Up until yesterday, I thought a catfish was simply a really ugly fish that when fried up and served with a side of spaghetti and coleslaw made for some really good eating.  It seems I have been living in a cave though and it turns out a catfish is not just an ugly fish, oh no, 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.” At least that’s what the Urban Dictionary says and apparently I should have known that since some months back the me and the college kid watched the documentary by the same name. A documentary that I admit I found questionable which is probably why I forgot I had even seen it.

I am obviously no Luddite, by virtue of the fact that you are even reading this. Hell, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and even Linked In. I have spent the last decade or more integrating my online life into my daily life and if it weren’t for many of the digital connections that I have made, I would still be writing for an audience of five.  I have met tons of people online, several who are now dear friends that I see often.  I may joke about my invisible friends to my Luddite friends who don’t get my digital hijinks but the truth is that I do believe you can make true connections online but….

It seems that a young man by the name of Manti Te’o who is a football player at the University of Notre Dame, didn’t know there are limitations to this crazy digital world we are living in and now his story serves as a cautionary tale. Poor Manti got involved with a young lady he met online and love blossomed. Apparently they were tweeting, texting and hamming it up on the phone deep in love despite never having sat down together and held hands or shared a bucket of greasy movie theater popcorn. Supposedly it was a sweet, sweet love story that came to a tragic end when the girlfriend lost her valiant battle with leukemia on the very same day that Manti’s beloved grandma passed away. What a tragic fucking story or not.

Now this is where the story gets twisted, it seems the beloved girlfriend was about as real as my hourglass figure and that poor Manti learned that sad fact not long after the supposed death but kept it to himself. Of course in this day and age nothing is kept to ourselves, so now we all know that poor Manti got catfished or maybe he was the catfish. Who knows? Every report I have read is so conflicting that the details seem to changing by the hour.

What I do know is that I asked people online to explain to me online love affairs and apparently they aren’t nearly as uncommon as I thought they were. I have had several people tell me that they have met their partners online and that those relationships grew into something real and lasting resulting in either marriage or cohabitation. OK, that makes sense. I admit I have never had to look for a romantic partner online, the last time I was available was 1995, needless to say, I wasn’t meeting anyone online. I met my old man at work, after a year and a half of being work buddies who lamented about life over the communal candy dish, we went on a date and here we are almost eighteen years later.

That said, I am not ignorant of the dating world in 2013, all of my closest friends are either single or divorced, so I hear about dating a lot, and it scares me.  While I have no problem having online pals, my own experiences are that the internet makes some people turn themselves into something they are not. The internet is a great place to recreate yourself and live the life you want without doing the heavy lifting. That is one thing I remember from the documentary Catfish, in the end a woman with a shitty life just wanted an escape. Sadly her escape brought someone else into her messy world and played with a real person’s very real feelings.

In the ideal world we would be able to trust what people tell us but 40 years on this rock has taught me that I take what people say with a grain of salt and look at their actions over time. I am also a fan of body language and there are some things you never know about a person until you spend time in their physical presence. I personally believe there is truth in the old saying actions speak louder than words. This point was driven home for me just a few days ago when a fellow writer and blogger who I have had nothing but admiration for and never had any harsh exchanges with ended our digital relationship with no warning. After wracking my brains and frankly feeling a little hurt, I am over it but it was a learning moment that reminded me that for all we do know through our digital connections, there is a lot we don’t know about anyone including those of us who share a slice of our lives on a regular basis.

So my two cents is that before you give your heart to a person, you may want to make sure that they are real and worthy of your love. Otherwise you will be catfished and no amount of deep frying, hot sauce and a side of spaghetti will make it easy to swallow.