Psychology of Catfish

I recently put on the catfish series which is streaming on Hulu. If you haven’t seen the show, and the documentary of the hosts’ experience being catfished then you totally should. It has me sitting around really gaining some deeper insight into people. 

For any who don’t know, a catfish is a person who gets involved in a relationship with someone else based on lies about their real identity. This is a modern phenomenon obviously because of the ability to create a fictitious and sometimes very convincing identity through social media and dating apps. Apparently it happens a lot as there many on the show but hundreds more that don’t make it on the show. It’s pretty wild. 

But anyways, here are some of my thoughts about people based on insights from the show. 

  1. people are crazy 

I don’t mean of course that people are disordered (although there are some clear narcissists or sociopaths on the show) I mean that people behave very strangely sometimes. The lengths some people go to try to trick others is downright shocking sometimes. I’m talking about several profiles, maintaining many lies and crafting elaborate deceptions. Some have carried a grudge for years and catfishes a friend or former lover just to hurt them back. People invest a lot of emotional energy into these catfish schemes at times and it is surprising. 

  1. People are lazy

One of the common reasons for cat fishing seems to be a person who is not confident about their looks or situation and they use pictures of someone beautiful to catch an attractive person. This makes me sad for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not sure why someone who isn’t taking care of themselves thinks they deserve a partner who does. Secondly, if people spent the energy they use in tricking someone on bettering themselves they would find they could attract a better mate. It seems people take the shortcut and invent a better version of themselves before they will actually work on achieving that goal. 

  1. The Wrapping Matters

Many of us love to think we are not superficial. We like to think that we see past appearances. Obviously we do not. Everyone enjoys attractive people. We would all love to have an attractive mate. And when they “lazy” catfish who used an attractive person’s face and body to catch someone is revealed, the victim loves to say they might have been interested in the catfish had they been honest. I actually don’t believe that. I believe that we do tend to pursue mates we believe are similarly attractive to us. Think about it. Are there really that many couples where one is much more attractive than the other? Sure a few rich dudes have pulled a hot woman with their money but all assume it’s his money right? Of course we do. Anna Nicole Smith was not “in love” or attracted to that 80 something year old dude. Or at least most of us assume she wasn’t. So appearance matters. It’s kind of the first measure of whether we want to be with someone. And believe me, in the show tons of people start with “well their picture was super hot” when explaining how they ended up a victim of a catfish. 

  1. We all want a deep connection

While we may want an attractive partner, it’s obviously the emotional connection that matters more. It’s really sad when someone is deeply in love with the catfish and then when they see them they are suddenly over them. Many times on the show, a catfish who used someone else’s pictures begs their victim, “but you are in love with me, I just look different.” I agree, they really were in love and the emotional connection was the foundation of the relationship. It’s why people on the show continue being a victim for so long even though they haven’t been able to meet their love or sometimes even talk to them on the phone! They get so much from the emotional part of the relationship, they are forgoing a physical part. My conclusion is that the emotional connection is the most important aspect of the relationship and can carry it very far on its own. Both men and women victims on the show agree that the companionship and emotional support was what sets the catfish relationship apart. 

  1. We want to believe in fairytales 

The final insight I gained is that we want to believe in a fantasy even when reality is destroying it. So many times the hosts of the show are providing evidence that the catfish is not who they say they are and yet, the victim has trouble letting go of the fantasy. I believe this is because in these relationships based on lies, we can fill in the blanks with wonderful thoughts. Every time there are tons of promises of a wonderful future together, nothing but joy and love and peace and prosperity. And when that fantasy is threatened, the victims often cling to it, refusing to believe facts that are presented and come up with new explanations. It’s heartbreaking to see people embrace a happy lie over a sad truth but it happens all the time. 

We live in a crazy world and we are crazy in it. Humans are such a strange organism capable of deep delusions, deceptions and manipulations but also capable of deep connection, empathy and compassion. Catfish is a fascinating watch and I highly recommend it.

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