Catfishing (assuming a flattering, false online identity) can become an addiction that undermines identity, family, finances, and sense of reality. Here are three scenarios.
Suddenly obsessed with weight loss, working out, and cosmetic adornments like hair coloring and cologne, the male head of household – a construction worker – starts spending an inordinate amount of time on his cell phone. Staying up late at night, hanging out in his garage man cave, and withdrawing from the family allow him the time for his new addiction; catfishing with a pretty woman half his age.
Believing Dad is a wealthy corporate executive who is close to her in age, the woman engages in an online relationship with him. He evades her requests to meet with excuses about work and family obligations. When she threatens to end the online relationship, he offers her lavish gifts and financial assistance. His attempts to keep in contact with her become more desperate. Finally, his wife discovers the relationship while scrolling through his text messages, and feels devastated. Since Dad did not actually have sex with the woman, he denies having an affair. Even in marriage counseling (initiated by the wife) he denies having an emotional affair, claiming instead that he was just “friends” with this woman. The wife contacts the woman who denies any wrongdoing. After buying a new cell phone, he continues the online relationship by offering even more expensive gifts. Eventually the woman moves on to a real relationship.
Catfishing and the Young-Adult Son
Thirty years old and still living with Mom and Dad, Sonny spends most of his free time in his room playing online video games and consuming vast amounts of junk food. Marginally employed, out of shape, and socially unskilled, Sonny satisfies his relational needs online. Although he presents himself to online dating partners as a body-builder hunk with a great job and social finesse, he struggles with low self-esteem.
Over time, Sonny becomes more and more socially withdrawn. Often, his work suffers as a result – which may or may not cost him his job. Either way, he sinks further into credit card debt to cover his various online expenses and gifts to his romantic partners. Eventually his parents bail him out of financial ruin.
Feeling lonely, disillusioned and bored in her family life, Mom turns to Facebook where she looks up old boyfriends and crushes from her teenage past. With an innocent start, Mom connects with an old flame by sharing stories about her children and her job. Soon, however, she password protects her account as the dialog includes more sexual innuendo. Mom’s diluted version of catfishing (kittenfishing) consists of sending her beau old photos of herself when she was ten years younger and 30 pounds fitter. Fortunately, her newfound Romeo lives out of state, so there is little chance of her deception being detected.
However, Mom becomes moodier and dissatisfied with her husband, who could never live up to her online relationship, which is highly rooted in fantasy. She and her husband barely interact, especially in the bedroom. She starts to think about getting a divorce but feels financially trapped and desperately afraid of living alone. So, she resigns herself to her lonely existence dotted with “sexciting” online encounters.
Imagine Mom, Dad, and Sonny at the dinner table, each completely absorbed in swiping, skyping, and typing on their cell phones. “Pass the salt,” might even be texted instead of spoken. No meaningful conversation or interaction takes place. The more likely scenario is that all three eat their fast-food or frozen dinners in isolation, in front of their own TV with smart phone or tablet in hand.
As noted in a recent survey, many catfish do not scam for money or have ill intentions. They often struggle with loneliness and boredom, seeking to escape the dissatisfaction in their lives. At times, they struggle with low self esteem (especially about their appearance), and believe that creating an illusory online persona is the only way to win a person’s affections.
What is the Solution?
Internet technology has brought many advantages like easy access to shopping, entertainment, and research information. But it has also caused many problems, especially social isolation that results from catfishing, financial carelessness, and various forms of addiction. Here are a few ideas to minimize these problems.
- Limit screen time to one to two hours per day.
- Spend one hour a day (maybe at dinner time) in family conversation with no distractions.
- Start some form of spiritual practice (reading, meditating, support group, worship).
- Start or renew a hobby that does not involve screens.
- Get involved in your community (Park district, organize community events, Meetup.com)
- Accept that a meaningful life is not always exciting.
- Get some exercise (local adult sports, dance classes, spin classes)
- Walk Fido at the dog park where you will meet others.
- Find joy in having a pet!
With a little effort, families can resume their status of being the bedrock support for emotional, social, and financial security.
Photo is under license from Shutterstock.com.