JULIA KLOS & CAROLINE KOCH // EDITORS
The MTV reality television show phenomenon, “Catfish” was the highest rated new cable series of 2012. Creator and host, Nev Schulman, was prompted to create the series after dating a girl strictly via internet. His experience of “online intrigue” is one shared by many and unfortunately highlights the uncertainty and negativity often associated with the World Wide Web.
After a young artist sends him a painting of one of his photos, Schulman finds himself taking an interest in the future of an 8 year-old girl from Michigan, named Abby. They make a connection on Facebook, where the artist introduces Schulman to her family. The story gets complicated when he starts to fall for Abby’s older sister, Megan.
“If we met each other and the attraction exists in real life, it would be like, an instantaneous relationship.” Schulman was infatuated with the persona on his computer screen. The two exchange messages and photos to deepen their virtual relationship, but he gets skeptical when Megan sends him videos of “her” singing, which he finds have been ripped off of YouTube. Nev describes his feelings of confusion and alarm: “I’ve probably been chatting with a guy the whole time!”
More reconnaissance uncovers details of Abby’s art career to be lies, so Schulman and his brother make an impromptu decision to go to Michigan and get the real story. As he approaches the house he affirms to himself, “stay strong, stay strong” but no words could prepare him for the discovery coming next.
While Abby did exist, she was no prodigal artist and it was her mother that was manipulating men with stolen photos of a 30 year-old model on Facebook. The 8 year-old painter, supposedly named Abby, turned out to be 42 year-old woman, Angela Wesselman, from upper peninsula Michigan. “Yeah, I manipulate, and it’s not right,” said Wesselman.
After the movie’s release in an interview on ABC’s 20/20, Wesselman reveals she has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In a chilling twist, Nev asked the imposter to “bring Megan back to life with her voice” that he had heard on the phone so many times: “I wanted her to feel as uncomfortable as I did… I was really crazy about that person. That thing that you felt that was easy and fun to you, that wasn’t a game to me; it was a game to you.”
Though it’s hard to distinguish whether or not Schulman carries on the reality series (in its second season) to warn potential catfish victims, or if it’s just good television, the stories on the show capture very real scenarios that tech savvy daters face in the current digital age. So what is the probability that one day you might find yourself in an online relationship? More than you might be willing to admit. 54 million people in the United States are single and 40 million have tried online dating – roughly the population size of Argentina.
A California State Northridge study concludes “that accelerated intimacy, ease and availability of access, anonymity, disinhibition, loss of boundaries and potency (stimulation) of content make the online experience an addicting one.” In the same way cyber-bullying allows people to hide behind a keyboard, online dating accommodates the shy and introverted. Constantly getting to check Facebook and a dating profile to see if someone “winked” at you goes from being intriguing to consuming all too easily.
Another nugget to consider is that 10 percent of nationally registered sex offenders use online dating sites to meet people, assumedly because no one knows that from their dating profile.
Regardless of the potential dangers, 74 percent of single citizens in the US are dating online. Then why the negative connotation when it comes to using a digital dating approach? Understandably, professionals in the age of technology are overwhelmed with jobs and immediate social circles, leaving a very limited amount of time to actually meet potential mates. As society moves further into the twenty first century, is online dating really that weird?
Who better than The Courier’s very own “Straight Talk” advice columnist to enlighten those who may be on the fence about trying it: “Why not try online dating? You have the safety of seeing who is out there from the comfort and protection of your own home, while not risking face to face rejection.”
She brings up a great point; taking the time to reflect on who you are, or who you want to be within the parameters of love while filling out a questionnaire is seriously beneficial. Nothing has to move too fast in building an online relationship. You get to set the tone and the pace that is good for you – you get to be in control. The level of commitment involved in online dating, is what you make it. Think of the many options and different types of websites that are out there. Sure, some sites like match.com are geared towards marriage, but that isn’t the only choice anymore.
Apps like Tinder have made meeting someone fast and casual; if two people confirm mutually interested feelings after looking at a photo, they have the opportunity to message one another and see if a meet up is in order. Tinder is the fastest-growing free dating app in the country, boasting more than 2 million matches per day. The app does not require a profile to match couples, just your age, gender and location requirements, which make the whole process very low-stress with minimal maintenance.
While Tinder uses Facebook data to allow users to judge on looks alone, another free dating app aimed at young people values quality over quantity. Coffee Meets Bagel is a program that pairs up users once a day based on their Facebook friends and information. At noon, matches are sent out program wide. Users then have 24 hours to decide whether they want to like or pass and wait for another match tomorrow. If two people decide to date, they are able to message that day and see if they actually want to meet up. Coffee Meets Bagel understands that fast-paced Millennials don’t have time to stew over meticulously constructed profiles and why would we when Facebook already serves that purpose.
A survey done by the company finds that 70 percent of men and women say Coffee Meets Bagel has made it easier to find a casual date. Certainly online relationships are starting to parallel the new era of packed-schedule lifestyles; it’s clear that the dating world is not operating within in the framework that it was even five years ago.
Our everyday lives have become so heavily reliant on technology, why not our love lives too? In a world where we can control the garage door from our cell, it’s only fair to consider the possibility of taking hold of our relationship destiny. The benefits offered from online dating are hard to argue with. In what other scenario can you screen 20 suitors online in under two minutes? Be open to the idea. Like all things worth doing, putting in an effort garners the best results.
Don’t be surprised in 10 years when the majority of your friends meet their girlfriends/boyfriends/fiancés on the internet; web dating is just starting to hit its stride.