“Is this you?”
That’s the question I read in the middle of a casual afternoon that spawned my first anxiety attack I’ve had in quite some time.
No, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me in the screenshot he sent me. The image showed a brief chat between this man, now messaging me on my personal Facebook account, and someone with my picture and the username I once used.
The username and photo were ones I chose for my Match.com account that I won via a Twitter contest and used prior to moving to New York City. The screenshot was from an app I had never seen or heard of before. The Match.com profile was me, but this, this was not.
Suddenly the random and strange messages I had been receiving on Facebook made more sense. I had brushed this off as anything from completely random searches to “maybe they read one of my articles before.”
I never thought they were contacting me – by my full name – based on a profile they saw and spoke to on a lesser-known dating app.
Thankfully, this stranger sent a screenshot instead of sending a lewd message which made it easier to get more information. I was able to find the app on the App Store in a crazed search for a customer service contact method.
I have yet to find any sort of contact for this app, even after searching the developer and reading the entire user agreement form (which this unknown person has clearly violated tenfold). Alas, I’ll continue to find a way to fix it.
To be honest I’m surprised how this occurrence has made me feel. We’ve grown up in a generation where this is commonplace. We hear about people’s images being used on dating apps and there’s even a successful TV show about it.
There was even a storyline on “Mistresses” – my latest easy-to-watch TV show indulgence – where one of the main characters is subject to this. I remember watching it and thinking “wow, she’s really overreacting here.” I thought the storyline was overdone.
That was until it happened to me. That was until I was the bystander in a storyline where the main character was someone pretending to be me.
What might seem usual in a day and age where we share basically every part of our lives on the internet, isn’t usual when you’re at the center of it. It feels anything but natural.
What it does feel like, is a complete and total violation of your being. It sounds exaggeratory, and it sounds like I’m overreacting just like I once thought Karen was on “Mistresses.”
The truth is, though, it’s horrifyingly unnerving. Your mind starts racing wondering what this person was saying to all these people.
What else were they sharing claiming to be me?
What other screenshots are out there floating in cyberspace associated with my name? And why use my actual bio and link to my blog? Why not take on a different identity entirely?
You suddenly feel extremely exposed. You feel violated. You feel like everyone on the street that looks at you might’ve seen you on this app. It’s suddenly like you’ve lost control of your life because now there’s more than one of “you.”
Of course, this might sound ironic coming from someone who openly publishes articles about being single, dating, heartbreak, and everything in between online.
I may be an inherently shy human being but I share my deepest emotions publically so other people know they’re not alone. I do it so people keep believing in love, find a way through heartbreak, and get inspired to see more of the world.
It’s not ironic because that kind of openness and vulnerability is selfless. But this? This breach of personal safety is selfish. It’s greedy to steal someone’s identity and taint it for reasons not worth taking the time to contemplate.
It’s wrong to take someone’s voice from them, so this is intended to speak louder than those trying to do just that.
When this first happened I wanted to delete my website, clear all my social accounts, ban dating apps for good, and waste one of the last days of summer lamenting.
In that same week, one of my best friends reminded me that you should never let someone dim your sparkle. So I decided not to. Instead, I decided to throw that spark back at those who think that something like this is harmless, because I certainly feel harmed.
So to those that have been “catfished” – I understand how you feel and I sure do hope you’ve been able to regain your identity, solely. To those posing behind stranger’s lives that they have worked so hard to build – shame on you.
Shame on you for not being confident enough in your own skin on your search for love. Shame on you for crafting such deeply netted lies. Shame on you for pretending to be someone you’re not. I hope – from the very bottom of my heart – that you’re able to love your own true self one day.