“What the hell is a Catfish?”— Me

by Demetria L. Lucas

On Monday night, a good chunk of the people I follow on Twitter were practically howling about Catfish. Somehow I missed last month’s debut of the MTV hit show, one that seems to have quickly gained a cult following. Viacom’s President and CEO Philippe Dauman (questionably) touted Catfish as “the highest-rated launch in MTV history.”

If you need a late pass like me, ignore the show’s title and focus on the compelling premise. Each episode — which drags up every fear you might have ever had about online dating — features a person who has formed a relationship with someone they met online, but have never seen, not in person or even video chat. Nev Schulman (creator of the documentary “Catfish” which detailed his own encounter with online love) and his trusty cameraman investigate the shady occurrence of why two lovebirds have never had a face-to-face encounter, and arrange for them to meet in person, often with disastrous and/or hilarious and/or cringe-worthy results.

Let me give you an example of how this works. (SPOLIER ALERT!!!) On Monday night’s episode, which was so popular that one of the “characters” became a Twitter trending topic, a teen mom hoped to finally meet “Mike,” a busy man she carried on a two-year relationship with, primarily over text. (He called twice. Yes, in two years). The woman, Jasmine, said she was exclusively “dating” him, who again, she’s never met though he lives 15 minutes away. Of course, Schulman took on “the case,” and quickly discovered “Mike” was engaged with two children. Jasmine still wanted to meet him though, so Schulman set it up. Turned out “Mike” was actually a woman named Mhissy (the “h” is silent), who was dating a man who Jasmine also once dated.

Try to keep up: Mhissy created a persona that she maintained for two friggin’ years in order to distract Jasmine from being interested in Mhissy’s man. And it worked. At the time of the confrontation, Mhissy bragged that the guy was “driving my car right now” (blank stare).

My initial reaction was “huh? Huh?? HUH?!!!!” and then I thought, “how plain stupid can you be?” And by “you,” I meant both women: Jasmine for being a pen pal carrying on a “relationship” for two years with a person she’d never met and then this Mhissy for actually worrying so about this other woman that she doesn’t get how simple it is to brag on man who is riding ‘round Atlanta’ in her ride burning up her high-priced gas.

But it’s not that simple. Allow me to skip over Mhissy — because I can’t with her and given her back story she deserves an entirely separate musing — and focus on Jasmine, who represents the show’s premise and perhaps baffled me most of all.

It’s too easy to dismiss the participants in the show, the ones who carry on love affairs, if only in their minds, as just “stupid.” Sure, they should own a chunk of blame for being willfully naïve. I mean, who falls “in love” with someone they’ve never seen, much less met?

Jasmine was so uncomfortable in her own skin that she visibly squirmed when complimented. Another woman was in an unfulfilling relationship and projected the idea of what was missing there onto her online lover of about a decade. Yet another woman (so I heard), unable to find a relationship due to her occupation as a stripper, held on to an Internet boo just to have somebody care.

Who ends up in a relationship with someone they don’t know? Lonely people. Emotionally-damaged people. Insecure people. Hurt people. People who just want to be loved by any means necessary people. Vulnerable people. That’s who. These participants know these relationships aren’t quite right, hence the emails asking for a Catfish intervention. But they stick around because hope and loneliness can sometimes make intelligent folk override common sense.

And that there is the problem with Catfish.  Essentially, it’s about emotionally desperate people, and in documenting the end results of bad decisions it walks a fine line between exploitation and entertainment. That makes me cringe, even if the story is too compelling to turn the channel.

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk

  • Bump Mediocrity

    Who ends up in a relationship with someone they don’t know?

    Desperate people.

  • Yvette

    I was going through a similar situation as these women, but have ended it thanks in part to seeing an episode of ‘Catfish’. I met the guy on a blog that we both frequent. It started out friendly – we would discuss work projects (we’re in similar fields). Then we started talking about our personal lives, interests, exchanging pictures, etc. After a few months of this I finally gave him my phone number. Instead of calling though, he would only text! When I called him on it I got a ton of excuses – he’s busy with work, he prefers to text, blah, blah, blah. Of course this raised a red flag, but I kept communicating with him hoping things would change. They didn’t, and now I’ve cut off all communication with him.

