It was the same week that I was texting my group chat to ask: “When should I tell him I’m in love with him?” The week that the UK government announced an extension to lockdown and we discussed buying a barbecue together as the weather picked up. It was that week that I used his second telephone number, the one I’d found on his iPad, to log in into the Hinge account.
In the process of falling in love with the wrong person there are insistences of sobriety when the rose-tinted glasses slip off to reveal flashing red lights of danger. A culmination of those moments had led me down a rabbit hole that resulted in the discovery of my boyfriend’s online dating profile. Except, it wasn’t his dating profile. Rather, it was the dating profile of a 30-something, successful businessman named Alex, the kind that I would ordinarily have swiped left on.
I thought it might have been a mistake, perhaps the telephone number linked to the account didn’t really belong to my boyfriend. The pictures of “Alex” guzzling champagne in St Tropez, the hundreds of messages from women; how could the man I thought I knew so well pretend to be somebody else?
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When I saw the email address connected with the account, I decided to try and log in to it with my boyfriend’s Netflix password. He’d told me once he used the same password for everything. Whilst trying to rationalise the situation in my mind, I typed in his complicated password with shaking fingers, praying it wouldn’t work. It did. I found linked social media profiles across a variety of platforms, all with pictures and vague details of another man’s life. I discovered that before I had he and I had even begun dating, I had been catfished by one of his alter-personas.?
I started dating Sam* at the dawn of a new decade. It was a careless time, when we were used to rubbing shoulders with strangers in overcrowded bars. Tall, charming, with an alluring edge – his eagerness to be readily available chipped away at my shell of apprehension. We evolved from casual dating to exclusivity in a matter of a whirlwind few weeks. As a veteran of uncertain relationships, I was able to understand what my friends meant when they vowed that I’d eventually find comfort in emotional vulnerability.
It was early March when Sam received a phone call from his flatmate who was abroad in Italy. The flatmate described a situation that was entirely foreign to us but would soon become our reality. Within a matter of days, we were discussing our Covid-19 arrangements and how we’d split time between our flats. When the future and the present collided in uncertainty, I found solace in the person I felt certain about.
We developed a routine living together in quarantine. We’d work in separate rooms, prepare our meals together, watch films and go for runs in the park. He was diligent about abiding by the rules. I felt guilty for enjoying our imposed close confinement.
However, it was in living together that his finely constructed persona started to come undone. One day teasing him about his passport photo, I discovered that he had lied about his age, saying he was 28 rather than 30. He was secretive with his phone. He was intensely skittish. He blamed his insecurities on old ex-girlfriends. He made inappropriate comments which allowed the questions within me to fester. But nothing could have prepared me for finding out that my boyfriend was a serial catfisher.
When I confronted him, I listened in a daze as he fed me his excuses – ranging from a sick sexual addiction, to a diversion in his thought process which halted his ability to distinguish between good and bad. In-between his attempt to absolve himself of guilt, he begged that I wouldn’t ruin his social life. I promised not to, but that was before I found out that he had used one of his fake Instagram accounts to slide into my own DMs and gauge my vibe, before taking the plunge to con me whilst wearing his own skin.
What followed mirrored the pattern of disbelief I’d previously only felt about the pandemic. I discovered that Sam had several fake dating profiles, all of which I managed to gain access to and message hundreds of his victims, sharing the real Sam with them. When I thought nothing else could surprise me, I learnt that Sam had sent someone photographs of another person’s penis from these fake accounts.?
One woman told me how she had been best friends with Sam before she discovered he had been using his fake profiles to message her and lure her into an online relationship with “Alex” for almost two years. Another told me she dated him for almost two months and how he’d opened up to her about the pain of being lied to in a previous relationship. Both women blamed themselves for missing the red flags, the gut feeling that something was off. One of them even described feeling sorry for him.
As a community of the catfished, we worked together to find the real identities of the men he’d stolen, letting them know that my ex-boyfriend had impersonated them for years. Few were bothered, perhaps being impersonated didn’t carry as much weight as being conned did in a world where, to an extent, we’re all masquerading as somebody else.
After the dust had settled, I found the grieving period of our relationship the hardest part. It was painful to reminisce over a time that had been a lie, a montage of moments from which I could no longer separate fact or fiction.
When you are first getting to know someone, it is not uncommon to veneer the less desirable traits behind a fresh new coat. The floor of your room might become visible as the mountain of clothing finds a new home in your closet. All of a sudden, you’re always on time rather than permanently late. The gloss never lasts. We all come undone to reveal the ugly parts of ourselves, the ones that make us human. It’s ironic how I initially approached our relationship, committed to accepting his flaws, eager to reveal the parts of myself which are equally imperfect.
The other day, a good friend asked me if I miss him. “No”, slipped from my lips without thinking. How could you miss someone who never even really existed?
*Names have been changed