To the Girl I (Accidentally) Catfished
As you get older, there seems to be an invisible line that you cross. Deep, dark, shameful things you did as a kid or teenager somehow become funny, and those hidden secrets are pulled out as entertaining stories at parties. The secrets you once hid in in horror become a punch line of sorts.
A few weeks ago at dinner, I was warning a friend about meeting up with a guy she met on Tinder.
“Meet him in a public setting,” I told her. “If he refuses and only wants to meet in private, that’s a bit of a red flag.”
My other friend chimed in. “You never know when you could be catfished,” she said. I nodded.
“Hey, did I ever tell you guys about how I catfished someone when I was 14?”
Suddenly it was out there. It just popped out, my brain suddenly deciding that this was a perfect time to reveal the secret I had kept for almost eight years.
To be honest, I had mostly forgotten about it. It wasn’t something I actively thought about, until sophomore year of college when I came home one day to find my roommate watching MTV’s “Catfish.”
In most of these cases, someone has fallen in love with a person they met online and started a relationship. These people often have fake social media accounts, and fake Facebooks full of pictures of someone else. They feed people lies. The reasons vary, but the result is always the same: Someone falls in love with a stranger, and ends up getting betrayed.
“This is so sick, Hope, seriously. How does someone do this?” my roommate asked me. As I watched the show, my stomach dropped in horror.
I had done this. I was one of those people. I grew distinctly uncomfortable. I had to stop watching.
It all started innocently enough. I was 14, not yet in high school. I attended a very small private school where I was currently experiencing severe bullying. I was a weird kid, I had no friends in my class at all, and almost no friends in general. Of the two people I connected to, both attended different schools, and one was only accessible over the Internet.
I met Mina through an online Harry Potter community. At that time, I was using the named Charlie for two reasons: I was unwilling to use my real name on the Internet, and I believed a name with male connotations would not make me a target for creepy old men. And I had just finished “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” and was enamored.
Whenever I talked to people online, I always declined to provide a gender. I would give out my fake name, information about myself, etc., but I always avoided the topics of gender and location. Internet safety 101.
Mina was a lot like me. Around the same age, (though I had rounded mine up to 15), problems with bullies, and pretty isolated from other friends. We had a lot of things in common, and we became fast friends. We talked a lot via email. I used an old email address, fight.the.foo.fight (because I had a serious obsession with the Foo Fighters). We eventually graduated to AIM. At that time, I was using a fake screen name as a precaution.
So for a long time, Mina knew me only as Charlie, or JohnnysGotAPRBLM (a rip off of the D.I. song “Johnny’s Got A Problem).
We talked. A lot. Almost every day after school, we would talk for hours. She became one of my closest friends. When she started cutting herself, I was always there, willing to talk to her for hours if necessary. She told me I was her crutch.
And then one day, Mina told me she loved me.
My fingers literally froze on the keyboard of my old Gateway laptop.
“What?” I asked her.
“You’re not like any guy I’ve ever met. You’re always there for me, so caring. You get it. You’re my best friend.”
You’re not like any guy. You’re not like any guy. You’re not like any guy.
My 14-year-old stomach dropped, my heart started pounding, I felt like I was going to puke. My mind raced back over everything I had ever told her. I told her about how I loved to play guitar, how I wanted a dog, how I was excited for high school, how I loved punk music and drumming… but I never told her my gender.