    Demetria makes a good point that it’s lonely, emotionally damaged people who are most susceptible to this – doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re stupid.

  • Bev

    In order to fully appreciate the whole concept of this show, I recommend that you see the documentary that inspired it. I rented it through Netflix when I first heard about it, nearly two years ago and it details how the show’s creator was caught out there just like the folks on the TV series. Compelling and eye-opening is how I’d describe it. The documentary is also called “Catfish.”

  • leelah

    looking for the positive…jasmine’s online relationship was a convenience that gave her an emotional outlet that didn’t distract her from her job of being a single mother. she wasn’t leaving her daughter home to go to the club and hunt for a man, she wasn’t actively dating, she wasn’t exposing her child to different men in her home. she was enjoying a little male conversation on the side. in other words, she was lonely and I think she choose something a lot healthier then what lonely people sometime choose.

  • Yvette

    Yes! Excellent documentary.

  • Yvette

    @leelah – I see what you’re saying, but the “emotional outlet” was based on a lie. The person wasn’t who he said he was. Why not try to build a real connection? There’s nothing wrong with actively dating – as long as you do it responsibly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/felicityrankinsrhode Felicity Rhode

    After watching a couple episodes last night, I think I’ll have to stop. I found myself CACKLING at the expense of these poor decision making people, and that’s just not right. I feel bad for these folks who carry on these phony online relationships. Its sad.

    But who am I kidding? I’ll catch the rest of the episodes On Demand.

  • leelah

    I stand corrected. I went on over to MTV and watched some of that episode. It was seriously sad.Both girls are hurting and have a mountain of problems they have to climb. Jasmine is lonely and insecure so online dating is easier for her than meeting men in person. I don’t fault her for looking for comfort online it just seems like after two years she lost perspective. Mike/missy is barely 18, clinging to the guy who was there for her after she had a late term miscarriage. The host, Nev, is a gem. For a second I thought he was a counselor while he talked to these women. His presence elevates this show from trash tv to something intriguing.

  • Yvette

    @leelah – I love Nev! He’s a great host and very sensitive to the people who participate in the show.

  • Treece

    I admit, watching Catfish is kind of like being a train wreck spectator. But, each episode is a cautionary tale of sorts. Most of us learned early on when being taught about navigating the internet that not everyone is who they say they are. However, even since the early days of the “chat room” people have been emotionally scamed by ppl posing as someone else. The take away I think is that regardless of whether it online or in reality, vulnerable/naive/hurt people get taken advantage of in relationships…..period. Because Nev learned this from his own experience, I guess he and MTV though it would be a good idea to show what happens to others in the same boat that want answers. On the flip side, I can see how these ppl are being exploited. The big wigs at MTV know what makes good tv. Sometimes its shows that have the potential for emotionally charged scenes and massive meltdowns like Catfish…..

  • Lady P

    I know I shouldn’t have laughed, but the episode with the lady stripper. When she finally met her online interest in person, he was a completely different person from his online profile. These people honestly believed they met their soul mates which is the sad aspect of the show. The positive side to all of this is they must learn from their poor decision making and not repeat them.

    I also agree these are lonely, emotionally damaged people who are easily taken advantage of.

  • Sasha

    I have a headache now….so many questions but I’m just going to guzzle some water and go for a walk.

  • Kacey

    I honestly had never heard of this show (I stopped watching MTV and BET a while ago). I decided to watch the Jasmine/Mike episode that the article described and I am flabbergasted by how she was so easily duped (how could he supposedly live 15 minutes away from her and she was never even tempted to drive by his area and look for him?) There were red flags all over this and, as the host and his sidekick demonstrated, it was so easy to uncover all the lies. I feel sorry for her because it was obvious that she acted out of loneliness. And the fact that Mhissy would go to such lengths to dupe Jasmine shows how truly demented she is, but maybe she is actually indicative of something deeper going on in our society. I couldn’t watch any more.

