Telling Tall Tales: Being Catfished on My First Pandemic Date

Having recently departed a relationship, I’ve been mulling over a lot of things. One specific thought that keeps floating through my mind is whether I can stomach being on a dating app again. Just thinking about it makes my digestive system turn and not in a fluttering butterflies way. Weighing the fleeting chance of sexual victory against the dead weight of swiping drudgery, I put it off for several weeks. Then, at a random hour last Thursday night I dusted off my Tinder profile and began my third tour of digital dating duty.

I have written lot about these apps since my last journey through the endless sea of faces, fish photos (STILL!), and profiles that spin all sorts of stories. As I dip my toe into the charged waters, I see some changes since last time, namely the rise of ‘alternate’ lifestyles: open marriages, polyamory, and couples looking for “thirds” also called unicorn hunting. A more colourful array of masculinities is also on display, which is exciting. I’m not necessarily attracted to these guys, but more diversity is a good thing.

Previously, I used Tinder obsessively and was convinced it was my only lifeline to dating success. This is precisely what the designers want us to believe, and it has helped shape the cultural narrative that dating apps are the ONLY way to meet people. Please note: Tinder was created nine years ago, not ninety. Just because we’re told that dating apps are now the standard route to sex, intimacy, and marriage, our everyday lives as humans show us that there’s more out there. 

We’re still flesh, aren’t we?

***

Although my X left the relationship without much grace or kindness, I remain grateful for the intimacy we shared for most of the pandemic. For millions of people who didn’t have the opportunity for human touch and sexual closeness, the past fifteen months have been excruciating. But, with round two of the vaccines in many arms and very little mention of Covid on Tinder profiles (it’s in my bio!), it seems like business as usual in swipedom.

This time I’m using the app less furiously and am going with the “whatever happens happens” mantra. It feels better to check it less often and with less pressure. Until about 20 minutes ago, I kept my age range in the usual 28-45 spectrum. I just bumped it up to 61 after meeting my friend’s boyfriend who is around that age and pretty cool. Does less fuckery await me in the arms or sentences of someone older? Maybe a more interesting question is: what or how might these connections be different? 

The most important ingredient in my romantic future is to be clear about what I want. What do I want?

I’m not 100% sure, but I know what I don’t want and that’s to be catfished. It happened yesterday for a SECOND time with the same guy, which is super unfortunate and weird. It floors me that people purposefully masquerade as someone else and show up like nothing’s wrong. I didn’t get the memo in the hidden dating app manual that explains what I’m supposed to do when faced with a catfish situation. The first time it happened, I said nothing. I think they count on our silence.

Rewind to two years ago, when girl (me) meets guy who doesn’t look like pictures and sleeps with him anyways. Why? Because it seemed easier, nicer, and safer than calling him out. And, what WAS I going to say?: “Excuse me, you’re certainly not what was advertised” or something less scathing like: “Yeah, this isn’t going to work for me.” I said neither, shagged him, and then he asked me for money = OMFG. 

Another reason I slept with him is because I was curious. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and a bit horrified when following my wandering eye/loins/heart. I’ve also been in some sticky situations and am not necessarily advocating for this approach, just sharing it. Sex is a revealing way into a person, literally and figuratively, and as an anthropologist I often do things to learn more about the world and how people work. This includes my intimate life, which has been very interesting. 

So, there I am last night opening my front door to the same imposter, only I don’t know that yet.  I sense that he’s not as tall as the guy in the profile pictures, which sets off some spidey senses. When he removes his mask a sense of disappointment washes over me and a series of small red flags begin pushing their way through my intuitive landscape. He’s definitely not tall and definitely not 31. Bro you’re so not the man I thought I might break the pandemic new person seal with. UGH. 

I watch him play along, asking me questions, commenting on my many tattoos, and casually unpacking the half empty 26oz bottle of vodka and generic cranberry juice from inside his bag. I’m sorry, did I say you could drink here? As a sober woman, I let him know that I don’t imbibe. Truthfully, I don’t mind if others do, but most folks, I mean all folks, ask before cracking something open. As he rudely began drinking and asking me the standard ‘new person’ questions I felt a wave of uneasiness begin to rise. 

When he took off his cardigan and I saw his large arm tattoo that’s when I knew. MF’er. He continued talking and I nodded in his direction while pulling away from our conversation. While all of this was happening and I didn’t quite know what I was going to say, I noticed my female cat Elliott. I realized that she was staying within my line of vision, which isn’t necessarily common behaviour for her when a stranger comes over. She knew and was letting me know, what a good girl. 

About ten minutes into the charade the words come out: “I think we’ve met before.” I mention living in an apartment and that there were requests for money. Stoned-faced, he says no, he would remember me and that he was seeing someone two years ago. Then he asks me for details of my interactions with this guy (HIM) and I tell him that I don’t remember much because he really wasn’t worth remembering. STING. Then I mention that we slept together- how fucking outrageous- and still nothing.

He says repeatedly that we haven’t met and added the gaslighting comment that it would be messed up for someone to do “that”, especially in a small city like ours. Yes, sir, you are correct on that front. Bizarrely, he also says this: “If we did meet, it must have been in another time.” K, what? Another time? What a LOSER + fraud + time travel charlatan! He slowly packs up his ghetto booze and calls a cab as I escort him out. I want to scream “CATFISHER” but don’t. Safety first. 

On that note, three friends knew about the date and have a copy of his profile picture. We were going to meet downtown, but I had a full day and didn’t feel like Ubering there and back. #datingconfessions. Curious about the origins of the term “Catfish”? It’s from an American documentary of the same name that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. It explores the experiences of a guy who travels to connect with a woman he met online, who he thinks is nineteen but is really a forty- year-old housewife. 

What an unsettling reentry into Tinderland, Babes in Toyland, Enter Sandman, Knock-Knock Ginger (WHO remembers that “game”?), you get the idea. I share the wretched news with my friends and decompress in the backyard with my trusty girl Elliott. Who knows what the future swipes and conversations will bring, but I like my refreshed approach and trust in the romantic universe that whatever happens happens.