Fishing Nightmares

Anyone who knows me, knows that there is no television I loathe more than reality television. I don’t care if you sing, dance, cook or do hair. I don’t care if you are or used to be in love with someone famous; if you’re trying to show off how rich and pointless you are, or how poor and pointless you are; I don’t care if you’re trying to find love, or win money- or both. It all sucks to me. So no one was more surprised than I was that I was sitting in front of a television being poisoned with someone’s so-called “reality.”

My friend went through a hard time recently and I went to hang out with her at her house for a while. She decided that she needed a little television distraction- reality television. I resisted at first, but in deference to her emotional hardship, I relented and agreed to watch something with her. And she introduced me to the heartbreaking, tragic, train wreck that is MTV’s Catfish.

Now, even though I’m sure the entire world knows the premise of this show, I will break it down real quick: Nev is a guy who fell in love with a girl online. But when he met the girl in person, she turned out to be someone else. He was heartbroken, his brother filmed that heartbreak- and that short film has started the clock on his 15 minutes of fame. Now, he is going around the country, helping other people meet their online loves and verify the truth about them, and their lives. I watched three episodes of this show with my friend and my super-emotional self couldn’t bear how completely heartbreaking it seemed. In two of the episodes, the online love was a completely different person that didn’t even seem all that repentant that they had led someone on and played with their life. In the other episode, the person was actually real- but they had been lying and using a glamorous alter ego with a fictional life. I know I’m soft- I know this- but it made my chest hurt a little to watch it.

I don’t want you guys to think I’m naive. I know people lie, all the time, about a lot of things. But the concept of watching a person say that they have real feelings for someone and then find out that it was a joke to the person on the other end was tragedy at its best. Now I’m on Twitter (@ShamekaErby if you want to follow me), and I have read my timeline when Catfish is on. There’s nothing but jokes- people seem to find it amusing. And I didn’t laugh one time when I watched it. If anything, it made me sad and cemented my resolve to stay far away from reality TV. But, as usual, I’m getting off track…

Watching Catfish led me to some serious thoughts about online dating. These days, if you’re over the age of 21, saying that you haven’t connected/ dated another person using some form of online engine is like saying you’ve never been to Starbucks. And I am no different. I’ve met people using social network tools, I’ve joined a couple of dating websites. It’s been… surprising to say the least. At first, I flatly refused to even consider it. I wanted to meet someone the “normal way.” I thought it made me some kind of social freak that I couldn’t meet people just going out, and having fun, and living my life. What I figured out later (with my friends’ help, of course) is that I could do those things in addition to dating online- and it didn’t make me a weirdo. This calmed me- because my inner South Philly knows that one of the worse things in the world to be is a weirdo. So I gave it a shot… and regretted it instantly. Because what I met online was a long, unattractive line of- you guessed it- weirdos. Some were brash, some were disrespectful, some were just stupid. It was twice the work of meeting someone in real life because you couldn’t even trust your own eyes. The people could be lying about everything you were reading on their profile pages. Now, I know people can lie to you in person too- but the lies are completely different. If I met you in a bar there’d be no way you could tell me you were 6’3″ when you were really 5’4″. Now when you meet someone in an actual setting, you can’t trust them completely, but there’s at least some things you can be pretty certain about. Dating online has NONE of that certainty. And it’s scary, to be honest. 

I won’t front like I haven’t had some mild success. I met a couple of nice guys- guys that turned into good friends. Guys that I eventually did verify- by meeting them in person. Guys that I can honestly say are good guys. I haven’t fallen in love, and I’m not completely convinced that I could without ever meeting them (like the people on Catfish) but I’ve had some really good conversations and spent some nice quality time. None of it has turned into a relationship- but I don’t think it’s because of the way I met them.

I guess the key to it is the eventual meetup. There’s no way I could call myself being in a “relationship” with someone I’ve never met face-to-face. It’s just too far-fetched for me. There’s this book out about love languages and how everyone has a different way that they love and like to be shown love. Now, I’m a writer so when I heard about this, naturally I thought words of affirmation would be most important to me (especially since I had an ex that never told me how he felt and that was a huge disconnect between us)- but I figured out that physical touch may be the most important to me. I’m tactile; I love to feel things. When I’m sleeping with someone, I need to be touched (even if it’s just a little) or I can’t settle down. I still read traditional books because I like turning the pages. I’m just that girl. So love strictly over the internet will never work for me. Because eventually I’m going to need to hug you, or hold your hand, or feel your touch in some way. That’s just me. But I guess those Catfish people don’t need that- I guess the email, text, phone call connection is enough.

I feel sad for them. Although there’s no shame in online dating (even with all of the weirdos), there has to be some real loneliness at the heart of these things; loneliness that makes you hinge your heart, and your life decisions on someone you’ve never met. I don’t know if it’s “deep down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no hope, end-of-the-world loneliness” as Charlie Brown once said, but it could be pretty serious. All I know is, if anything will make you scared of online dating, it’s that show.

Suffice it to say, online dating has all the same risks as face-to-face dating- with a few extra thrown in, and it can also be fun… but it’s not the joke that reality TV is turning it into. Not when it’s obvious that so many people take it seriously. I’ll just keep my current method of using it occasionally as ONE of my dating tools- but definitely not the only one. And I’m never watching Catfish again… the things we do for friends… 

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