What’s A Catfish, Anyway?

You have probably heard the term “catfish” by now. Used as a noun or a verb, it refers to a person or the act of engaging in an online relationship while posing as someone else. The term comes from the title of the 2010 documentary – and now hit MTV show – Catfish. In the documentary, Nev Schulman uncovered the truth behind his own online relationship. Now on the show, he is doing so for others. No spoilers here, but I highly recommend both. Let’s just say you never know what is going on until you meet someone IRL.

The term has swum even further into the mainstream with the recent Manti Te’o debacle and has even garnered a Saturday Night Live spoof. It happened to adorable Nev Schulman. It happened to a star football player. It has happened to people you know. In this day and age with alternative lives and personal images just a few Facebook uploads away, it can happen to any of us. Is it terrible? Is it psycho? Is it evil? Honestly, I don’t know. I think that catfishing can come from a place of loneliness, wanting love and wanting acceptance. Granted, there are just cruel people who want to trick other people with no regard for their emotions. But maybe some catfish start out of a desire for companionship paired with a lack of self-confidence, and things snowball. I think that we can all be a little catfishy, if I may go on ahead and make it an adjective.

I say this because I can relate. I dare say we can all relate on some level. With all of the relationship opportunities afforded to us by social media, we get the chance to retool our images and fine-tune our realities to present ourselves exactly how we want to be seen. We can make ourselves look attractive to potential dates, cool to potential friends, enviable to friends and acquaintances and desirable to exes. Do you really think that girl on Facebook is running ten miles, baking two loaves of artisan bread and making Mad Men-themed cocktails for her parties every day? Is everyone on Twitter witty every single waking moment and never lonely? Is everyone on Instagram dining exclusively in gourmet restaurants, constantly at museums or events, eternally on vacation and always in a swarm of friends? Do we post selfies right after we pop a pimple? I would venture a solid “no”. No one is perfect or doing amazing things around the clock, but we all get to filter out the boring stuff and condense our coolness for our online image.

Then there is dating. I think the opening scene in Bridesmaids sums it up nicely… errrrr, after THAT scene… I’m talking about the one where Kristen Wiig wakes up and puts on makeup before that Hunk of Hamm sees her in the morning. Did you laugh? Did you laugh because you have done that? I thought so. We are all pretending to be the best version of ourselves when we start to date someone. I started dating my now husband after we reconnected on the ever hip and thriving social media hub “MySpace”. We knew each other back in high school, but things change after (ahem) 11 years. We progressed to emailing, and let me tell you, I was probably looking more than a little catfishy (French braid and all) when I wrote some of those bad boys. Emailing allowed me to control how I expressed myself and what I shared. I was able to recount only the interesting things I did and the more impressive thoughts that I had. I could easily leave out details like my struggle with depression, and I could make it seem like I did more than work and watch Buffy episodes in my dark studio apartment. Granted, when we finally met up in person, we were both fantastically hot (kidding- but I am working on my self-esteem. Fake it ’til ya make it!), but I think a lot of the foundation for our attraction formed during the emailing and the phone calls. He had only seen the “cute” photos I had carefully selected for my profile or to sent via email after painfully screened PhotoBooth sessions of myself “before I went to bed” (never sans concealer and mascara). I joke about it, but seriously, did I catfish him a little?

I guess the difference is that while a lot of us show only the best parts of ourselves online or in a new relationship, we aren’t lying or pretending to be someone we aren’t. We are merely sharing the “good” while omitting the “bad”. This probably isn’t lying. A true catfish forms relationships based on lies about who they are, and ends up hurting people. I don’t know if I think all catfish are terrible people, though. I’m sure many really and truly invest their feelings and their true personalities into the relationships they form, but the problem is that there are lies at the foundation.

Then again, some just are probably just pathological liars, or people who enjoy messing with people. I don’t know how I feel. I get it, and I don’t get it. It all saddens me and scares me a bit. The internet is this amazing tool that lets us become whoever we want, and lets us reach out and connect with people. Catfishing is the dark side of that. We have to be responsible with the feelings of others no matter how good and validated we want the internet to make us feel.

*Just so you all know, I wrote this in sweats and no makeup, eating carrots dipped in ketchup (not on an adorable plate) and my house is a mess. My dog is cute, but he just peed on the rug. I have no interesting plans today. I feel lonely a lot. I don’t read enough. I eat too much sugar. I don’t work out enough. I can be pretty negative. I get insomnia. The grass in my backyard is dead. I sometimes wish I still lived with my parents because I miss them. But I am a good person. No catfish?

Featured image via ShutterStock

Filed Under