Help! I’m Catfishing Someone and I Don’t Know How to Stop

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’m an ugly guy. I used to look okay, but I got a bad injury when I was 11. The surgeon did his best, but … there’s a reason I don’t leave my house much. Every time I go out, people stare. That’s why the internet has been a haven for me. Nobody knows what I look like because I use a stock photo for my profile pictures.

As you can guess, finding love hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve tried every dating app under the sun and I never get any responses. I know everybody says the inside is what counts, but women see my face and run before I can get a word out. I can’t really blame them, but it’s still frustrating. I’ve been so lonely, you have no idea.

But five months ago I found the most amazing girl. We met on a film forum and started geeking out about Quentin Tarantino. The more I talked with this girl, the more I liked her. So when she started flirting with me, it was a dream come true. She’s the first girl who has EVER been interested in me. I couldn’t help but flirt back.

We’ve been in a relationship for five months now. She’s asked to meet a few times (we both live near Chicago), but I’ve been putting it off. My girlfriend got a little mad last time and jokingly asked if I was catfishing her. And it hit me: She was right. I am a catfish.

I didn’t post the fake profile picture to lure anyone in, though. I only wanted people to see the real me, which is basically the opposite of catfishing, right? And I’ve been honest with my girlfriend about everything else. But … ever since that talk, I’ve felt so guilty. I know I should tell my girlfriend the truth, but I don’t want to lose her. The one time I tried to bring it up, I panicked and backed out at the last minute.

What should I do? Should I meet up and listen to whatever my girlfriend has to say? Or will we both hurt less if I break up with her from behind the screen? —Accidental Catfisher

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Dear Accidental Catfisher,

I feel for you. Dating in person is rough enough, but virtual dating adds some notable complications. Knowing who and what you can trust online is a challenge, and the potential for catfishing—defined by Merriam-Webster as setting up a “false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes”—is one reason that’s so.

You write that you “didn’t post the fake profile picture to lure anyone in,” that you only wanted people to see the “real” you. By that, I assume you mean you wanted people to form their perceptions of you based on your expressions rather than your appearance. That’s understandable. I wonder if, had you revealed early on that your profile photo is an avatar, your love interest would have also understood. Now that things are progressing toward a possible face-to-face meeting, you say you don’t know how to resolve this situation.

Speaking of understandable, your fear of rejection and loss is easy to relate to, as is your panic in the moment with so much at stake. I hear how important this relationship is to you. Relationships call for courage and openness. Writing your letter is both courageous and open of you, which bodes well for your ability to be candid with the people in your life.

I’m not here to tell you what to do. I am here to try to help you understand what your feelings are telling you. For example, the guilt you say you feel may be trying to steer you toward a corrective action—in this case, perhaps fessing up, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness.

You say this is the first time a girl has been interested in you. Relationships are built on authenticity and compassion. Is losing a person who doesn’t value those things above all else really a loss?

I imagine you have placed yourself in her shoes and have considered how you might feel to be told she hadn’t been forthcoming about her appearance. Would that be a problem for you? Would it have been less of a problem early on as opposed to now? Would it be more of a problem to find out in person as opposed to now, over the internet? These are all questions I would want to explore with you in therapy as we thought about how you might proceed.

I would also want to explore some of the self-image concerns I’m hearing, as those concerns may be at the root of everything else that’s going on. You describe yourself with more than a hint of shame, despair, and some longing as well. It’s unfortunate that some of your experiences—being stared at and so on—have reinforced these self-perceptions.

But there’s also clearly a lot to like, based on the fact you have attracted someone special. Those likable things are winning, desirable qualities no matter what. Are they mostly in hiding too? If you feel confident and loving about what’s under the surface, often the surface-level stuff takes care of itself.

You say this is the first time a girl has been interested in you. Relationships are built on authenticity and compassion. Is losing a person who doesn’t value those things above all else really a loss?

So here we are. What’s next? You can disappear and “ghost” her, break up behind the screen, fess up before you meet, or come clean in person. Only you know what is right. Whatever you decide, I recommend that you work with a therapist who will help you face up to yourself and then to others.

I hear that you are reluctant to be “seen.” It’s ultimately what we all want—to be accepted and loved, warts and all. I hope you can offer yourself and your friend some compassion and take the steps necessary to live an authentic life you can feel good about.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 2 comments
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  • Heath

    Heath

    May 21st, 2018 at 11:28 AM

    Props to this guy for at least acknowledging what he is doing and asking for help. Some catfishers do what they do and it comes from a bad place. I don’t get that impression with this guy. That said, he needs to come clean….NOW. Before they meet up.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    May 21st, 2018 at 11:52 AM

    Well said, Heath,
    Take care,
    Lynn

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