We all know what a catfish is: a person that lies about their identity, usually online. But back in 2010 when a documentary called Catfish premiered, the trailer suggested a horror movie: the film’s focus, Nev Schulman, driving up to a seemingly dark and abandoned barn in Michigan, where the object of his online affection was supposed to live. Now an MTV series of the same name is in its fourth season and we talk about catfishing all the time. But even if you’re not dating online, there are a ton of lessons that can be learned from this always fascinating show. Because in the age of love and war and social media, things and people aren’t always what they seem.
- Never mistake texting for an actual relationship. On the show, a person called a “hopeful” writes to Nev and his (adorable) sidekick Max and says they’ve been talking to someone for a super long period of time, sometimes even 2 to 3 years. There may be some spotty phone calls but the majority of the communication is via text. Whether you’re texting someone you met via Tinder or OkCupid before the first date or it’s your main form of contact with your BF, don’t forget that actually talking to someone in person (what a concept!) is actually a super important part of a real relationship.
- Define things ASAP. Okay, maybe not on the first or second date. But with so many almost relationships floating around, it’s a good idea to know where you stand with someone before wasting six months thinking it’s totally cool to call him your boyfriend when he’s not into that at all. On Catfish, people chat for ages and even call each other their BF or GF but really, they’ve never met in person and when they do, one of them is not who they say they are 99 percent of the time, so almost zero relationships actually result. So much heartache and pain would be avoided if they wouldn’t let things go on for so long.
- Not everyone even wants to meet in person. On the show it’s because they’re pretending to be another gender or hiding a pretty big secret. In real life, you may talk for days with a seemingly cool guy on a dating website and then they will totally disappear when you bring up actually meeting in person. It’s a weird fact of online dating that lots of people are just feeling things out and have zero intention of going on actual dates.
- Run if someone cancels on you several times. We get it – you love your job and sometimes you can be a bit of a workaholic who cancels on social plans. But if you take your dating life seriously you would never cancel on a first date. But unfortunately, people do – and they will even cancel on the same person several times in a row. If a guy does this, run the other way as fast as you can. How can you trust someone who can’t even find one hour to grab a drink?
- There’s a fine line between being hopeful and being super unrealistic. Everyone on the show thinks they’re destined for the alter or at least life partnership. The person you met online could definitely be your soulmate, but they could also be using fake photos, lying to you or, best case scenario, you won’t be attracted to them. We’ve all started planning the wedding in our heads when we’re excited about someone, but we usually find out pretty quickly that they’re not right for us, after all. It’s best to reserve this kind of thinking until we know it’s real.
- The old cliché is right: honesty is best. Remember when you were in high school would pretend to like whatever interests your crush had? It didn’t work out so well because you weren’t actually being yourself. If someone doesn’t like that you have some weird quirks or hobbies, then they’re super lame. Just wait it out and you’ll definitely find someone who is fascinated by you and whatever you’re into.
- Make sure your online persona matches your real-life personality. We put our best feet forward online, spending 15 minutes staging the perfect Instagram photo of our breakfast – and then messing it up when we actually eat it two seconds later. Social media is super fun and it can definitely enrich our lives, but don’t let crafting your tweets and Facebook posts take over your entire world. And be prepared that guys you date might be more interesting on social media and online than in person. It’s a total letdown when someone is funny on Twitter but can barely look you in the eye in person. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty common.
- Don’t Facebook friend someone right away. We’ve all Facebook stalked someone even before the first date, but we all know how that goes, right? You just end up knowing way more than you should about them and it can get awkward to nod along and pretend you’re hearing something for the first time when you read about it on their profile. It’s sweet and exciting to get to know someone without focusing on their social media profiles. Don’t skip that step.
- Try your best to accept yourself. We all have days when we don’t feel like ourselves, but we’re all pretty awesome in our own unique ways and it’s time we stopped worrying about our appearance or what stupid things we’re convinced we’re going to say on a date. If we can learn one thing from the art of catfishing, it’s that not being okay with yourself and having no self-confidence never works out in the end, at least when it comes to finding love. And if someone doesn’t like it, it’s totally their loss.