Relationship Pain Avoidance

I’ve probably mentioned at some point that I’m not a big fan of reality television.  Several years ago when American Idol was regularly stomping Angel  in the ratings (Seriously, I think it was pulling something like 10 times the number of viewers.  Possibly more.), I would shake my head and wonder why people were tossing aside quality scripted television in favor of watching a singing competition.

At one point I worried that television was soon going to be nothing but reality shows.  That obviously hasn’t happened.  Yes, there are a lot of them, many of which are absolute garbage.  Meanwhile, scripting television is doing just fine, and we’re in an era of some truly amazing shows.

This post isn’t about one of those series.

Instead, let’s go back to the world of reality television.  While I’m not a fan of the genre in general and am actually frightened that people watch shows like Toddlers and Tiaras and 19 Kids and Counting (Ok.  I wasn’t going to say anything about recent events related to that show.  I have had the same reaction as many others, which can best be summed up with THIS.), there is one reality series that I do like: Catfish.

Catfish sprung out of the 2010 documentary of the same name (Spoiler Alert: The documentary is tomorrow’s Pick of the Week).  Each week, Nev Schulman and Max Joseph attempt to help the lovelorn find the truth about the person at the other end of their online romance.

On the surface, there’s no reason for me to like this show.  The subjects are all teens and twenty-somethings who really should be more online savvy considering they’ve been raised with the Internet.  I jokingly call the show “Oh, Honey”: The Series, because that’s my usual reaction after hearing the stories of these poor sods who genuinely believe that the gorgeous woman or hot guy they’ve been talking to online for 9 months but never managed to meet or even video chat with is actually who they say they are.

The show is coming to the end of its fourth season, and frankly I don’t understand how it still exists.  I’m not saying it’s bad.  I’m still engrossed by it.  I just don’t understand how anyone is still falling for these things at this point.  “Catfish” has entered the English lexicon, and the movie and the show have been around for years.  Doesn’t everybody know the warning signs and how to do some basic investigation?

Apparently not.

I have done a bit of online dating, but I’ve been lucky to meet women who actually were exactly who they claimed to be.  As I had a policy of absolute honesty myself, I didn’t run into any problems.

However, as my kids get older, they will be entering a dating world that involves an online component that didn’t exist when I was their age.  So for their benefit and yours, here are a few of the lessons I’ve picked up from friends, my own experiences, and Nev and Max.

First (and most obviously), don’t lie about yourself.  THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO BE GAINED!!!  I can’t emphasize that last bit enough.  Yes, maybe you’ll get more people contacting you with the photo of that model showing his abs, but you are starting things off with a lie, and any potential relationship is doomed before it even starts.  Beyond the pictures, why would you want to be in a relationship where you can’t be yourself because you started out with some lie about your interests?  I was amazed when I was using online dating sites at the number of women who claimed to be diehard football fans.  Maybe they were.  I don’t know.  The NFL is huge.  If they were lying, they were just asking for Sundays in front of the television watching game after game.  And if they weren’t lying, they obviously weren’t for me, and I wasn’t about to pretend to care about football just to start a conversation with them.  Be who you are and post a picture actually of you.

Second, if you start talking to someone online that you think you might have a romantic interest in, move the conversation to an actual phone call as quickly as possible.  I know not everyone likes phone calls and texting is the preferred form of communication for many folks.  Make a call anyway.  It’s no guarantee that the person on the other end of the line is really who they say they are, but at the very least you can make sure they’re the same gender they claim.  Also, since they don’t have time to compose written responses, you might be able to sense if they aren’t telling the truth about some aspect of themselves.

Third (and this one mystifies Nev and Max constantly), the Internet is your friend.  If your online significant other sends you a picture, do a Google Image Search on it to make sure its not taken from someone else’s Facebook profile or modeling page.  Hell, just Google their name.  I found out that a couple of the women I went on dates with did that as a basic precaution.  It made perfect sense to me, and I certainly wasn’t offended by it.

Fourth, along the same lines, remember that we live in the future.  Video chatting is very easy to accomplish when free wifi is all around.  Both sets of my kids’ grandparents have the capability.  Are you honestly telling me that a 22-year-old in 2015 can’t accomplish it?

I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but if you get catfished at this point, it’s probably your own fault.  The tools are out there.  Nev Schulman isn’t exactly Sherlock Holmes here.  He’s using tools available to all of us (Granted, they may be paying a fee for the reverse phone lookup they use sometimes, but I didn’t even go that deep.).  With some basic digging, you should be able to find out something about the other person.

But if you can’t.  If every search comes up negative, and after weeks of hot and heavy correspondence you can’t ever manage a voice chat, video chat, or in person meeting, you’re being lied to.  RUN AWAY!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter