With the third season of Catfish coming to an end this week, I decided to reflect on some of the lessons on love this messed-up reality series has provided us with. According to Merriam and Webster themselves, a “catfish” is “any person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.” (Yes, the term “catfish” is officially in the dictionary now. I was just as surprised as you all are.) On the MTV series of the same name, two hosts, Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, travel around the U.S. and attempt to bring people together with those who are “catfishing” them.
A typical hour-long episode goes as follows: Nev and Max read an email from someone who would like their help in meeting a person they only know from the internet, texting, or television conversations. In the majority of the episodes, the person being catfished (we’ll just refer to them as the “catfishee” from now on) is in love with the one doing the catfishing (the “catfisher”). Also in basically every episode, the catfishee suspects that the catfisher is not who he/she says they are, thus their reason for enlisting the help of Nev and Max to figure out the truth.
Next, Nev and Max fly to the catfishee’s hometown, hear their side of the story, and proceed to do some research on the catfisher to try to find out the big secret that has prevented them from meeting their cyberspace lover. The two hosts then bring the catfisher and catfishee together to meet for the first time. The results of the initial in-person meeting vary from episode to episode, but the reactions and actions by both sides of the catfishing party reveal some harsh truths about modern love and dating in America.
Now, I’m fully aware that the topic of “America’s unrealistic standards of beauty” is a hot one that has been brought to attention through countless opinionated articles that appear on sites such as this one. The consensus of most of the writers is that, well, America has unrealistic expectations for attractiveness, which leads to body image and self-esteem issues for those whose looks don’t resemble a supermodel, which is basically the majority of the population.
So, you’re probably wondering how this is all relevant to Catfish. In pretty much every episode where the catfisher turns out to not be who or what they claimed to be, the fake profile they use features pictures of highly appealing women and men, which is presumably what attracts the catfishee to them in the first place. When the person behind the fake profile is revealed, it is usually always a less beautiful person who felt the need to pretend to be more attractive than they really are if they ever wanted to find someone to share their life with. How sad is that?
Nev and Max always sit down with the catfisher once their true identity is revealed and talk with them to understand their reasoning for luring someone to fall in love with a fake person. During these heart to hearts, the catfisher usually admits that they used false pictures because they didn’t think their online love would keep talking to them if they knew what they really looked like. Are the catfishers crazy for thinking appearances are an extremely vital aspect of dating success? Absolutely not—which is supported by the fact that the catfishees usually don’t want their mysterious lovers anymore once they see what they look like in person.
So what does this say about the online dating fad in America, and about modern American dating as a whole? First, it strengthens the idea that America does have high expectations for beauty—expectations that most people don’t live up to, so instead the ones with an exceptionally low self image lie to appear to others as beautiful as they wish they truly were.
Also, the behavior by the catfishee once the catfisher’s identity is revealed demonstrates that appearances matter more than we would like to believe. Most of the time, the catfisher really only stretched the truth about what they looked like. The phrase, “I only lied about the pictures, everything else is real” is uttered by catfishers countless times on the show. Ultimately, the catfishee’s termination of their strong love connection with their online romance once they witness them in harsh daylight highlights just how shallow people can be about looks. “Oh, so you’re not the supermodel from your profile picture, but just an average person? Pshh, sorry, it ain’t gonna work now. Even though I claimed that you were the love of my life two days ago…”
However, the catfishees aren’t always in the wrong by their decisions not to be with someone once they find out they’ve been lied to by them for years. If I found out someone was using a fake persona to talk to me for a long period of time, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be with them either. So what do the catfishers teach us about the modern dating scene (and life in general)? Catfish also illustrates to us how easy people will lie if they think it will get others like them. “Hmm… Maybe if I pretend to be a supermodel or a rapper I’ll have a better chance at getting someone to want to be with me and at starting a genuine relationship with them…” That seems to be the thought process of every in-love catfisher on the show. How they expect to build a real relationship based off a string of lies is beyond me, yet the overwhelming prevalence of deceptions on the television series never fails to display just how common everyday dishonesty has become.
I think that the most prominent issue with dating in America that is highlighted by Catfish is the simple fact that sometimes people want to be loved so badly that it causes them to act like straight up idiots. On one episode, a girl thought she was in a relationship with Bow Wow. Bow Wow. Like, what? Why on earth would a celebrity who probably gets multiple girls a night be in a committed relationship with someone they’ve never met? (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t Bow Wow. It was a lesbian.)
In another episode, a girl was engaged to a guy she only communicated with via phone calls and texts. She hadn’t ever even video chatted with him and she asked the person to marry her. She legitimately was planning a life with a person who didn’t even exist (spoiler alert: her online lover actually turned out to be her best friend, who was a girl). And these are just two of the many cases where it’s obvious to everyone except the catfishee that there is no way in hell their catfisher is the person they claim to be.
I know this just seems like I’m looking down on these people for believing true love exists—and I’m not. I’m just saying that the absolutely idiotic behavior on Catfish confirms that sometimes people are so desperate for love that they are willing to overlook some major reasons why the relationship they are in is doomed. This doesn’t just apply to online dating—we see this in our real-life relationships everyday. So take some advice that can be learned by watching this reality show—if you have a gut feeling that something suspicious is happening in your relationship, get the hell out of it, or you might find out that who you think is your girlfriend is actually a gay dude who’s tricked over 300 guys into relationships with him just for kicks.
Do the actions by both parties on Catfish apply to every American who is in the dating scene? Absolutely not. But the fact that Nev gets over ten thousand emails a month from people being catfished proves that it’s a hell of a lot more of a problem than most would like to believe. I’m not hating on Catfish either or trying to get people to stop watching it. It is extremely intriguing, Nev and Max are awesome, and I watch the show every week. I’m simply pointing out the fact that Catfish highlights many of the current reasons why relationships (both online and in person) fail miserably. Lying, fixating on appearances, and overlooking some major relationship red flags are not going to help in the quest for true love. So get off Facebook, deactivate those fake online dating profiles, and for the love of God, please stop catfishing. There are so many wonderful, interesting real people to meet—all it takes to find them is getting out from behind that computer screen and stepping into reality.