Trusting your gut is all well and good but how do you employ that strategy when the very nature of dating, particularly online dating, is that of having to take things at face value? Where does blind faith stop and healthy suspicion take over? When should you trust and when should you question? In other words, how do you know when you’re being catfished?
A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances – so says Urban Dictionary. It can also be a verb.
I’ve had a few instances of good old catfishing that I’ve caught before it got too far – tinder profiles with pics that just look too polished, too professional. A quick reverse google image search has unearthed the Instagram of a South American actor, and IMDB pics for a Pakistani Bollywood star. Neither of whom are likely to be in Vancouver looking for a tinder hookup. Neither, I’m pretty sure, was the profile using Cristiano Ronaldo’s likeness. Which is unfortunate because I’ve always been a fan of his greasy good looks.
I always wonder at what point these guys, if they are even men, think their scam will be foiled? They obviously can’t meet anyone in person, so are they just on there purely to message? Is that enough excitement for them? The phrase “get a life” has never been more apt.
But when someone agrees to meet you in person, you presume the likelihood of being catfished is null. And so was my feeling when after chatting to a 35 year old English guy who lived in New Zealand and worked for the Kiwi Navy but was coming to Canada for a possible job here.
There were a few random moments, like when he was going out on a ship with the Canadian Navy so wouldn’t be able to text. But maybe, despite all the technologies of today, they don’t have WiFi on naval ships. Shocking. I actually didn’t think I’d hear from him again after that so when he messaged me once he was back on dry land, I was pleasantly surprised.
Another source of confusion was that he had a Canadian phone number, which I thought odd considering he was hardly here for anytime & most of that he was without the ability to use it on a ship. He also claimed to have never been on Tinder before this trip, which I’m always sceptical about – it’s always everyone’s first time… apparently.
So English Kiwi Naval Officer was flying into Vancouver for the weekend at the end of his… trip? Sailing? Cruise? Whatever they call it…, arriving on a Friday night. He’d likely be coming back for a second visit in a couple of months time for a follow up on this job so I liked that it wasn’t a definitive one & done situation. And in fact could be a lot more if the job came to fruition.
We were going to meet for a drink once he’d checked into his hotel which it turned out was on the opposite side of my city block. As I was sat having an after work drink with girlfriends before I met him & relayed the details to them, they suggested I ask for a selfie, given that the story did just seem a little random. When he messaged to tell me he’d landed, I dutifully asked, more to placate them than anything. Unfortunately, his response only caused to give me concern that I hadn’t necessarily been feeling before.
He made some excuse about how he couldn’t send a pic because his phone didn’t have data enabled, and it was a work phone, and he’d send one when he had WiFi. But we all know airports have free WiFi so something didn’t quite add up…
Nevertheless we persevered because where would be the fun otherwise? And so at 8pm I walked the 50 seconds from building to the entrance of his hotel & there he was. Exactly like his profile photos, the picture of an English gent, with a relieved look on his face.
“I don’t know why I thought you were going to stand me up” were his first words to me as he came towards me with a hug.
A few drinks later at a nearby courtyard bar, while we enjoyed a warm May evening, he reiterated that it was his first time using any dating apps, thanks to his friends encouragement, and they’d warned him that people on apps can often be flakey so he should be prepared for some disappointments. Hence his opening line to me.
He definitely seemed a little green around the edges. He was maybe well versed in naval war strategy but the ways of modern dating? Not so much.
So it was all going swimmingly (does that count as a naval pun if technically they’re on a ship and not meant to be swimming?) until he was telling a story, referencing himself in the third person and used a different name for himself than that which I had known him as up until that point. English Kiwi Naval officer was obviously not all that he seemed.
He caught himself right away and tried to explain it away that it had also been suggested to him by friends that he should use a different name “for work purposes”. I mean, clearly naval strategy is fairly sensitive information but I wasn’t sure those on enemy lines were going to be scouring tinder to source state secrets.
I told him that I knew people sometimes would use another name but generally they would give their real name once they’d met someone in person, once the threat of enemy spies had been cleared, you know? Or maybe he still thought I looked like I was after his classified documents?
He laughed, I laughed, it was laughed off and I didn’t question it further. It was stupid and seemed weird but I let it go. There was something about him that seemed suitably unassuming and naive, or at least that’s what I was choosing to believe.
