I am fascinated by the MTV show Catfish. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an offshoot of the documentary movie with the same name about people who pretend to be someone else on the internet. Each week two hosts, one of whom starred in the movie, assist people in determining whether another person that they are communicating with online is actually who they say they are. It seems that many people are willing to engage in “relationships” via phone, email and facebook chat, based on a few photos and the word of a stranger.

What is so interesting is that the catfish very often looks too far good to be true, and yet no matter what the odds against their being who they say they are, the “fishee”, for lack of a better term, does little or no research to verify an identity. In this age of the internet it’s very easy to impersonate someone better looking or more interesting, but it’s also just as easy to figure out whether they are the real or not. And yet people don’t. They soldier on with absolutely no assistance from search engines and appear to want to believe so badly that they are in a true love relationship with this bikini model or that record producer that they will forgo all logic and steadfastly refuse to see what is right in front of them.

The other, and even sadder side of the dysfunctional coin is that, barring the occasional revenge motive, most often the catfish is either morbidly obese or gay and stuck in an area of the country where being gay is a issue. They are lonely people who long for approval and connection, but carry enough self-loathing that they either cannot get these things on their own or would rather get them through subterfuge and impersonation.

It’s depressing as hell when you get over the prurient interest in finding out who is really on the other end. But still fascinating because it’s such a clear picture into our culture at this time in American history.

I find myself feeling all kinds of disdain for the fishee. I shout really awful things at the television like. “You think a woman that looks like that is going to get engaged to your redneck ass still living with your parents?” and “It’s called Google, you moron!” And then invariably when a veritable tank of a woman comes weeping out of a door begging forgiveness for the fakery, I want to first yell at her for her poor eating habits and lack of self-esteem and then give her a hug and say quietly, “What did you think was going to happen?? You’re better than this!” The fishee makes me mad and the catfish makes me sad. And yet I watch. So I have to assume that I am seeing myself in some of the behavior and that must be what is at the heart of the irritation.

People want a fantasy. Many want to believe that someone who fits their personal physical ideal will come along and love them and that their lives will be magically healed. And people who don’t fit a fantasy, because they are not what’s considered physically attractive in our current society or because they are having trouble fitting in because of their sexuality, want it just as much as anyone else.

I am always eternally grateful that the internet didn’t exist when I was a teenager, because I most certainly would have gotten into all kinds of horrible trouble. I lived in a small town and was bored out of my mind, hated the people surrounding me, yearned for adventure and excitement. Your standard recipe for teen disaster. I can understand why some lonely person thinks, what the hell, I’ll just create that life with some stolen photos and spend hours in front of a screen enjoying all the attention that comes along with it, attention that I would never get otherwise.

I have a friend who is very beautiful, who attracts the attention of men all over the world, and who has a specific type of guy that she finds attractive. He is dark, heavily made up, gothy, rock and roll, L.A. type. Lots and lots of eyeliner. A little too feminine for me now, but when I was young I loved this kind of guy too. She gets very wound up in online chat, they begin a relationship based on the most superficial of reasons, and then it goes down in flames and she’s on to the next pirate with a guitar.

I understand her, as much as I wish she could get past the eyeliner. In my teens and 20’s I would fixate on a person because of the way he looked, and I would love him with the breadth and passion of the truly foolish, regardless of what kind of personality he exhibited. And often, because I looked pretty good and was quite determined, I would reel them in. If they were nice and wanted to settle down with me into normalcy, I would grow bored fairly quickly. If they were bastards or I couldn’t completely control them, I would then spin it into deep obsession that would end badly and with copious amounts of tears. Now I look back and marvel at how much time I spent suffering over so little.

And I watch my girlfriends get really twisted up over one doofus or another because he’s got the right haircut, while advising, “Well, he seems kind of full of himself, or dim, or broke, or married, etc., etc. Maybe you should think this through a bit more?” But they won’t, or can’t, and I can’t get mad at them because I didn’t either. I wanted the rock and roll fantasy and once fixated on someone that I thought could provide that, I didn’t pay any attention to signs to the contrary until things got really crappy.

It’s only through sheer luck that I found a guy who fit many of those superficial qualifications but had a much deeper soul underneath it. I’d probably still be making many of the same mistakes if he hadn’t entered my life. So who am I to judge some small-town girl in Iowa who has never been outside of her state and wants to believe she’s engaged to a male model who lives in France and who is totally real but just can’t get skype on his Mac right now? There but for the grace of God, etc., etc.

I think our society is deep into a sickness right now which poisons us to value a certain kind of look and celebrity above all else. And it’s hard to see past that until you’ve had some life experience under your belt, and learn that all forms of people can be attractive and that celebrity might not be all that it’s cracked up to be. You have to know who you are and be okay with who that is in order to truly connect with other people. Which usually takes time and maturity.

Life has boiled down to two lessons for me that repeat themselves over and over again in ever-varying form:

1. Learning to hear the inner voice of my higher self over the static of my bad, bad brain.
2. Learning to love myself enough to trust and follow that voice.

So maybe catfishing serves a purpose in people’s soul-growth toward that end, an education in what not to wish for, and it’s the job of those who can see past the veil to treat those still in the fog gently. I am grateful that throughout my worst of times there have been people near with enough patience and grace to allow the shitshow to unfold without judgement or abandonment. Surely it is now my job to pay it forward when the opportunity arises.

So I guess that means I should start by not shouting mean things at the television. Or maybe stop watching things that annoy me.

Sigh…evolution is so HARD!

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