Christine Macdonald

Author. Speaker. Recovering Narcissist.

Christine Macdonald

Christine Macdonald
Southern, California, USA
November 09
Contributing author of The Moment (Harper Collins). Former stripper, current writer working on forthcoming memoir Pour Some Sugar On Me: Tales from an Ex-Stripper. Activist. Public Speaker. Survivor.

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JANUARY 18, 2013 3:53PM

Love (and the Internet) is blind: how I fell for a hoax

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Everyone knows love is blind. And thanks to the media frenzy surrounding the recent Manti Te'o debacle, it’s safe to say, sometimes it ‘aint that bright. The jury is still out about just what exactly went down with Manti’s story, but it’s safe to say, the bullshit’s hitting the fan.

But is this really “love” we’re talking about – that God-like intangible force that has the power to connect two people through space and time – beyond the firewalls of cyberspace, without so much as a video chat to validate the others’ existence? Dare we question our soul mate’s word?

Surprisingly, many of us don't.

Thanks to the 2010 documentary Catfish (and subsequent MTV docu-series of the same name) these Internet love hoaxes are becoming more and more public.

In Catfish, a handsome, young photographer Yaniv “Nev” Schulman falls for “Megan”, the hot relative of “Abbey”, whom he met through Facebook. Nev quickly falls for Megan (complete with sexting, sharing photos, etc.), and before he allows his heart to get completely lost in his on-line love haze, he starts to connect the dots. Long story short – the whole thing was bullshit.

But Nev forgives his “love” (whose real name is Angela), and they become friends. Sucker, or compassionate dude who sees the desperation in someone who’ll go to any lengths to find a connection?

As explained in the film, the term Catfish comes from Angela’s husband (yup, she was married), Vince, talking with Nev. He says that when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish's inactivity in their tanks resulted in mushy flesh, but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active. Vince feels that people like Angela are "catfish", who keep other people active in life.

I have my own “Catfish” story, and not only did I forgive my imposter, I actually dated the guy.

As bloggers, Kevin and I found each other commenting on pages we both followed. We shared the same witty humor and sarcasm, and I was excited by the fact he was a would-be writer like me. We both began searching for each other’s comments just to read what clever things we would say to one another. Commenting quickly morphed into personal emails, which became flirtatious almost immediately.

But Kevin wasn’t Kevin when we met. He portrayed himself as Josh, a handsome, well-respected divorced man from Tennessee with three kids and his own veterinarian practice. Josh and I emailed back and forth for weeks and I quickly fell in love. My friends were concerned because we hadn’t so much as talked on the phone yet. But the romantic in me was on auto-pilot and there was nothing anyone could say or do to stop my heart from soaring. I was mentally picking out china patterns, checking flights to Tennessee and putting myself in the passenger seat of his pick-up truck. I actually saw myself a wife of a veterinarian, rubbing elbows with southern belles at medical conferences, passing out Halloween candy on the front porch of our farmhouse.

Our flirting progressed and my hopes shot through the roof.

Then Josh vanished. Talk about heartbroken. So many questions flooded my brain. Was he married? Did he get kicked in the head by one of his four-legged patients and have amnesia? What was going on?

My friends kept me grounded and reminded me that by being a person who’s always been in love with love, it was easy to fall victim to a daydream, wrapping my heart around the world of a man I had never even met. I was mourning the loss of a fantasy.

Little did I know, my perfect fantasy man was lost in his own cloud of daydreams.

Kevin was born a biological female who, like thousands of transgendered people, grew up feeling trapped in their own body - a person whose physical body is not in alignment with their gender identity. In other words, Kevin’s body was female by societal (and medical) standards, but his mind (or gender identity), believed he was a man.

When Kevin was first coming to terms with his transition, he hid behind Josh. He felt more comfortable getting to know people as a man through a fantasy life he created. I learned all of this through an apology email when Josh finally resurfaced (as Kevin) months after he fell off the face of the Internet.  

Are you confused yet?

After I read Kevin’s letter for the hundredth time, I started to feel less pissed off and more compassionate. I felt his anguish when reading about his transition story. I forgave him for pretending to be Josh, just as I had forgiven myself for allowing the fantasy of an Internet crush to evolve. I put myself in his position and asked: what would you do if you were born in the wrong body? Could you have the courage to transition? Eventually compassion trumped contempt and I forgave him completely. Besides, I could relate – sort of.

As a recovering addict and former stripper, I am familiar with feelings of wanting to hide behind someone or something to mask my true self. On stage I was Stephanie, the stripper who loved you. I chatted it up with customers who were lonely and looking for a little company. I gave them a show and they gave me the validation I needed at the time to feel beautiful. Another personal fantasy contract written with our hearts; customers looking for attention, and me, for beauty.

Nights were spent snorting lines of blow and rolling on ecstasy. The first time I slept with a woman I was high. She made me feel beautiful and wanted in a way that just felt - safe. I felt protected and loved in the arms of a friend and was open to exploring the sexual possibilities. While I was venturing to new territory, the rest of my professional world was a catch 22: I stripped because I wanted to feel beautiful, but what I thought was the answer ended up peeling the layers of my beauty away. My fellow dancers were there for me when men were the enemy. Men were the assholes , I was just doing my job.

Kevin and I ended up dating, even moving in together for a couple of years, and although we didn’t make it as a couple (turns out, I’m partial to penis), I consider him to be one of my dearest friends.

