Catfish, Online Love, and The Freedom to Be Loved

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 catfish the tv show I hate to admit it, but I am officially addicted to Catfish.  Not catfish, the Southern delicacy, not Catfish the movie, but Catfish the tv show on MTV. And with the news of Manti T'eo and the hoax played on him, the show is more relevant than ever.

Years ago, the show’s creator, Nev, developed an online relationship with a woman through pictures, facebook, and texting. He fell so hard for her that he was willing to move to Michigan to be with her. In the movie, Catfish, a film crew documented his relationship, his romance, and his quest to track down and meet his girlfriend.  When Nev finally met her, he found out that she had stolen someone else’s pictures and created a profile and life that were complete lies. He was heartbroken and devastated.

Catfish, the tv show, features individuals who elicit Nev’s help and support in finding out the true identity of the person responsible for thousands of emails, facebook messages, texts, or phone calls. Each episode introduces us to a new person who has been involved in lengthy, emotional relationship, who is anxious to see the person on the other side of the computer screen or phone.

Sometimes the person on the other side of the computer screen is a completely different gender than their profile portrays. Other times it is a close friend ashamed to reveal their feelings in person, an ex who is looking for revenge, a gay man pretending to be a straight woman, or a random person duping 5-100 people at the same time.

Couples on the show have fallen for each other for months or years without meeting. They have shared their fantasies, dreams, childhoods, and desires. They fall asleep on the phone, text each other, share “I love you’s or propose marriage to an image of a person they have never laid eyes on.  There are individuals who chase love and romance while they ignore, make excuses, or explain away inconsistencies or lies. And there are individuals who chase the idea of being loved who deceive, mislead, and lie to avoid rejection of their weight, sexuality, age, or gender. It is a collision of fantasy and insecurity on both sides of the screen.

It is easy to judge how a person could fall in love with someone they have never met, how they could fall for a connection created through keyboards and phone lines. But then we would have to place our own lives up for judgment.  We would have to ask how we suspend disbelief with real people, with our own friends, family, and significant others. All of us have dated people who have lied to us, led us astray, or taken advantage of our kindness. They were real, tangible people. We met their friends and family, shared beds with them, and planned a future together. Still, we let their words deceive us.

Catfish has a little of all of us in it.  When it comes down to it, all of us are looking for the same thing: the freedom to love, to be loved back, to be liked, to not feel alone, and to be vulnerable without feeling judged. Whether we are the deceived or the deceivers, we are all searching to find the real-life characters in The Notebook, Love Jones, Pretty Woman, and When Harry Met Sally. So the next time you rush to judge Manti T'eo or any other person who falls in love sight unseen, take a look at your own life, and think about what you are hoping to find in another person.  Chances are, it's the same thing they have been searching for. They just happened to go about it in a different way.