A different kind of catfish

A lesson on when it’s acceptable to make decisions based on how someone looks.

This catfish actually looked alive in their tinder picture.

I matched with Sam* on Tinder roughly three months ago. He seemed pleasant and attractive. After a few decent conversations we added each other on Snapchat. For a few months we chatted, flirted and sent selfies, and eventually, decided to meet up.

The term “catfish” was coined after the 2010 documentary of the same name, which became so successful it had its own spin off TV series . “Catfishing” is pretending to be someone you’re not online — whether it’s pretending to be a different gender or age, using someone else’s pictures or using old pictures of yourself — in order to deceive someone.

On the reality TV show, people regularly use pictures of extremely attractive people to “hook” another person into a romantic relationship. Unsurprisingly, they usually don’t turn out to be the model they say they are, to the dismay of the catfished (who usually end the relationship then and there).

I used to think that the people ending the relationships were shallow to dismiss these genuine relationships and feelings over their prospective partner’s appearance. Then I was catfished myself.

After a few suggestions of meeting up, Sam finally invited me over to his apartment. I left work, excitedly telling my colleagues of this cute boy I was hopefully going to hook up with. I hopped into a taxi, arrived at the waterfront apartment, and got buzzed into the lobby, to find myself greeted by someone I did not recognise.

Unlike most catfishes, Sam was the person in the pictures he’d been sending. He had, however, used lighting, cropping, and angles so severely that he was unrecognisable. Physical features that stood-out in person were somehow never apparent in the four months of selfies. A friend later asked if this was akin to wearing makeup or using filters to hide “undesirable” features. But this was different, I had found myself in the apartment of someone who looked nothing like the person in their pictures.   

We chatted awkwardly in his appartment for an hour, whilst I racked my brain with what I should do. I thought of having a friend call me and get me out of the situation, but I found myself panged with guilt and embarrassment for the thought that I should ditch the person I’d been flirting with simply because of how he looked. I pride myself on not being shallow, and I imagined how I would be judged if I bailed simply because of how he looked. And so out of fear of judgement, I had sex with him instead. Terrible, terrible sex. The highlight of the whole encounter was that I got a lift home.

Afterwards I felt confused and angry.

He had purposefully duped me for his own gain, whether it was for friendship, the inflation of his ego or for sex. Looks may not be everything, but to deceive someone is an entirely selfish act which taints their personality and any relationship that had been built. I was placed in an uncomfortable position where I found myself morally conflicted and afraid of the confrontation that could occur if I chose to leave. But when it comes to sex and consent, it is valid to bail for any reason, whether it is because of someone’s appearance or especially if it is because the partner has lied to you in one form or another.

If they have deceived you once, what’s to say they won’t do it again. For me it did happen again. He chose to not tell me that the condom broke, and rather than getting a new one, simply decided for us both that he would use the “pull out method”, putting me at risk of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

Whenever I tell the story people tend to sympathise with my catfish. They feel sorry for him because he obviously doesn’t see himself as attractive if he goes to such lengths to hide significant things about his appearance. They ask if I would have swiped left knowing what he actually looked like. It doesn’t matter what I would have done, because I would have had the option to make that choice.

No one, however, has asked if he only swiped right on me because I am attractive.

The morning after, I deleted him off snapchat; our only means of contact. Once again, I was worried about the judgement of others. What if people accuse me of being a bad person for ghosting him after having sex?

Finally, I realised that my comfort is more important.

*Name changed.