By now, anyone with a news feed knows of the the Manti Te’o/Lennay Kekua hoax, or what is known in the vernacular as catfishing. It is when one is duped in a romantic context, by someone purporting to be someone they are not. Scammers do it all the time, but usually they tip their hand within days or weeks when they ask for money. Catfishers have other, not always clear, motives.
Are they sociopaths? To some degree, as they stretch out what began as a prank or joke. But, as in Te’o's case, the prank continues and the victim’s emotions are involved. For the more naive or lonely, it doesn’t seem implausible to have strong affection for someone they’ve never met.
Why do catfishers do this? Who knows. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they know the person, as in Te’o's situation, and the prankster thought it was a funny practical joke. I have friends who enjoy pranking each other, but I’ve always thought it was immature and mean.
I’ve been catfished, not by a man pretending to be a different person, just pretending to be single, when in fact, he was married. And to make matters worse, I later learned, he was married to a woman I knew but had never met her husband. Did he pretend to be single to get sex? He claims no. He did it to prove to himself he was still attractive to women beyond his wife. He’s now in counseling, which is good because he needs it. (Read the story.)
Are all romantic hoaxers sick? I’d have to say yes, to varying degrees. I think this is true for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and his cousin who perpetuated what at least one of them must have known was a mean prank for so long. I can understand one person being immature and delighting seeing the news feature a fictitious person for months, but two not having a conscience? It could happen, but less likely. But as this story illustrates, it is possible.
So what’s the lesson for us midlife daters? The key here is nothing earth shattering, but I think it bears stating, since some midlife daters get caught up in “relationships” with people they’ve never met.
- If you haven’t met him, you’re not in a relationship. He is not your boyfriend.
- Don’t waste time chatting with someone you’re not going to meet within a month, max. If he does not live nearby, tell him to contact you again when he knows he’s coming to your area, or you already have a reason to be in his area.
- If ample time goes by (more than a month) and he hasn’t made a plan to meet you, he has no intention of ever doing so, no matter how many times he says he does. Move on.
- Even if you’ve met someone once or twice, you’re still not in a relationship.
- If you go to his town, do not stay in his home. You need safety and distance. Close, constant proximity can create the illusion of more connectedness than there is and you can progress physically and emotionally more quickly than you would if you stayed in a hotel. It may feel “right,” but it rarely lasts. Don’t go visit if you can’t afford a hotel.
- If he asks you to pay for his air fare, hotel, or any other expenses, drop him. If he ever asks you for money for anything, he’s a scammer and is playing the game with many other women, all day long. This is how he supports himself –playing multiple women for money.
Want to know what else to watch for? Get your copy — either ebook or hard copy — of Check Him Out Before Going Out: Head Off Dud Dates.