  • Avril

    This is nauseating. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, but I just can’t watch sad, lonely people and laugh at their misery. The women in this episode need serious counseling. This is our entertainment people, the pain of others. Just a mess.

  • http://gravatar.com/solfresh solfresh

    I agree with the damaged and lonely part, but I’m sorry in Jasmine’s case you have to be a plain fool to be dating a guy who supposedly lives 15 minutes away from you! for 2 years! On this episode, I can’t let loneliness, low self-esteem, and vulnerability be the explanation. I find it crazy, because the search tactics that Nev used were quite simple. Any guy that I’m building a relationship at least gets their FB profiles read through, just in case. Jasmine could of been had this girl’s shenanigans nipped in the bud a long time ago. I’m actually glad for Nev and his show, because who knows how long that would’ve went on with this girl being blinded by “love”.

    In the case of the young woman who dated the guy for 10 years, I can excuse her for her vulnerability after she shared her story about her ex-boyfriend (who committed suicide). That was deep.

    It’s 2012, if a guy insists on only texting you, he doesn’t want you, doesn’t love you, and doesn’t care for you. No exceptions. Real love doesn’t hide.

  • http://gravatar.com/godivabap godivabap

    The people on Catfish are just a step or two past the average person. How many of us women in the text/tweet generation have experienced meeting a guy in-person, who then proceeds to only communicate by text? How long did you entertain that foolishness?

    I never heard of Catfish, nor did I know what it was about until the twittersplosion on Monday. I am not sure that I will ever watch it, but reading the recaps, all I could think of was the myriad of times I have fallen victim to the text-only men and seen my friends carry on a hot and heavy relationship with their Blackberry beaux. We have let social media and text messaging become acceptable substitutes for real human contact and connection. Leading many people to take advantage and cause a lot of hurt and pain.

    Remember when You Got Mail came out, and people thought that movie was so cute?! Crazy. We need to wake up. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it can be abused. SMH.

  • http://gravatar.com/solfresh solfresh

    This show definitely has the potential for emotionally charged scenes and massive meltdowns, but it doesn’t go there. The Jasmine/Mhissy episode could have went there. However I love Nev and how he controls the situation and how he makes it clear to the subjects that they have the power in the situation too. Those two girls could have easily fought (which I know that is what Mhissy wanted), and if Nev wasn’t there I’m sure they would have.

    For this show I really don’t feel as though the subjects are being exploited. I think Nev is genuine and he’s helping people who don’t have the courage to do it themselves. Everything is done in a way that other people can and should learn what not to tolerate with online dating.

  • RL

    You need to work with Nev.

  • Confession

    When I first joined the twitter world, I was pursued. I was truly oblivious to the fact people seek out companionship via twitter. He would “sweet tweet” me. I was excited and then later learned they were only lyrics from different songs. I did get caught up for a minute. It was fun and exciting at the time.

  • master kush

    I needed to read this comment right now and now that i read it im blocking him right now. I met this guy in person but he never calls and always has an excuse Its been abt 3 weeks even tho we met in the summer and have hung out in person a few times but weve been seriously talking via text almost exclusively for 3 weeks ive been on the fence but this pushed me over im done thank you Clutch and commenters.

  • Marseeuh

    Exploitation sums it up…but then again that’s all reality tv shows…

  • Smilez_920

    No ones forcing these ppl to expose their lives on tv. They signed up for the show. The host seems like a good guy, who luckly created a tv based on his experience with Internet dating. He actually tries to help each person.

    I like Catfish. I catch it when I’m not working. I enjoy the host.

  • LadyP

    Exactly! Sorry, but that episode had me crackin up.

