Admitting you met your significant other on a dating app isn’t as taboo as it was anymore.
Dating apps such as Tinder, Skout and Bumble have contributed to many happy endings over the years; everyone knows a couple who originally met using them.
I myself have spent quite some time on such dating apps, meeting friends and more — including people who came to be a very large part of my life.
The dark side of dating apps
But there’s always a dark side — and one of them is catfishing.
What is catfishing? It’s using a fake identity to trick someone into a relationship or revealing information about themselves. TV series tend to pass it off as a simple prank – but they don’t mention the trauma and betrayal it can cause you.
I’d heard of catfishing before from men I met online, and they always have a story to tell.
“This girl turned out to be an MLM seller.”
“This lady turned out to be a guy using stolen pics of IG models.”
“She was perfect, but I realised she was only trying to get my personal information!”
I’d laughed at these stories, chuckling to myself, knowing that I was too smart to fall prey to a catfish.
That is, until I experienced it for myself.
‘His’ name was Nathan
It was a few days before my 27th birthday. I was living in a new city without much companionship, so I found myself resorting to downloading a dating app to meet people.
When I first matched with Nathan, our initial conversation was confusing – we had matched, and after a few texts he had disappeared from my dating app, inexplicably.
We ended up matched again, and moved the conversation to Telegram to avoid getting unmatched again.
That in itself should’ve been the first red flag, but during our first conversation he had mentioned that some of his matches had disappeared before too, so I’d assumed it was just a glitch with the app.
When he told me he played piano, here’s what it looked like in my head.
Nathan was great to talk to – I rarely click with people easily, but somehow our conversation flowed effortlessly. Hours, days, weeks were spent texting each other — we bonded over It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, our perspectives about life and relationships, intimacy and the like.
Nathan had recently moved to the country, and he told me about his work, his culture shock, his childhood. We exchanged pictures and were playful with each other.
He was good-looking, sweet, humble, well-spoken. He read books, played the piano and genuinely wanted to know more about me. We had clicked almost instantly and shared similar worldviews.
He would constantly want to talk to me, and we would wind up texting till early in the morning. I told him I was a writer and he was very eager for me to share some of my writings with him, both published and unpublished.
Nathan got me to open up about my most private thoughts
I shared personal, intimate details about me and my life, and so did he – or at least, I thought he did. He complimented me and my habits, calling it cute that I was afraid of horror movies.
When he found out that it was my birthday, he asked me, almost pleaded with me, to spend the day with him.
He lived an hour’s drive away, so meeting up would have to be planned in advance. He would get cake, he said, so we can celebrate it. He would set up his place, cook dinner, make cocktails for us.
We were to watch horror movies so he could see me react to them. He wanted me to read to him when I mentioned that reading was my favourite pastime. You can come over and pick up any book you want from my collection, he’d said – my birthday gift to you.
This was it, I’d thought – we hadn’t met yet but I just knew I’d be spending a lot of my time with him from now on.
We stopped texting at 4am on the day we were to meet. See you in the morning, he said – get some rest, because I want you all to myself later today. So I did.
On the day we were supposed to meet, he vanished
I woke up to my alarm that morning, so that I could start my day early and drive over to him. Switching off my alarm, I opened Telegram – only to find Account Deleted where his name was supposed to be. I went on the dating app only to find myself unmatched.
I sat up straight, still in bed, suddenly fresh. The wind felt knocked out of me. I was confused – what happened? It can’t have been a glitch on both apps. If he really didn’t want to meet me, why not just say so?
I needed to know. I needed an answer. He was the one who constantly wanted to talk to me the past few days. What had changed?
I did whatever came to my mind.
I deleted my dating app account and created a new one, hoping I’d come across him again. Still in bed, an hour later I had swiped through everyone in the area.
His profile wasn’t there. I didn’t know his last name; I couldn’t google him. I knew his job scope and schooling, and I attempted to google them, but to no avail.
Could I have fallen for a catfish?
A thought occurred to me, something which I didn’t want to address, out of fear that it may be true.
I’d told off a friend of mine recently who had been involved in a romance scam. She had met someone off a dating app, someone who lived in another country entirely. Over the passage of a month, he professed his love to her and began asking for help: money.
I had told her about my suspicions that it may be a scam, since she had never spoken to him, except for through texts. Eventually, after depleting her savings and investments, she was out of RM12,000 – but he still kept asking for more ‘help.’
A day came when she had had enough and was upset, and asked a friend’s help to find her now boyfriend on social media, and her friend had – only to discover that it was someone else altogether, and that she had been scammed.
So, I took a deep breath and transferred Nathan’s pictures to my laptop. Mumbling under my breath, I hoped I wouldn’t find anything as I Googled his images.
