About a decade ago my best friend and I started up a seemingly innocent friendship with someone we met online. The entire friendship, and subsequent semi-relationships, were completely conducted online and over the phone. Every picture we sent him was of people who went to middle school with us. We weren’t actually 16 like we said. And we definitely weren’t friends with Good Charlotte.
This is the story of how I catfished someone.
To bring it back to the beginning, (almost a decade ago) there used to be a website called quizilla.com*. It housed mainly quizzes about what type of manga you are, or what mystical dragon you are, silly things to pass the time when you’re a tween. In the early to mid 2000s teenage boys used it as their own OKcupid, making quizzes titled “Are you the girl for me?”. You answered a series of multiple choice questions which led up to a result that either said “you’re the girl for me! Here’s my AIM name send me a message” or “You’re not the girl for me.”
When I was about 12, give or take 4 months, my best friend Renée took one of these quizzes and matched with a kid named Matt. He was 16, and lived some where in Pennsylvania. So one day I went over to her house, and we talked to him together. It was on AIM chat, so she would type something, then I would type my name and a colon and whatever I wanted to say. This went on for a while, until finally I gave Matt my AIM account and we started talking outside of Renée’s house.
At the beginning of their online relationship Renée told Matt she was 15, because he was 16, and in reality we were 12. Even back then we knew that was a slightly creepy age difference. Eventually (probably a week into this) he asked for pictures of Renée, so she sent him pictures of a girl at our middle school – also named Renée. Almost every other thing we told Matt was true. What part of Massachusetts we lived in, what we did when we hung out.
“I thought it was fun,” replied Renée when I asked her about this whole experience. “I also thought it was cool to act older.”
Nothing explains my early adolescence better than the phrase “I also thought it was cool to act older.” The entire time we sat behind computer screens pretending to be cool teenagers, in high school, with high school problems, and high school boyfriends, I reveled in it. We wanted to be out of our awkward phase, and jump into our cool high school phase**. We idolized the high schoolers from TV shows, movies, and our YA novels. Nothing looked cooler than being 16, beautiful, in a relationship, and responsibility free. From our perspectives, as 7th graders, high school was the coolest thing we could attain.
So for almost two years we pretended that’s who we were.
It became more than just a fun conversation, it became a genuine pastime. Get home, sign on to AIM, talk to Matt, finish homework, talk to Matt, eat dinner, talk to Matt. Sometimes we would group chat, but mostly Renée and I would talk to him separately and then talk to each other about what we were telling him. Half to keep accuracy, and half to giggle about it. We never made fun of Matt, I can say that with confidence.
To this day I don’t know why we decided to make up a boyfriend for me, but at some point we thought that would be fun***. But to this day I still fondly remember him as one of the best boyfriend’s I’ve ever had. Which is because I made him up, and pretended to be him when talking to Matt. We even went so far as to make Billy his own AIM name so Matt would really buy into it.
Eventually Matt started asking for more pictures, or un-edited pictures of Renee. I don’t remember if he ever asked for a picture of me. We took our catfishing to the next level, and made fake MySpace accounts. Renée made hers first, using pictures of the other Renée and taking inspiration from her MySpace page. Then we made one for me using pictures from one of the other Renée’s friends. We stole some photos, friended our personal MySpace’s (and a bunch of bands), and threw on some comments and likes. The entire project took us an afternoon to complete. Unlike the catfish of today, we didn’t labor over the profiles and spend months accruing friends. It was just enough to stave off his suspicion for a while. And we didn’t even think about the girls we were claiming to be.
“I saw her everyday, and she had no idea this was happening.” said Renée. “And this kid was falling in love with her and she didn’t even know him.”
We never gave it a second thought, he didn’t know anyone else from Medford. It wasn’t like he was about to start asking around about us. To this day I’m pretty sure the other Renée had no clue it was going on.
After a while everyone grew bored with the online relationships. Matt kept insisting we visit him in Pennsylvania, and we kept claiming our parents wouldn’t let is. Which is not entirely untrue, our parents would never have let us meet someone in person who we had only talked to over the phone and online. The catfishing ended with a fizzle. No one confessed, there was no big dramatic reveal. For all we know Matt was another bored 12 year old just looking for some entertainment.
We did it because we were bored. We were bored with our 12 year old lives in suburban Massachusetts. And most of all, it gave us a chance to pretend we were cool high school students.
So the moral of the story is, catfishing is wrong. Pretending to be someone you aren’t on the internet is wrong, and it can seriously mess with people’s heads. But looking back on it, the experience taught me a lot about myself, and what I thought it was like to be a “cool high schooler.” Now that I’ve been through high school I know the truth. No one is cool in high school.
*Quizilla went offline in October 2014, much to my dismay, and it’s where I wrote a very long, very badly written, fanfic about me dating Gerard Way.
**For the record, I was still terribly awkward in high school, and kind of a heinous bitch ala Katerina in 10 Things I Hate About You
***I remember why, it’s because I wanted a boyfriend and at the time I was in love with Billy Martin from Good Charlotte. There was a lot of wish fulfillment going on at this time.