COUPLE CONFESSIONS: I’M A REFORMED CATFISHER
Why I catfished, and why I’ll never use a standard dating app again
It’s taken me a long time to admit this, but here we go: Couple, I used to catfish people on dating apps all the time. It makes me cringe to type those words, but unfortunately they're my truth.
Why am I confessing this today? Well, it’s been several years since I last engaged in catfishing, and while I know there’s no atoning for my shameful past, I can share its sordid details to help others avoid becoming a victim or perpetrator of catfishing themselves. And that’s what I aim to do.
There are two points I feel compelled to make before I begin. First, I never catfished on dating apps for illegal or sinister purposes. If there’s one potential redeeming quality about my past, let that be it. Second, regardless of my motivation, there is no excuse for my deception. It was cruel and selfish. I’m not writing this to be forgiven; I’m writing this to inform.
With that out of the way, this is the story of why I started catfishing in the first place, and why – knowing what I know now – I’d never use standard dating apps again.
I catfished because I lacked confidence
I didn’t join dating apps with the intention of catfishing anyone. Initially I used my actual photo, I created a genuine profile, and I expressed my real personality.
And it was a complete disaster.
I’m an incredibly shy guy who finds dating difficult, and I’m far from a heartthrob. That’s a tough combo on platforms where looks and funny or provocative small-talk are the primary currencies, and six months of online dating left my self-esteem in shambles. I was 100% ready to uninstall all my apps.
But then one day, I caught an old episode of the MTV program now called Catfish: The TV Show, and I had a terrible epiphany: catfishing could allow someone to practice dating "in character" until they're confident to do it as themself. (I clearly didn’t receive the show’s intended message.) BOOM. With that, my first dating-app alter ego was born.
It took some trial, error, and finessing, but the success I ultimately had as a catfisher was overwhelming. Hiding behind a fake photo and profile, I found it easy to assume a brand-new personality. I don’t know how to explain it, but where the real me was awkward and cringey over DMs, the catfishing me was, well, a catch. Conversations quickly graduated from in-app DMs to texting and phone calls, and in some cases I’d spend months talking with matches before my refusal to meet face-to-face would ruin the relationship. I was always sad when these connections fizzled, but getting dumped didn't deter my catfishing ways.
I became addicted to the thrill of catfishing
The thing is, I had become addicted to the thrill of catfishing. I had spent my teenage and young-adult years lonely and single, and at age 30, I’d only been on two real dates in my life. I’d never had a meaningful relationship, and my sexual history was practically non-existent. So when I started catfishing, the high I’d get from someone showing interest in “me” was intense and life-altering. While intellectually I understood that what I was doing wasn’t real – I wasn’t experiencing sincere connections, my matches didn’t actually care about my true self, and I obviously wasn’t having sex – it was easy for me to dismiss that knowledge because it felt so damn good to be on the receiving end of romantic interest.
It wasn’t long before I had created multiple alter egos on various dating apps, and it was practically a part-time job maintaining them.
I felt connected to my catfishing victims
The weird thing is that throughout my time as a catfisher, I felt really strong affection for and attachment to the people I was duping. I genuinely cared about them, which made what I was doing even more perverse. Many of my victims opened up to me during the hours we’d spend talking and texting. Their vulnerability only made me feel more committed to maintaining my front, and I shudder to think of the tall tales I told in hopes of keeping them talking.
After about a year of catfishing, the thrill I initially experienced at making these phony connections began to wane, and I felt a profound sadness knowing that they were all one-sided. Not only that, but every interaction left me feeling a bit sick. I think subconsciously I recognized that I was manipulating my matches emotionally and robbing them of their time and trust, and yet I kept catfishing for another six months. I suppose a phony relationship still felt preferable to none at all, and it was hard to break a habit that’s so self-serving.
I used catfishing to explore my sexuality anonymously
The other reason I continued to catfish on dating apps is because it allowed me to explore my sexuality anonymously. I think deep down I had always known that I was bi, but it wasn’t until I started “dating” other men on apps that I fully came to terms with my truth. Because I felt safe hiding behind my fake persona, and because I would never meet with anyone in person, I was able to explore my bisexuality without actually outing myself. It felt like there was no downside ... well, for me, anyway. In my mind, the physical stuff could wait, and I justified my actions by saying I was owed this "preview" after years of self-denial. Plus, the real me would just get rejected. I needed to fine-tune my skills before exploring my sexuality in earnest.
Yep, a year-and-a-half into catfishing and I was still deluding myself that this was all just innocent “practice” for when I really started dating.
Why I stopped catfishing
Up until this point, catfishing had served the purpose of allowing me to feel romantically connected to people from afar. But as the months went by, and the novelty started to wear off, I realized I was just as alone as I’d ever been. I was alone and I began to feel more and more like a predator. Plus, it was just a matter of luck that I hadn’t been caught yet. I figured it might be time to come clean and quit catfishing and dating apps altogether.
But then I matched with a woman I’ll call Kate. She seemed perfect, and (go figure!) my 18 months of catfishing hadn’t built up my self-confidence at all, so I decided I would fake my way through one more online entanglement before I’d finally go legit.
Can you see where this is going? Yeah, the joke was on me. I legitimately fell for Kate. And what’s crazy is that while I may have attracted her with my fake photo and profile, I found that when we spoke, it wasn’t my alter ego taking center stage ... it was actually my personality she was getting to know. And get this: she LIKED that personality. She wanted to meet that personality. She wanted to date that personality.
For the first time, I felt that it might be worth the risk of revealing myself if it meant I had even the smallest chance of having a genuine, IRL relationship with someone special. (Was it delusional to think that someone I had victimized would ever consider a future with me? Yes, but that's how far gone I was.) So I spent two days composing a note confessing to Kate what I’d done, I explained why I did it, and I attached a real photo of myself. It was the most difficult email I’ve ever composed, and to say I was terrified to hit “send” is an understatement.
But I did send it, and I never heard from Kate again. My days of catfishing were officially complete.
Why catfishing made me ditch dating apps
Kate never reported me, but my broken heart and guilty conscience finally put a stop to my scam. I quit all my apps, and I’ve spent the last several years in therapy, reflecting, learning, and healing.
I could write a book about the personal lessons I’ve learned after catfishing for over a year, but I’ve grown tired of my own self-absorption. Instead, what I’d like readers to take away from my story is how easy it was for me to catfish people on standard dating apps. I don’t consider myself a sophisticated or savvy person (and I certainly never thought I could be so cruel), but I managed to trick algorithms, search engines, and people alike. You’d be surprised how patient people can be, even when it’s the fifth time you’re “rescheduling” your date … or how easy it is to be “working overseas for the next month.”
I'm still single. I don’t know if I’ll ever work up the courage to date again, but I can tell you for certain that I won't ever use a standard dating app. Now that I know how easy it is to fool people on apps, I realize how easy it is to be fooled on them.
I’ve often wondered where I’d be if platforms like Couple had been around when I first started online dating. Live video dates have a way of filtering out the hardcore catfish – I certainly couldn’t have pulled my scam at a Couple event – and though it would have meant confronting hidden demons to find the courage to put myself out there, at least I wouldn’t have become the demon.
But since I can’t change my past, I can at least use it for the good of others. And my best piece of informed advice is this: if you’re going to use dating apps, do your due diligence. When you meet someone you like, do reverse image searches, request video calls, and be wary if they're always unavailable to meet in person. Dating is hard enough without having to worry about getting duped, and this reformed catfisher doesn’t want anyone else to be victimized under the guise of romance.
Do you have a confession to share with Couple? We’re all ears! Send your secret to our editors and perhaps we’ll feature it in a future post!