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3 Key Online Dating Lessons From 'Catfish'

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A new film can teach you a thing or two about online, long-distance dating.

Before you take your budding Facebook romance with your coworker's brother's friend from grade school to the next level, YourTango strongly, strongly recommends you watch the new documentary release Catfish—or at least read the following.

Catfish documents the experience of young NYC-based photographer Nev Schulman (pronounced "Neev") who begins a Facebook correspondence with a Midwestern family. It begins after its matriarch, Angela, started sending him paintings of his photographs done by her 8-year-old daughter, Abby. Soon, Nev "friends" her 19-year-old daughter Megan and the two eventually start "dating." It becomes serious: They speak on the phone for hours; they exchange hundreds of messages; they give each other pet names; he photoshops her into his pictures; she sends Nev mp3s of her covers; they probably have phone sex… But Nev's suspicions arise when he discovers one of her recordings has been ripped from a YouTube video…

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This is the first film I've seen about internet relationships since You've Got Mail (1998). Thus, it's about time someone—in this case "Indiewood"—tackles the concept of practically blind dating, given that so many relationships these days begin online. Catfish reminds us of three very important lessons to remember when entering online courtships. 

1. Proceed with caution
Ah, Facebook romances… You can only know so much about someone through cyberspace—no matter how many hot pics and adorable messages. Whether or not relationships succeed depends on how well you know each other. Nev's relationship was little more than a Facebook one, ultimately, as Megan's profile didn't tell the whole story.

In online dating and social network profiles alike, you don't have to list your favorite songs and movies. You don't have to show your birth year. You don't have to list your real name. It doesn't even have to be you in your profile pic. In Catfish, Nev didn't fall for Megan—he fell for her Facebook profile. Had they been able to chat via webcam, the jig would have been up much sooner.

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2. Don't assume too much
When chasing love, you run the risk of assuming too much. This happens in online and offline relationships all the time: a man meets "the one"; perhaps she does something irresistible—a look or a smile. Captivated, he takes this wonderful (albeit singular) aspect and assumes a billion unfounded other things about her.

The problem with dating via Facebook is that users tend to illuminate only bits and pieces of themselves on their profiles. Nev fell in love with a few pieces of someone and made up the rest of the puzzle. When you fall in love with an online photo or a sexy voice on the phone, you don't get to smell the pheromones he or she emits in real life; one whiff could be a deal-breaker, but you wouldn’t know this because you've never seen, let alone, smelled him or her before. The Scent of Attraction

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