With the name slip up behind us, we had a really fun night. We had a lot to talk about having both moved away from the UK, we both liked sports, we both kept ourselves in pretty good shape and I enjoyed telling him about Vancouver, particularly when he could be moving here in a month or so.
From the first bar we went to another where we ended up drinking an obscene amount of gin. He was a big gin fan too and when the bar turned out to have a crazy good gin selection we jointly decided to work our way through it.
Throughout the night he was very complimentary, although the “I don’t know how you’re still single” line doesn’t always sit totally well with me. Despite that, it wasn’t the worst thing to have drinks bought for me all night by an attractive man who had definitely awoken a new interest in men in uniform within me. While I was envisaging him in his navy whites (do all navies wear white? In my mind they do so let’s go with it) he had leaned in for a couple of kisses while we were sat at the bar and there had been some suggestive hand, arm and leg touching. The name slip had long been forgotten.
We stayed at the bar until it closed around 1am and then slowly walked back towards my apartment / his hotel. I knew I wasn’t going to invite him up – it didn’t seem “necessary”. As in, despite him only being in the city for another day and a half, we had already spoken so much about when he came back on his next trip that I wasn’t in any hurry to rush things with him. And so instead he kissed me goodnight at the corner of my building and it was a really really nice kiss. A car full of guys passed as he lent in and were hollering at us but I’m not even sure he noticed. I said goodnight and turned to walk away but I was only a couple of steps away from him when he said “can you come back please?” It was so polite and serious and in his proper English accent, I kind of got a surprise. Turns out he just wanted to kiss me again and said my lips were incredible. In fact he kept going on about my mouth… It wasn’t the worst thing to hear.
As I was climbing into bed he texted me a very sweet goodnight text “Thank you for a great night. You looked absolutely incredible and I really enjoyed ‘you’ x” It was maybe the single sweetest post-date message I’d ever received. And he used grammar! We texted a little and then fall asleep.
The next day was my birthday beach day with all my friends. It had been my birthday earlier in the week (yes, the messy night that ended with tearful chats with Malaysian Persuasion) and I was celebrating it in the sunshine with a tonne of friends, snacks and booze. I had lightly invited him, in a “it’s a big group, it’s super chill, if you don’t mind some slight ribbing you’ll be fine” kind of a way. He’d said he wasn’t sure, he’d wanted to go and do some sightseeing, but would let me know. We agreed that if he didn’t come to the beach we’d do something at night anyway, provided a Saturday of sun and day drinking didn’t wipe me out.
As it turned out, he couldn’t wait until the beach or the evening, so around 8am was texting me pretty flirty and suggestive messages from his hotel room – which would have been about 200m away from where I was, also lying in bed. He said he regretted not suggesting we hung out longer the night before, which I took to mean he regretted not suggesting we hookup, given that at 1.30am there’s not a lot of other hanging out you can do?!
After an hour or so of texting, it seemed that just a hint of an invitation was all that English Kiwi Naval Officer needed to jump out of bed and be at mine in less than 5 minutes. I had already started getting ready for my beach day so was in a bikini and not a lot else. It seemed mildly inappropriate to welcome him into my home for the first time wearing so little but nothing that happened within the next 30 minutes, before I was due to be picked up by friends for pre-beach brunch, was appropriate. In the best kind of way.
All the while he still kept up an impeccable level of manners and etiquette, seemingly never wanting to overstep a boundary or go too fast. As a result, full sex was never had and in fact I barely did anything at all. It was mostly him, giving those 25 year olds a run for their money in terms of generosity in the bedroom. To say I had a lazy Saturday morning is an understatement.
When my friends texted to say they were downstairs I had a pep in my step and maybe just a little bit of bed head…
While I was enjoying a day of brilliant sunshine, incredible time with friends and some of the best Pinterest inspired boozy beach snacks I could have imagined, English Kiwi Naval Officer (yah, this nickname doesn’t roll off the tongue so much) was enjoying the delights of Vancouver by bike. He declined the invite to join the beach celebration and instead we planned for drinks later in the evening, though he kept in touch most of the day with sweet messages about how much he was looking forward to seeing me and had been thinking about our morning rendezvous a lot.