We’ve both come a long way since feeling the need to hide behind “Stephanie” and “Josh”, but I totally get why some people do. There’s safety behind our  lap tops. The freedom to become whoever we want to be is just too tempting for some, and in the end, we all just want to love and be loved.

I don’t condone living a lie – as it will eventually catch up with you (hi’ya Lance Armstrong), but instead of pointing the finger in judgment and anger, maybe it’s better to chalk the bullshit up to the fact that everyone’s got a story.  Some are just really, really fictional.


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Another great piece. I love the way you use your unusual life experiences to illuminate the universal.
It's so common to be fooled. Who hasn't? Think of all the dating sites in which people lie about their ages, histories, looks, and more. Even phone calls can be misleading. Of course, it's easier to be falsely charmed on the phone or by email than put off. Look at the desparate women rescuers who fall in love with prison inmates, usually to poor ends. However, if someone is testy on the phone, impatient or boring, that may be a real clue. Bad grammar is a turn-off for me. There is nothing like person-to-person long-term contact to judge character.
Christine, what an absolutely phenominal story, covering so many "topics"! Well done.
Fascinating account Christine. Did you read the Internet Duped Romance piece on Big Salon? It too showed that the one supposedly doing the duping also got carried away and wasn't merely trying to string someone along.

In the normal world of dating I'm sure that most of us have been deceived at one point or another. It seems weirder over the internet because it's still a relatively new medium. Thanks for the post.
Thanks so much for the comments -

I haven't read the piece on Salon, but it doesn't surprise me.

The big lesson I learned in my ordeal (which I am happy turned out well, but not without MANY tears), is to look at the reasons why I fell so hard so fast for someone I essentially haven't really "met".

We all just want to love and be loved. It's sad and scary sometimes what lengths people will go for it, however.
Another interesting chapter, Christine. And I think you have hit the nail on the head. People really just want to love and be loved... ~r
In middle school I pretended to have a more interesting life than I really had (I wrote a blog about it that was crossed over to Big Salon). I understand how people can get caught up in it and the Internet makes it even easier. Well written piece. Not sure what is going on with the cover these should be an EP.
I'll bet y0u didn't know that I'm really Brad Pitt. ;) But seriously, I continue to admire your wonderful style and way of writing.
With Te'o, I just don't get what benefit it would provide to him if he was in on the scam.

That's always the thing for me. If someone's going to lie, then there has to be a benefit for them.

With Armstrong, the benefit was that he got to be recognized -- for a while, anyway -- as the very best at his craft.

With Te'o, what is the benefit? He will be a high draft pick no matter what the story behind him is, so what would he have gained by deceiving people?
This should get an EP, I agree! What a story. Thanks for telling!
You write so very well. Ernest Hemingway said, "sometimes fiction is more believeable than the truth."

You seem to have had a very action-packed life.
Thanks SO MUCH for the comments and compliments. I'm truly honored.

In this day of "Catfish" people, and lies that seem to be more and more evident, I know I don't need to validate anything I write - but it's awesome to know I can!

Kevin is a dear friend and I aware of my writing this piece. He's happily engaged now to a beautiful woman, and I'm so happy we are great friends. He's a brilliant writer - and I've told him HE needs to write his story (there is so much more than just my piece).
pretty amazing story. am assuming that this happened on another blog system than open salon based on dates etc.
agree this deserves EP.
but you left out the whole freakin story in a way. you lived together A FEW YEARS? holy cow. stephanie is bisexual. or whatever. [pretty confusing sort of]. anyway Im sure there are a ton more stories in this vein. and you slip that little sentence in there so nonchalantly in the end. crazy world. non sequitur. it really doesnt follow with the rest of the essay at all. "I met ths crazy transvestite on the internet. she cut all ties with me. oh yeah and by the way we lived together SEVERAL YEARS". internet stories are just so weird sometimes. gotta luv it. keep up the good work. still waiting for a movie to be made about your life. am sure it will star angelina jolie, wink =)
Not sure what you mean, about this "happening on another blog system"?

I did write a longer essay written about my relationship with Kevin and shopped it to a couple publications when Kevin and I were still together, but it was never accepted.

When I read about this new Manti Teo story (and in addition to seeing Catfish), I thought about how this type of Internet hoaxing is much more common that I thought, and wanted to share my story. So I revised (updated, because we have since broken up) my essay to share on OS.

You're right. There IS a lot of the story I left out - but my relationship with Kevin (or how I identify myself sexually) is not part of this particular essay.

This essay was to share about how easy it is (was, for me), to fall "in love" with a fantasy - someone I really didn't know in person. Which, basically, boils down to everyone just wanting to love and be loved - and sometimes, some people are paralyzed by their own fear of who they are - or appear to be - that they create a whole new persona on - line.
I like Catfish --- the TV series, movie I've missed. People fall in love blindly all the time, and most time just fall down the holes!!!!!
I'm actually watching an episode right now! I am fascinated by it all - how so many people are falling in love with a fantasy. It sure doesn't feel like a fantasy at the time it's happening.

What a lesson in living in our truth. And owning who we are. I hope the series opens up a lot of dialogue about this subject, and inspires all the imposters "Catfish" to come clean and love the skin they're in.
Important to be very cautious.I say this having met my wife on yahoo personals. We are very happy and are going on nine years of marriage. But some of these imposters are extremely dangerous emotionally, if not physically. Some lack a conscience completely. They are the sociopaths.
Congratulations on your 9th year! I totally agree with you - there are a lot of dangerous minds out there...