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.