That night, the copious amounts of sun and frozen gin lemonade pouches (look them up on Pinterest) made me not good for a whole lot so instead of going out, I suggested he come over to mine for some drinks. Showering was about all I was able to manage, though it was mostly tiredness from all the fresh air and fun, so thankfully he agreed and around 9pm he arrived at my door. I was wearing more than just a bikini this time, which he was mildly disappointed by.
We had a gin each and just chatted for a while on the sofa. It’s a very candid conversation, a lot more sexually orientated after the morning’s activities, and I really enjoyed finding out more about him. We chatted relationships, kids, work, his hate of football, our want to do whatever we desire in life, sexual preferences – it’s pretty wide ranging. And we did a pretty good job of keeping ourselves off each other, until I was getting us each a whisky and he came up behind me at the kitchen counter… Things got a little heated and there was something about him that I just found incredibly sexual. Maybe it’s the navy thing, maybe it’s his age or that he’s English, I don’t know. But he just seemed like… a proper man?!
We had a fun night, chatting and starting to fool around more and then move into the bedroom. It felt super easy and safe. But it started to get late and I was exhausted. We hadn’t had full sex so I suggested he stayed over and middle of the night or morning might change that. He seemed to think about it for a while, as we were both yawning and eventually he decided to go back to his hotel. I mean it’s on the same block so I guess it made sense? He left saying he would be back first thing in the morning to bring me coffee, the joke being that I don’t drink coffee. So he left and I went to sleep looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. Or as he rightly pointed out, when he was texting from back in his room, today – i was now after 3am.
I slept like a log and woke up looking forward to a coffee and maybe a morning walk with a certain English Kiwi Naval Officer, it was a beautiful morning. Instead, I heard… radio silence. I figured we both could do with our sleep though, so stayed in bed a little longer and waited. But it was too nice a day to stay indoors, so around 10am I got up and went for a walk and waited. Knowing all the while that he was leaving for his flight around 2pm and so we were kind of on a timer.
But something was starting to feel very uneasy with me. All the little things that by themselves could maybe be explained away, when I replayed them back in my head, started to pile up into a big, questionable WTF. Him being incommunicado while he was on the ship, not being able to send me a pic from the airport, giving me a false name, not wanting to sleep with me or stay over but doing everything else, as if somehow staying over and having sex crossed some line he was trying to avoid? And now, essentially disappearing on me.
I decided to text him – if we haven’t learnt it by now, know that I do not like loose ends. They don’t sit well with me. I want them tied up and dealt with. He actually did respond with some story about how he overslept then went for a run and twisted his ankle and was now in a rush to get packed and checkout of the hotel.
Knowing how close he was staying to me, it wouldn’t have been an obscene suggestion if he offered a plan of meeting for something to eat before he headed to the airport. Instead nothing. In fact I heard nothing again until he was at the airport, when he then went to the other extreme and was texting me a tonne of stuff about how he was sorry he fucked up the morning, he’d really wanted to see me, I was the best part of his trip, he already couldn’t wait to get back to see me again, he was excited to tell his friends at home about me and he would be in touch as soon as he touched down in Auckland.
Those texts were coming right up until he boarded the plane. And then…. Nothing. I figured out roughly when he’d be landing in New Zealand… Nothing. I figured it might be a couple of days before he was caught up on work and sleep… Nothing.
As the days passed, I was playing the weekend over and over in my head and started to think I had made a judge error in judgement. The gut feeling that had deserted me for the previous couple of days was now in full force like a heavy meal sitting in the pit of your stomach. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the person I thought I’d been getting to know was not a person at all but a facade of someone he’d wanted to portray. How did I know any of it was real? How did I know he even worked for the navy? Ok well I’d seen a pic of him in a naval uniform which a quick google search confirmed was a legit NZ Navy uniform. But how did I know he was here for a potential job move? How did I know he wasn’t here with a wife and two kids tucked up in his hotel? How did I know he even left back to New Zealand?
I didn’t. I don’t. A year later, I still don’t have the answer to any of those questions and for a long time afterwards, every time I walked past the corner of the hotel he stayed at I felt physically sick. Sick that I’d maybe been made a fool of. Sick at the thought of maybe bumping into him there again. Sick that people can be so callous with another person’s feelings and time.
I had taken things at face value but my gut was now definitely telling me all was not what it seemed, though I won’t ever know the true extent of the catfishing expedition. And maybe that’s best.