So, this happened.
Two days ago as I was getting my daughter ready for school and checking my Twitter (I’m nearly as bad as a teen lately) when I mentioned to my daughter that I had a fan. My first fan. (At least, my first fan who wasn’t a friend before they read my book.)
Which is kind of fun but also kind of unsettling. You see, it’s a male fan and I keep wondering who he really is. I mean, I know who he says he is, but I have unfounded doubts.
I told her, laughingly, that I kept wanting to ask this guy if he was one of my ex-boyfriends whom we will call “O” to protect the innocent.
“Why?” she asked.
“Well, because O stalked me on the flash fiction circuit a few years back, remember? Didn’t I tell you that?”
She half grinned with an playful open-mouthed shocked expression and said, “Mom! You got … catfished?”
And I stopped, coffee halfway to my mouth, frozen in space while denials flew through my brain. And then it hit me. OMG! That’s exactly what happened.
I was catfished.
By someone I knew.
Someone I had dated.
Now I don’t know if any of you follow the MTV show Catfish where Nev and Max help people unravel relationships that begin online, become serious, but are mostly lies. It’s interesting and frequently sad or infuriating, but there are occasional happy stories.
Let me say for the record, it’s not nearly as interesting from this side.
This all happened when I was deep in flash fiction, before my mother passed away in (three years ago now). I was writing every week, hosting some and judging. Then a new person showed up on the scene, a guy named Jake. He entered everything I judged, every little contest I wrote for. And there was something about his writing that was strangely familiar. In a weird flashback kinda way. Just bits and pieces that brought up memories. I thought i was just imagining it and then I wondered if he’d read something I’d written but had forgotten about.
Still my mother was sick, I was trying to be productive at my day job, the writing and the single mom thing, so I pushed the weirdness from my mind. We chatted a bit. A little at first and then more. He was just verging on flirty, but who cared. He lived waaaaayy over there.
Or so he said.
And then my mother died, and I stopped writing. I mean I disappeared, vanished. I did occasionally check the circuit from time to time, lurking. But that guy never showed up again. He had ghosted, too. I never thought much about it.
Last year, “O” reconnected with me on FB. (He is a persistent type). He wanted to go to dinner. Of course, my don’t-do-it muse was screaming at me, but I, reluctantly, agreed. I figured if he was making a play it would be better to take money with me, split the tab, tell him not to even think about reconciliation, and be done with it.
So I went. Now, a point I need to mention is that I broke up with him the first time. The relationship wasn’t making me happy and so I ended it. And he moved away for a new job.
Over dinner, he told me he moved back to a neighboring town. And that he “moved back to be with me” since he had misjudged how much he cared about me. What do you say to the whole “I came back in time for you, Sarah” line? I was a bit shocked and angry.
But as if that wasn’t upsetting enough, he then told me how he had stalked me. He boasted that this other writer Jake was actually him. That he had been shadowing me (and outwriting me at times). And he had purposely been writing things we’d shared, dates we’d had to try to get me to notice him. To see if I would recognize him. Like a test?
It’s scary being manipulated like this.
I felt shocked. And ashamed to have been so taken in, used in a vague undefinable kind of way. Honestly, I nearly cried right there in the restaurant and once more, as so often happened in our brief relationship, I just wanted to go home. Alone.
I was so furious and upset. He’d always been a bit manipulative, but this was over the top. AND WORSE, I FELL FOR IT!
So yeah, I was catfished before I even knew it was a thing. And only just realized it now.
Anyway, needless to say I haven’t seen “O” since. But apparently that incident has stayed with me, a hidden caution that you don’t notice everyday. Now, if someone is being genuinely nice to me online – and I wonder who are they and what do they want?
No one should have to feel this way. That niggling suspicion that just because you don’t see a shoe doesn’t mean it won’t hit you when it drops. Trust is a funny thing. You think you trust people, in general or until they fail you. But experience teaches us otherwise and the message unconsciously gets in.
Well, this isn’t the person I want to be. And I won’t be anymore.
No one wants to date a coward, or a liar.
And I will do the same. I am pretty much who I seem to be – online or in real life. Goofy, naive, friendly complete with rose-colored glasses. And I won’t let some dumb whiskered catfish screw that up.