relationship shams

The Tragic Art of “Catfishing”

Ah yes, the catfish.

This bottom dwelling aquatic is known by the white costs types  and nerdier game wardens as  a Siluriform.   They’re called ‘catfish” because of their barbels, which are whisker-like tactile organs near the mouth which house the fish’s sense of taste and have something to do with its ability to move and hunt for food through the murkiest bodies of water.  Their binge eating also adds to their size and their size and their size can make them an absolute pain to reel in.  They’re fighters.

On the dinner table, a catfish also has the potential to be  one of the greasiest critters with fins.   I grew up Catholic and back in the early 60’s, this meant I had to endure plenty of Friday nights being force- fed this fish because this was pre-Vatican II and eating meat on Fridays was verboten.     Something about sacrifice and its correlation to Jesus’ 40 days and nights of fasting before he met his fate high atop Calvary..the old Golgotha.

Well, I guess I owe Mr. Catfish an apology because I learned later in life that some of the greasiness can be controlled by allowing the Crisco in the frying pan to reach the correct temperature.  It’s got to be hot enough.    The hotter the temp, the less greasy it’ll be.   So as it turns out, I’ve spent a lifetime lambasting a fish for being greasy, when it was really the fault of a bunch of bad cooks.

But the term’ catfish’ is one we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, not because it’s a fighting fish.

It’s because of The Fighting Irish.

More specifically, the team’s All-American/Heisman/Lombardi finalist, Manti Te’o.    The linebacker is the victim of an apparent catfishing hoax.   A man posed as a woman to lure Manti into an online relationship.    As a result, one of this past football season’s kings of the collegiate grid iron fell in love with a woman he frequently spoke to on the phone…texted…..emailed, but never met.

Instead, he spent four months falling love via talking.     A lot of talking..

According to ESPN, more than a thousand calls totaling more than 500 hours in length either came from or were dialed to the same number which originated from the 661 area code, which covers a part of Los Angeles County.  Of these calls, 110 were more than 60 minutes in length, including several that were several hundred minutes long. Te’o said he was on the phone “every single night” with a person he believed to be Lennay Kekua,

She sent a photo, but wouldn’t Skype.    She’d claim her undying love for, but wouldn’t meet him in person.  Every time a face-to-face was arranged, something always fell through.

And then, Ms. Kekua had a serious car accident,  then she developed leukemia and died in a very short amount of time.  Is there no better way of ending one of these things?  Death has a tendency to be so….so….final and what better way for a narcissist to go out than in an emotional blaze of cyber glory.

We have since learned the hoax was perpetrated by a guy who’s mom had to have been in love with vowels:   Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted he was Lennay.   He even created a fake Twitter account for her and it’s also my understanding that somewhere along the way, Manti and Ronaiah knew each other.

The timing of this tangled web interest me.   All of this went down right before the Heisman was awarded and just a few weeks before Notre Dame met Alabama in the National Championship game.   “Bama won–handily–but even so, it’s presumed that Te’o will be drafted in one of the higher rounds for the NFL.

But for me personally, this story isn’t about Manti, as much as it’s about the hoax itself.   What happened to Manti (whether he’s an innocent victim or willing participant) happens all the time.  It’s just that when it happens to you and me, Katie Couric,  ESPN and a 60 Minutes camera crew don’t get involved.

We live in a world where the computer screen is everything.   It’s our source of news, shopping, communication, entertainment, education, job hunting….it’s all encompassing.    It has opened up the world in ways that Magellan, Columbus and Alexander Graham Bell could only dream of.     Online predators are located all over this big blue marble and no,  they’re not all big, sweaty, no goodniks  in chat rooms posing as someone else with the hopes that  some love starved sapling will fall victim to their wiles.   Very often, they’re just big, run of the mill people with very boring lives, or a disability or physical deformity of some sort, or  an ever-expanding waistline.

We can be anything we want to be online.   A lowly part-time mechanic can be a hunky male model.    An under-developed socially awkward young woman can be an attorney with an extremely successful practice.     A well-read paraplegic with an imagination can be a CIA agent or say someone with MI-5… maybe even a double agent with the Mossad (all popular career choices among trolls because these positions are next to impossible to verify).   A James Bond type is always a very popular choice among the male of this species, but catfishing knows no gender boundaries.  Women do it, too.

