I Was Reverse-Catfished

I thought I had found the real thing, but I just found a narcissist instead.

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I’ve lived long enough to be aware of the dark side of human behavior. There are people who don’t hesitate when it comes to hurting others, and I’ve learned to have boundaries and to advocate for myself. But no matter how careful or savvy I have been, someone was still able to catfish me.

Catfishing is when someone pretends online to be someone that they’re not.

They create a fake name, profile, and pass off other people’s pictures as their own as a way to fool someone. Sometimes, the catfish wants to feel the power of being irresistible. Other times, they may not know how to be real or feel that if they’re themselves, no one will want them.


Catfishing isn’t a healthy or kind thing to do. (If you’re unfamiliar with catfishing, I suggest checking out either the documentary Catfish or the popular Catfish, the TV show.)

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You’d think with the information resources available that catfishing would have died out a long time ago, and yet, people continue to catfish and others continue to be fooled.

Most catfishers pretend to be someone better, more attractive, and younger than they are, so a reverse catfish — someone who is more successful or better-looking than they indicate online — is unique.


Because, if you’re hot, successful, and not a sociopath, why wouldn’t you just be honest about who you were?

A large percentage of catfishes are narcissists who are focused on stroking their egos and getting what they want. If someone (like you or me) gets hurt in the process, well, that’s not their problem.

It’s likely that you have encountered a narcissist or two in your lifetime and/or a catfish — even if you didn’t know it at the time. Both the catfish and the narcissist are talented at deception while coming off as exceptional and charming.

I met my catfish in an online chat group about theatre.

It wasn’t a fetish or hookup site, just people talking about their favorite plays and stage productions. After chatting in the group for a while, he and I splintered off and the conversation was between the two of us. It was then that it started to get more personal.


He asked for my picture and I sent it to him. I also told him my name and directed him to a few websites if he wanted to know more about me.

When I asked him what he did for a living, he was cagey at first, and then he said he was in fundraising. This set off some warning bells for me. It didn’t sound right but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

His ability to discuss theater, literature, and fine art with authority suggested that he had worked in the arts in some capacity but he denied it. He’d dodge my specific questions about the name of his company or who benefited from the funds. Since he wasn’t giving me what I needed, I tried to trick the information out of him.

He said that his camera was screwed up on his phone — a classic catfish move — but he’d send me a picture soon.


I’d ask things like, “How many times have you been on set?” or, “Do you have to have finished writing the entire book for a non-fiction book proposal?” He had no problem answering these questions, explaining that when he lived in New York, his building had been the location of several movies, and he had thought about writing a book. It sounded reasonable enough.

We chatted online, texted, and sometimes even talked on the phone. He said that his camera was screwed up on his phone — a classic catfish move — but he’d send me a picture soon.

The more we got to know each other, the closer we became. I was there when he needed to vent or when he was feeling down and needed someone to cheer him on. When there were long periods where he talked only about himself and didn’t ask me a single question, I took that as a sign that he trusted me and didn’t feel compelled to make it a more balanced conversation.

I didn’t know at the time he was just saying what he thought I wanted to hear and was playing to my insecurities.


Sometimes he needed to relax from the pressures of fundraising, and so, wanting to help him feel better, we did some phone and cyber-sexing which just felt awkward. I felt lucky that I had found someone on the internet who was passionate, empathetic, and real.

One day, he said casually, “I think my car was stolen.”

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How could one not know if their car was stolen? I have friends who work in fundraising and not one of them has a surplus of cars. If their car wasn’t where they parked it — they’d freak out — they wouldn’t be nonchalant about it.


I couldn’t ignore that voice in my head that was telling me something wasn’t right any longer and became more determined to find out who this man was that I was spending my emotional energy on.

If I didn’t find out the answers to my questions, I would have to cut him off.

Sensing that I might be losing interest, he agreed to send me a picture. The file was labeled JT at the computer and the picture was of a good-looking, dark-haired man seated at a laptop. He had a nice face — the kind that suggested warmth and kindness. Instead of satisfying my curiosity, the picture made me want to know more.

I knew his first name was John, so I had two pieces of information to work with. But I needed at least his last name to do a thorough investigation.


My first move was to scroll through the Internet Movie Data Base looking for men with the first name John and a last name that started with T. (I may have missed my calling as a detective or investigative reporter.)

After 15 minutes of scrolling on IMDB and image—searching on Google, I found him.

My instincts were correct; he was a writer. I had always fantasized about being with a writer, and this one was legit. He was not only a published writer — he was a very prosperous one having had success in many different types of writing.

Why would he pretend to be a fundraiser if he wasn’t hiding something? If it were me, I’d be proud of having bestselling books and award-winning screenplays.


Now that I knew the truth, I thought about what my next step should be. Should I tell him what I have found out right away, wait and see what other lies he told me, or just stop responding to him?

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Since I have very little impulse control in these kinds of circumstances, I confronted him. “I know who you are!” I said and then started listing off everything I had learned about him and his life.

I waited to see what his reaction was, worried that he’d be angry that I hadn’t waited for him to tell me the truth. I told myself that I was in the right since he was the one who had lied.


However, he took it all in stride, saying, “I’m glad you found out. It was hard for me to lie to you.” (Funny, it didn’t seem that difficult to you as you were lying your head off.)

I asked him why he felt he couldn’t tell me the truth. He said that he didn’t want someone who would try to use him to advance their career. He was waiting until he knew for sure that I was trustworthy enough for the truth.

It could be true.

If this story were the basis of a romantic comedy, he never would have lied to me again, but this is real life and it would be easier to list the times that he told the truth.


It would be a few months for me to find out the entire truth and it wasn’t pretty.

I wasn’t the only one he was catfishing — he had a whole harem of women that he was meeting. I found this tidbit out after we stopped talking.

While he said he was sorry every time I exposed a new lie — he wasn’t. He was the kind of man who got off on his ability to captivate women with little effort or expense.

It was a game to him.

I’ll never know his motives or what he expected to get from me besides someone to listen to him whine, complain, and talk about how misunderstood he was. I was a great ego boost and comfort to him with little reward.

You have to have a very empty life if catfishing is the only way for you to get friends.


I’ve learned that because someone is an artist that you admire or is successful in a field that you want to do well in, it doesn’t mean that they have anything useful to teach you or that it’s safe to have them in your life.

A person who pretends to be someone they’re not, even if they’re better than they claim, is still a catfish, and a catfish is always a liar.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.