I realized, I had been catfished
Nathan’s pictures led me to a Reddit thread, which led me to a Twitter and Instagram account. It was Nathan’s pictures, but it was someone else named Mike. A gamer in the USA.
I couldn’t believe it. I was more angry at myself than anything. Angry, and very, very confused. How could I have been catfished? I knew all the red flags to look out for. I never trusted anyone I met online easily. And yet, with Nathan, I had.
I scrolled through our messages over and over again. Neither of us had asked for a phone call. I had never asked him his surname, although he knew mine, since I had shared my published writings with him.
When I’d asked him for his Instagram, he’d said he’d deactivated it after a bad breakup, that I could activate it when I meet him, and we could take pictures together. For his WhatsApp and Spotify, he’d said they hadn’t been working since he arrived in the country. I’d believed him.
I’d believed all of it without a second guess
Seeing the pictures Nathan had claimed were his, seeing the red flags I’d brushed over while we’d talked, knowing that someone who wasn’t actually ‘Nathan’ now knew the most intimate details about me — it sent a shiver down my spine.
I reached out to the real person whose pictures Nathan has used, telling him that he was being used to catfish and possibly scam women on a dating app.
It was 3pm now, the time when I was supposed to have met Nathan. But here I was, feeling used, violated and taken advantage of – still in bed, still unable to move and start my day, overcome with shock.
What confused me most was not knowing why. Nathan hadn’t exploited me the way my friend’s catfish had. Nathan hadn’t asked for my help, for money, for anything at all.
He’d just talked to me, been my confidante, my friend and more for the past few days. He’d given me hope, manipulated my emotions and told me what I wanted to hear.
What was the point of it all?
Was any of it even real? His pictures weren’t, but what about the rest? What about everything we had bonded over? How we’d clicked almost immediately?
Who is the real person behind the fake identity anyway? Is it someone real who just used a different set of pictures than his? Did he just have a lot of time to waste, and so decided to play with my feelings as he had? Was he even in the country, at all?
What about now? What about everything I’d told him about myself, the pictures I’d exchanged with him? What’s to happen with them? He knows too much for comfort about me now. Is Nathan – whoever he really is – going to use them against me, one fine day?
Looking out for the red flags
After a close friend of mine being a victim of a romance scam, after I myself having been catfished – I’m paranoid. Moving forward, I didn’t want to give up on dating apps entirely, but chose to be far more smarter about it than I already thought I had been. Here are a couple of tips to avoid being catfished:
- Always exchange phone numbers instead of using third-party messaging apps
- After you’ve communicated with each other quite a bit, exchange social media handles – if someone can be on Tinder, they can be on Instagram as well
- Ask to have a video call with the person – that’s how you have actual proof that they’re really who they say they are. I myself never brought it up since I prefer texting, but after being catfished I realized just how important this is
- Never share personal, intimate photos with someone you’ve never met. This is also a rule which works great generally
- If, and only if you’re suspicious about someone’s legitimacy, use images.google.com to look up their pictures. Sure, this isn’t the best way to learn to trust someone, but at times it’s the only way to get a peace of mind
I’m still reeling from the consequences
After being catfished, I was distraught – a month later, I still am. It’s a weird feeling, missing someone who you know just used you, someone who wasn’t even real.
Every other day, I still think about my catfish. I wonder if in the near or far future he’ll make use of everything I shared with him in confidence; if it’ll come back to bite me. Of what his intentions were and are with me.
I wonder if I’ll be at the supermarket one fine day and he’ll be there as well, laughing at me and my gullibility, knowing everything he knows.
I’m beyond paranoid now. Every new person I speak to on dating apps, I always try to overanalyze my conversations, in case it’s the real person who catfished me. At times, if the conversation goes further, I now transfer the new person’s pictures to my laptop and Google their images – just to make sure.
I’m well aware that behavior like this can be thought of as ‘crazy,’ as overthinking things. But I personally feel traumatized. I’m constantly paranoid about the little things that might now add up; interrogating someone until my behavior comes across as abnormal.
It’s more than just being ghosted
Some might say that I was just ghosted, that I need to get over it.
I honestly wish I could, but instances like this stay with you. Being catfished isn’t someone just choosing not to reply to you – it’s feeling like you’ve been taken advantage of. It’s feeling silly every day to have fallen for something you’d thought you were above.
But at the end of the day, it’s about not having had closure. It’s the not knowing that drives you up the wall. The whys of it all.
That’s what traumatized me about being catfished. I know this will stay with me for the longest time, and that I will always continue to have problems with trusting every new person I speak to. The way I see it now – I don’t really have much of a choice.
My advice is, never be confident about your ability to know how the world works, what people’s intentions with you are. After all, catfishing is a phenomenon for a reason – it’s a lot more common than you think, just like I did.