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A Cautionary Tale of Online Catfishing

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Adventure

Last May I embarked on my first solo trip abroad. I planned everything out: which cities I’d visit, which tours I’d take, and which mountains I’d climb.

What I did not plan for was being taken for a fool. On the same day that I flew out of Boston, I connected with Anders, a 35-year-old man from Norway. Or so I thought.

We didn’t chat that frequently on the Couchsurfing app, but he kept in touch. After initially claiming that he would add me as a friend on Facebook, he didn’t. That should have been the first red flag.

After a few days of no communication, he requested I initiate the connection on Facebook. And I obliged, like I had some misplaced loyalty or duty to fulfill. Despite having some hesitation, I seemed to have ignored my instincts.

I continued my trip through Norway and Finland alone. Three weeks of complete and utter freedom. I connected with people who I value as friends; I reconnected with family; and I got to rediscover who I am.

Caution Against the Wind

When I returned stateside, I felt changed. I successfully climbed one mountain. I chased my future dreams and embarked on a journey into the unknown.

But I also wanted to help the Norwegian new to town. I believed the story he told me, you see. He said he wanted to explore New England with someone.

 

It was difficult to setup a meetup. It took a few weeks, at least. He pretended that he needed to visit Sweden for two weeks for work, while also reconnecting with his ex-girlfriend whom he supposedly had a child with.

While I felt a connection, I was growing suspicious after discussing the possible meetup with my family and began asking relevant questions about where he was from, what he did, and more.

During our conversations, he was seemingly interested in my photography, in my solo travels, in history, and in years-old profile pictures (now since deleted). As I shared photos of myself, he came up with excuses to avoid doing so. Another red flag I clearly ignored.

Was I wrong to continue engaging with him? Should I have simply disengaged?

Boston Calling

After Independence Day, we finally setup a time and a date to meet: July 7th in the Boston Public Gardens in the afternoon by the Make Way for the Ducklings statue. Because I got there earlier than I expected, I waited at a nearby bench.

Ten minutes after our scheduled meeting time, he finally arrived. Being late was quite frustrating. But it wasn’t Anders (or Lars) as he was calling himself. It was an ex-friend, who proceeded to say, “Lars couldn’t make it,” which suggested he had created the entire ruse that I stupidly fell for.

 

Maybe he wanted revenge; maybe he wanted to talk. I don’t know, because immediately afterwards I began to briskly walk to the closest T station on the Green Line. It was disorienting and disturbing. And the encounter left me terrified.

After leaving the public park, I thought I wouldn’t see him again. But I was wrong. He accosted me after I arrived at Alewife to pay for my parking. I said “no” to his repeated claims that he wanted to talk and explain himself, before proceeding up the stairs to Level 3. He didn’t want me to make a scene.

I felt sick to my stomach as I drove away from Alewife, coughing in panic unable to gain my composure back. Since then, I’ve almost consistently felt like someone is following my every move: whether it’s following my blog or driving to or from work, for example. While the threat of being followed has lately subsided, I am still unable to trust most people.

Moving On and Moving Forward

We had ended our friendship two years’ prior due, in part, to differences of opinions. We’d said our good-byes. His insistence to hear him out suggested that I didn’t have a choice in whom my friends are. That he was entitled to me. That I was an object of his affection.

Whatever wedge that was against us, he believed that if he was able to reconnect with me, albeit alone, he could change my mind. But that was not the case, in the park or in the T station. “No” means “no.”

Since that time, I have made efforts to carry on with my life. I am focused on pursuing my dreams. But that’s not always easy, when you find it difficult to trust anyone outside of your close network of friends and family. Since then, I have become more cautious in my interactions online.

 

While I felt the sting of betrayal, I also felt like my kindness and trust were taken advantage of. Ultimately, the experience has meant I am more afraid: afraid that he will continue to follow me; afraid that I am not safe anywhere I go.

As I continue to fight through my anxiety and pain the experience caused, I know it is my choice.

It’s my choice, and I choose not to be objectified. It’s my choice, and I choose to be respected. I am learning to trust again and listen to my instincts. I am learning not to rush head-on into unfamiliar situations.

By Anonymous

Do you have a cat-fish or story you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below!

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