were insanely romantic, he wasn’t asking for phone/text sex, we texted several times a day, and I began to think this could work out. Meanwhile, I told him I had an invitation to a Christmas party in early December and asked him if he would be my plus one, thinking that it would help us feel less awkward about meeting the first time if we went to a party where people were mingling. He said he’d love to!

The week before Thanksgiving, he let me know that the job was behind and he would still be there through Thanksgiving but he hoped to be back in Philadelphia for the party and to meet me. My fingers were crossed tight – the party was being hosted by a friend who had read many of his text messages to me and was so excited for me to find someone.

To make a long story short (this is getting long, I know), right after Thanksgiving, he told me that he couldn’t leave the country because he was behind on the charges for the hotel he was staying at while doing the job and had to surrender his passport to the hotel manager while they waited for his payment. He said he was behind a little over $2,000 USD. I saw the red flag – quite clearly – but I did not let on. I didn’t make any offers and he didn’t ask for any help. I knew in my heart what was happening, and I was disappointed in myself for not seeing it sooner, but I wasn’t heartbroken. Every text now included his worry about paying the fees so he could come back to Philadelphia. I chose consciously to not indulge in a conversation about it when he mentioned it. Finally, after about three days, he asked if I could do him a favor, and I said, “I can try.” I knew what was coming, of course. He asked if I could send him $2,000 so he could pay the hotel bill and get his passport back and come home. I took a few (intentional) moments to consider this, and then told him that I would not send him $2,000 but if he gave me the hotel’s information, I would contact them and make arrangements for the bill to be paid. He made up an excuse that the hotel staff barely spoke English and it was better for me to send it to him and let him handle it. I reiterated that I would not send him the money, but I would pay the hotel direct. This went round and round and I could sense he was getting frustrated and unhappy. After about the fourth time around, I ended the communication by repeating what I had been saying each time and that I was going to “hang up” because I didn’t want to keep going over and over it and I was not willing to change my mind to send him the money. I disconnected the text and erased it.

Five minutes later, he texted me and asked, “Well, can you at least get me another iTunes card?” I didn’t respond. And that was the last I heard from him.

Needless to say, I’m not proud to share how naive and gullible I was. It’s how I’ve always operated through life – in a sense, believing that people are innocent until proven guilty, that people are authentic until proven not to be. Maybe that is why I enjoy reading so many blogs on WordPress – those I enjoy are ones in which the writer is willing to be open and exposed about who they are and where they struggle. In fact, this blog post was brought to mind after reading another blog of someone’s experience on a dating site.

I don’t need a man in my life to be happy. I would like to have a man in my life to take out the trash, clean the snow off my car, help me move furniture and occasionally do some cleaning, but the elements of good in living alone are worth more than sharing the space simply to have someone do some ‘chores’. I’ve tried that once too – sharing space with a friend as a roommate who did not live up to the division of chores that was decided before the lease was ever signed.

But for anyone else out there who has ever been “taken in” by a stranger who wasn’t at all who he/she said and appeared to be, have peace in knowing that YOU were authentic and true to yourself and peace in believing that Karma does bite!

Gotta love Karma!