Perhaps the goal is sex,  maybe even usury for fiscal purposes, but I think more often than not, it’s all about control and manipulation.   Nothing gives power to the powerless more than being able to control ALL the pieces on the chessboard.   And the love starved victim goes along with it, accepting whatever crumbs he or she allows us to have.   Some have maintained a ‘relationship” for years with a nebulous voice, and little else.

Why would someone do that, airou ask?    Why would someone mastermind and maintain a hoax like this?   Why would intelligent men or women fall for it?

Chances are, when this happens, the victim is well aware that there are  more red flags present than outside the Kremlin, but the idea of love and being in a relationship–even the cyber ones, is all we want.  This need; this desire trumps our own sense of  reality.   Honesty.

And really, that’s not all that hard to understand.   Hell, fashion magazines sell volumes because they airbrush photos in their layouts.   So does Playboy.   Beauty, whatever that’s perceived to be, has to have an air of perfection about it.   Madonna’s gap teeth may not be all that becoming to some, but that 28th crow’s foot forming near her 54-year-old left eye can be damn  well dealt with, thank you very much.   Bad dentition perhaps, but bad skin???????

Never.    

We need to present imagery of being younger thinner, wealthier, more handsome, more worldly, more popular, better educated, more alluring and sensual versions of who we are.   We airbrush our lives.  We Photoshop our existences.  We pad our resumes.   We tell lies (whoppers and baby ones) all the time.   The truth, or I should say ‘authenticity’, ends up on the cutting room floor, like yards of celluloid.

And it’s because of this that the glaringly apparent ‘red flags’  are ignored because the distance between the catfisher and his/her prey is beneficial.    That solves a whole array of potential problems.   And the miles also puts the kibosh on true intimacy, the physical AND the emotional kind.   That’s often a plus for both parties.  You see, sometimes, the victim often has as much to hide as the hoaxer.

In my opinion, Manti Te’o is either a liar with a really bad PR machine on his team and the ruse got way out of hand and instead of helping the would be pro-baller, it might end up causing him to lose pre-draft stock.

OR….

He’s a just  lonely, rather naive, 255 pound, Mormon linebacker playing for a very Catholic university and desperately looking for the kind of love that neither his parents, the legacy of Ara Parseghian or the ghost of The Gipper could provide.

The trouble is, he won’t find that kind of love on the internet, either.

I know some very intelligent, very well-educated people who have fallen for the lovely ideal phantom who’s texting and phoning them constantly, making them feel all a twitter from the safety of  being miles away.   ‘In your ear’, can be so much more convenient than ‘in your face’.    And while these bags o’ artiface might work for a while,  eventually, they all grow old.    The rut of being constantly disappointed and dissatisfied has that effect.    Catfish relationships are always….ALWAYS one-sided.   That’s a vital part of the manipulation.    One person tries harder, does all the work and in the end, the hoaxer exits ‘the relationship either because the victim finally wises up or the hoaxer just stops calling or…as in Manti’s case, the non-existent girlfriend conveniently dies.  But, how it ends or even why it ends doesn’t matter.   The destruction of ‘the relationship” is still one sided.   One person is devastated while the other runs off with pilfered trust, hopes and affection.   He or she then compiles all these amorphous trophies under some gigantic but very precise scoreboard that exists only in the ego.

We are toyed with just as a kitten plays with a skein of wool.    

Yes, but deception can still hurt, even if some part of us knew intellectually,  it was a sham all along.   We never want to confront our gullibility.  We never want to admit we’re vulnerable.    There’s a certain amount of pride at stake here, but as painful and embarrsing as it can be in the end, it’s also  one helluva life lesson.    That’s why most people who’ve been “Manti Te’o’d” once, can never be Manti Te’o’d twice.

If properly fortified by heartache, emotional scar tissue is impervious.  It simply won’t allow it.

At least, mine will never let it ever happen to me…..again.