Opinion: Catfishing as represented in media doesn’t tell the full story

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The culture of online dating is in full swing in 2020 and with Valentine’s day coming up, those pursuing online romances on social media from Instagram to Tinder to Bumble may come across a less-than-exciting experience.

With the cultural pressure to present your best self on social media, insecurities may run high in regards to being less than satisfied with who we are in comparison to the rose-colored glasses that Instagram photos and Tinder bios provide.

“Catfishing” is a term popularized by the MTV show “Catfish: The TV Show,” which originated with the documentary film “Catfish,” created by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. The film follows the story of Nev Schulman, who pursued a relationship with a woman who was not the person she had presented herself as online.

Some people have a harder time than others presenting themselves online, which sometimes results in the “construction” of who they want to be in order to find acceptance from others. This is especially true if they are not receiving meaningful or romantic attention online or in person. Thus, insecurities manifest, and individuals are lured into believing that they are not good enough as they are. At this intersection of confusion of identity, some fall into utilizing “catfishing” in order to pursue online connections.

An individual portraying themselves online as someone they are not can range from lying about what they do for work to bluffing about how tall they are. But some people take on completely different personas by posting photos they find on the internet, or even from people they know personally. The overall purpose is to disguise who they are to supplement their insecurities, to feel accepted or even to impress others.

The act of catfishing is real, but what we have popularized through reality TV is not necessarily the full picture. The premise of the show is somewhat dramatized, which leaves viewers engrossed with the exploration of relationships and identity. But when it comes to real-life catfishing, it is an exploitative and toxic way to try to get to know someone. Manipulation of your own identity in order to get close to someone is not a healthy way to have a relationship with them or even yourself.

Bringing our entire selves into existence in a dating profile has taken first impressions to a new level.

Tinder and other dating and hook-up apps create a culture that easily dehumanizes those behind their photos. Split-second judgments and the pressure to get one’s initial message of interest just right in one shot can make priorities very vain and superficial. The extreme ease of connections tends to make people more judgemental as well. To put it simply, having more options to connect does not mean more opportunities. The ability to keep so many people in your back pocket means there is less interest to work on getting to know someone because people are left wondering about having better compatibility with someone else.

Humans by nature want to feel accepted and cared for and unfortunately, dating apps seem to dig at our most raw emotional wants and needs in overly sped up ways. Under the influence of apps that enable us to meet people for any need, we can try to find a hook-up for the sake of feeling good or try to make an instantaneous, durable love connection. Both stem from the urge to fulfill a connection that makes us feel wanted and good about ourselves.

We often forget that our most important friendships and bonds were not instant. Intimacy, trust and connection come from time spent together, and most importantly the willingness to be vulnerable and honest with another person. Catfishing itself is only a temporary solution and destroys trust and intimacy.

Remember that you need to put in work to get a reward out of the relationships you create. Swiping and direct messaging can only work when you give open and honest emotional connection. The most important relationships you will build will not be perfect from start to finish. Enjoy the process of taking your time to build trust and, more importantly, memories.

The healthiest relationships will build you up and help you accept yourself for who you are, faults and all.

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