  • Overseas_Honeybee

    Wow … never even heard of this show. MTV Europe is like 5 years behind. They still showing Flava of Love reruns. A mess! Im not feeling MTV enough to go online for updates. Anywho … think I will check out the documentary. It’s hard to imagine this is real life though. Just reading the summary from this article has all kind of red flags going off. I met my ex online (was not trying to hook up at all I promise). We spoke on the phone, emailed and texted everyday. He also flew over to see me before we got serious. Thank the Lord he was not a “Catfish” not sure I would have handled that too well … especially on camera. First and only online romance. Not sure I would ever do it again unless we met first or ran in the same circles etc.

  • Margaret Cooley

    I think the show is very relevant given how big the social media world is for some people. There are generations of people who now almost exclusively function in virtual world – text, twitter, instagram – so I think it’s good that the pitfalls are being exposed in Catfish.

    I also like the way it began – Nev’s brother started following Nev’s relationship with an artist that developed through his photography website. He then “met” the sister and developed a relationship with her. The talked on the phone…then things started getting obviously weird and they went to meet her. Catfish- the movie, was born.

  • dee

    In the Mhissy case I don’t understand why she didn’t confront the man. Obviously if he was talking to her he’s probably talking to other women too. But seriously if we can’t video chat I can’t trust it.

  • GlowBelle

    Wow. I give nervous laughter over this, because this is plain foolery, and also sad. I’ve heard of the documentary that this show was based off of, but I have never caught the show. Looks like it shows how we have become way too engrossed in the social media world and how easily it is for us to slip into it as a mechanism to sort of ‘escape’ from our realities and loneliness, but in process it looks like we’ve forgotten to use plain common sense and that real human connection is precious and quite vital.

    I try to keep my Internet life separate from my real life, unless it involves work, but I’ve seen so many of my friends get duped when trying to get some “computer love”. One of my friends even went so far as to SEND MONEY to a dude she was dating online and had never met just so he come see her. He never came…just took the money and ran, never heard from him again. I know she gave him at least over $1000 for the trip…I couldn’t believe that someone as smart and pulled together as my friend would do something so…irrational. I won’t say it was stupid what she did — love and the longing for it makes us all do foolish things — but it was just like ‘damn, is your common sense broken?’ The whole situation stunk right from jump…he wants you to send him money…come on! And she wasn’t the first of my friends to start online relationships and have their self-esteem deflated because of how horrible they ended up. I just couldn’t abuse myself like that. I know I don’t always like being single, but I just can’t take on the mentality some of these people do when it comes to finding romance, like someone said above real love doesn’t hide. I’d rather seek out romance in the flesh…pun intended (ha).

  • http://www.valeriejoyner.com Valerie Joyner

    Dear Brooklyn Belle, you have summed up all reality shows. Most of the people on these shows are extremely damaged and hurt individuals and yes, they are exploited weekly. Catfish is no different than Love and Hip Hop Atlanta and Teen Moms to name two. All very sick people who need counseling, rather than a show.

  • emjay

    Obviously Monday’s episode was ridiculous and Mhissy “the h is silent” was a hot mess and a half. But can we please talk about how Nev TRIED IT when he went to Mhissy’s house and said I see you don’t have a table… HAH! but it was sad to watch what a woman will do for a man. Jasmine is going to be alright but Mhissy is caught up. She was TOO proud of herself

  • victoria

    I llive in Europe; therefore, Im unable to see many programs. Can so one please provide me with ways I can view this show online?

  • victoria

    What site will you go to to view the documentary?

  • Kacey

    @ Victoria – Netflix (if you have it) or Amazon.com’s Instant Video (you’ll pay like $1.99)

  • Kacey

    As to the documentary that the show is based on: see my I reply to your first question above;

    If you want to see the MTV episodes we’re talking about here, just go to MTV.com

  • BreaktheCycle

    Its easy to judge these people as being “stupid” and “emotionally unstable”. But, I know that every single one of us has made an ill-advised decision, or perhaps told a lie, and continued on the path that the decision or lie led us down. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, and all of our houses are probably more fragile than we’re willing to admit.

