You know that MTV show "Catfish"? The reality spin-off of the possibly fake documentary of the same name? If you haven't seen it, I'll lay it out for you: The show tracks poor young saps who fall in love (er, infatuation) with people they've never met in real life -- people they've only met online. (Of course, they DO eventually meet in real life; on-camera, of course, which is the point of the show. Because what's more sickly gratifying than watching some poor young couple's gorgeous, glittering fantasy disintegrate ON LIVE TV!?)
Every time I watch the show, I cringe for approximately 52 minutes straight. Then I want to cry. Especially when the aw-so-hopeful pseudo-couple's mutual lovey dovey text bombs flash across the screen (which they do, constantly): "I can't wait till we can be together for real;'" "I've never felt so comfortable with someone before;" "I can tell you anything," et al.
Why cry? Because I've been there multiple times, with multiple men. And while it always starts out feeling deliciously exciting and expansive, like a clean swath of empty highway stretched out before you, in the end it feels like … another ending. Another horrible ending that is, in some ways, even worse than a "real" breakup, because that whole fantasy-dying thing.
Fortunately, my "Catfish"-y experiences didn't end as awkwardly as they usually do on the show, though they did end. Here are three of the men I fell for before I'd even met them in person (names are changed).
TOM, CIRCA 2012
Tom emailed me out of the blue, complimenting an essay I’d written about sober dating (he was sober too). Curious, I Googled him, and after I spotted his photo on LinkedIn, I was … gone. Dead. Out. He looked like the perfect, pretty sad-boys I've always loved: sullen and serious, with maudlin eyes like marbles.
We began emailing constantly, sharing intimate details of our lives -- both the day-to-day minutiae (“here’s a picture of my omelet!”) and our darkest fears (“gahhh dying alone”). He was five years younger, smart, witty, and well-read. We began texting all day, every day, eventually adding phone calls into the mix. I felt closer to him than to some of my "real" friends. “Marry me,” he joke-texted a few seconds after I confessed my decade-long obsession with Britney Spears.
Our pseudo-relationship dragged on for 6 months, and though it felt weirdly intoxicating, it was also ... toxic. Not only was I smitten with someone physically unavailable (he lived a thousand miles away) -- Tom, while he often admitted to having feelings for me, never expressed any interest in actually, you know, DATING me. (He wasn't looking for a serious relationship, see.) He was the king of mixed signals, and he led me on, but overall he preferred what he called our “epistolary romance” as it was: a fantasy, nurtured on both sides.
We met in person twice, spending a few days hanging out, and sleeping together, and playing boyfriend-and-girlfriend who were not, in fact, boyfriend and girlfriend. I was in pain a lot, and thought often about how to extricate myself from the delicate mess we'd made. About a month after our second in-person rendezvous, I ended it, in a fit of rage following some stupid text fight (we frequently fought, mainly fueled by jealousy or befuddlement about our mind-bogglingly ambiguous "frilationship"). It hurt, but my sanity had finally become more important, in the larger scheme of things, than futilely trying to convince this young, adorable, confused man to love me.
MIKE, CIRCA 2001
When Mike emailed me via Nerve Personals (!) way back in 2001, I felt ... stricken. See, immediately upon glimpsing his photo, the basest part of me was set a-flailing on a desperate sea of want. In other words? Hi, Mike was GORGEOUS.
And he had so much of what I was looking for. In addition to his dark floppy hair and dark coffee eyes and full lips (I'm a sucker for a man with a huge mouth), he was clever, and cultured, and sweet. The only problem? He lived in Florida. I was in Brooklyn. Which didn't make things easy.
But we didn't actually end up DATING-dating until a couple years later, anyhow. First we formed a long-distance friendship, emailing each other and talking on the phone here and there. (It was way more protracted and less intense than the thing I had with Tom, above.) He came to New York once; for one fun, perfect night, we hooked up, then we returned to the empty trudge of our everyday lives and our other options. While we both flitted around with other people, I secretly pined from afar, drowning myself in unrequited-love songs and ruminating about whether we'd ever have something real.
When, a couple years later, Mike returned to New York and told me he -- gasp -- wanted to try dating me long-distance, a swell of happiness and relief flooded my throat. I could finally stop longing and wishing and hoping! That feeling of getting exactly what you want after years of uncertainty (will he will I will it ever?) is pretty priceless.
He ended up moving to New York, though our relationship began to unravel soon after, and even cohabitation couldn't save us. I have nothing nasty to say about Mike (even though after we broke up I discovered he'd been writing to other women on Nerve for the last six months of our relationship -- that sucked).
KENYON, CIRCA 2000
Must admit: my memories of Kenyon (a cute, bespectacled giant -- I think he was all of 6'10" or something) are slightly murky, because it was a zillion years ago. (Plus, our relationship never got beyond the email stage.) But we met through some mutual friend on LiveJournal, started leaving flirty little comments on each others' entries. Then it escalated to IMing and emailing each other all the time. We talked about everything, exposed our darkest innards to one another. He lived in Kansas City, Missouri; I was in Brooklyn, so again with the long-distance fantasy crap. (Pattern much?)
He confessed that he'd just gotten out of a 10-year relationship -- like, a month before -- which rightfully gave me pause. Just ... not enough pause. Not enough to reconsider my invitation for him to come visit me in Brooklyn, anyway. Doh! Said visit was thisclose to happening, but then he chickened out at the last minute -- the very same day he was due to arrive. He'd never met anyone from the Internet before, and I think the magnitude of what he was about to do hit him suddenly -- i.e., he was about to get on a plane for a weeklong visit with a girl he'd never actually met. His hesitation makes perfect sense to me now, though at the time I was super-bummed, not to mention pissed. We stopped talking after that.
Have you ever fallen for someone you met online and/or hadn't yet met in person? Please share!
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