Online romance happens all the time, and sometimes it ends in a storybook marriage. However, it’s just as likely to end in “catfish.” Before you convince yourself that you have met the person of your dreams or that your partner is going to leave you for someone online, you might want to consider “catfish.”
The term “catfish” comes from a 2010 documentary film of the same title made by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, who went about recording the online romance of Schulman’s brother. Nev Schulman fell madly in love with a beautiful young woman in her twenties, and their exchanges keep getting hotter and more frequent. The more pictures of herself and artwork Angela sent him, the more Nev fell in love. They stayed online late into many nights, pouring their souls out to one another in intimate emails and texts. When Nev wants more than anything to meet her and hold her in his arms for real, Angela keeps postponing a rendezvous. Finally, Nev and the filmmakers push the issue and show up at her house with cameras and bouquets of flowers, only to find out that Angela does not exist except in the imagination of an unattractive and untruthful middle-aged woman. i
In a similar story that turned into a media sensation, Manti Te’o, a Notre Dame football player, captured the hearts of his public when he revealed that both his girlfriend and his grandmother died the same day. He and his online love, Kennay Kekua, shared texts up until the moment of her death, when her last words to him were “I love you.” ii
The problem was Lennay Kekua did not exist. Her pictures were that of another woman who was clueless about the whole affair.
“This is incredibly embarrassing,” Te’o later told reporters, “I believed it was an authentic relationship.”
Some catfish are sinister and deadly.
A few years ago, a 49-year-old Missouri woman posing as a teenage boy on MySpace seduced and then goaded a 13-year-old girl into suicide. Lori Drew’s character told Megan Meier that “the world would be better off without you,” among other things. Drew was later convicted of three misdemeanor charges. iii
In a similar 2013 incident in Tucson, Arizona, 19-year-old Jesus Duarte was angry to learn that Samuel Terrazas had sex with his girlfriend. Posing as a girl on the Internet, Duarte found out where Terrazas was living, went there and shot him to death.
Professor Paul Frampton, a brilliant physicist specializing in particle theory at the University of North Carolina, fell in love with a voluptuous bikini model, Denise Milani, whom he met online in November 2011. A few months later when he was on his way to take her home to be his wife, she casually asked him to pick up a suitcase in La Paz. Police later arrested Dr. Frampton for drug smuggling at the Ezeiza airport. Contradictory evidence at his trial indicated that he may have known he was carrying drugs, although he claimed he was an innocent victim. He had probably been communicating with a male drug smuggler because the real Milani is indeed a model who had nothing to do with this incident. iv
New Zealander Sharon Armstrong, a New Zealand woman was traveling to meet an online lover in London when he asked her to pick up a bag in Buenos Aires that turned out to contain cocaine. Both Armstrong and Dr. Frampton were sentenced to four years in South American prisons.
Their stories are good reminders that before you or someone you love becomes intimately involved in an online romance, the prudent thing is to run a background check on the person or at least insist that you meet in person.
What you don’t know can hurt you — you may have caught a catfish.
i “Catfish” (the movie); The International Movie Data Base, see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1584016/
ii Surdin, Ashley. “Woman Found Guilty of Three Misdemeanors for MySpace Hoax That Led to Suicide,” Washington Post, November 27, 2008.
iii Swann, Maxine. “The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble,” The New York Times Magazine, March 8, 201
iv Zimmer, Ben. “Catfish: How Manti Te’o’s imaginary romance got its name,” Boston Globe, January 27, 2013