  • Caramel

    I am either really confused or way too old, because I am still trying understand how you could be “dating” someone and not seeing them!!!! Don’t you have to meet in person to date???? If you are just texting, then you are just pen pals or “text” pals, there is no relationship. I will stick to meeting people the old-fashioned way, in person. Thank you very much!

  • http://gravatar.com/todra T. Payne

    I totally agree. TV is complete trash these days and I don’t even bother to turn it on. Seriously haven’t watched a single show except for Madmen two years ago. I hate the exploitation these sad and bizarre people on “reality” shows. And I’m even more baffled as to why people watch them.

  • jourdan

    I don’t agree that the show is exploitation. Also, I don’t think Nev or his crew meant for this to be a comedy, but it’s hilarious to me! Now, maybe this sounds insensitive but the people on this show are too grown to not know better. Signing up for the show knowing the situation they’re in, they aired their own dirty laundry. *shrugs*

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    Break the cycle this is true, however at some point, each individual has to start learning the lessons life is serving and applying that wisdom where it is warranted and or being of help to someone who needs to hear their story. A good start is being honest and trying to live with integrity, exercising good judgement and keen discernment etc.
    No one should be condemning folk= passing judegement but all of us should be wise(r) in our decision making and assessment of situations. You live, learn, and then do better.

  • B

    What’s the difference between people meeting on Facebook vs match.com?

  • Ms. Write

    MTV should just change it’s name as it obviously couldn’t have anything less to do with music. SMH

  • Ms J

    cat•fish [kat-fish] verb
    To pretend to be someone you’re not online by posting false information, such as someone else’s pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you.

  • Wong Chia Chi

    http://www.1channel.ch look in the television section, and it’s free streaming.

  • Lily

    Thank you for sharing your story!

  • http://www.facebook.com/thenigerian.nefertiti Follow Me On Twitter | @sprnklofoptmsm_

    Whoever wrote this article is casting some serious stones here, so I’m assuming he/she is “without sin”. Listen, I get it. The show is a bit out there, and has left me wondering the same question raised in this article. Why can’t these people realize that this person they are falling in love with may not be who they say they are? & Being that I, myself, have never been in love but have met many who have .. Let me speak from witnessing when I say love makes you do some crazy things. However, I have to play devils advocate. If you listen carefully to Nev’s initial introductory conversation with these individuals, the majority of the time when he asks how they stumbled upon this person they’re in love with, they say “Oh, this person sent me a friend request.” or “Oh, it started off with us being friends.” These people aren’t always necessarily seeking love, they just happen to bump into it. And isn’t that the same for most people? They usually aren’t out looking for them when they meet the loves of their life. So lighten up. I mean, don’t we all as humans naturally just want to be loved “by any means necessary”?!

  • Shawn Richards

    Caramel, I dated someone I never met or saw once. I spent an entire summer conversing with a young lady whom had somehow managed to get my phone number. I was in love, and I TOTALLY claimed her as my girl. (wait for it…) Now granted I was in the 6th, or 7th GRADE at the time…LOL

  • Tea

    I’ve been there and done that back this when having online relationships were proper in the aol days. I agree it starts out at friendships and develops into more as you talk to the person daily online, by phone etc. Now, technology allows a little bit more means of being in touch like Skype, FaceTime and the like. But as someone said earlier, we have become more dependent on technology such that texting is more acceptable than picking up the phone. As with all things, you just have to excercise caution and common sense. Not only the lonely turn to the Internet. Aren’t many on you using Facebook and Twitter several times a day everday?!? Come on check yourselves boo.

  • 2013

    I’m interested in watching this show. I’ve seen it on MTV but was turned off by the name. I’m like “wtf is Catfish?” lol But since I’ve learned the definition of the term, I’m interested.

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