I once Catfished a friend before I knew what Catfishing was
Then karma taught me a hard lesson by being the victim of a Catfish
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on June 29, 2022.
MTV’s “Catfish” is now in its eighth season, and I’m still puzzled by how people keep falling into these traps — especially considering I was once a “Catfish” myself. I don’t embarrass easily, but this was not one of my finest moments.
I was in elementary school and chit-chatting with a school friend over the phone when her cousin jumped on the line to talk to me too. I’m not sure why it happened, but something in my voice got deeper. Blame it on puberty. Blame it on the phone. Blame it on the connection. I was barely a preteen.
“Who is this?” the cousin hissed into the phone.
“Me,” I responded.
“No, it’s not!” she insisted. She yelled out to her cousin, my schoolmate, to see who I was talking to. In a back-and-forth debate between the two, she’d convinced herself that her cousin was sneaking and talking to a boy.
Mischievous Mini-Me thought this was hilarious, especially considering my actual voice was constantly mistaken for my mother. (I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times I’ve had to loudly tell my mother’s friends to stop telling me their business as soon as I answer the phone. Up until smartphones came around and I moved out to go to college, this continued.)
But at that moment, I thought this would be a fine time to play a joke on her. I cleared my throat and purposely started talking in a deeper voice. I rolled my eyes while she giggled and rambled on about subjects I do not remember. Then this same thing happened the next day. And the day after that. By the end of the week, she’d told a bunch of people in our class that “me and Shamontiel’s cousin go together.”
My jaw dropped. I hadn’t talked about much else but the usual superficial topics that preteens talk about. I don’t even recall flirting with the girl. But in her mind, she was talking to a boy and they were a “thing.”
My schoolmate started getting suspicious and asked to speak to the “cousin” via phone. I did the same voice the next day, and the schoolmate laughed and said, “That’s Shamontiel! I know her voice.”
“OK, whatever you say,” I said in the same “deeper” voice.
And her cousin believed my “cousin” was just too cool to prove himself. I could not believe this practical joke was working. But the next day in school, I realized I’d taken the joke too far. She’d written this kid’s name (I have no idea what name I gave him) all over her folder with hearts and glitter. And at that moment, I felt so very, very, very bad. I thought this was initially funny, but then she thought she had a new boyfriend. I was going to have to admit my joke sooner rather than later.
After I saw the amount of artwork on her folder, I did end up telling her in person that it was a joke that went too far. And the look of defeat on her face made me feel so bad for her. It also taught me a valuable lesson about people (especially girls) who wear their hearts on their sleeves. (I do not.)
Although my childhood years included the occasional practical joke, that was the last time I pulled one of those antics. I would’ve laughed this off, called the other person a “jackass” and went about my day. I was boy crazy, but my boy craziness was reserved for Romeo of Immature. (Off topic: As adults, LDB is by far the most handsome of that trio.) She was looking for a boyfriend in real life. She spent a few more days walking around like she got dumped. We were cordial after that, but we were never as good of friends from that point on.
When the tables turned — and I was the target of a “Catfish”
Karma will always let you know when you’ve messed up. It may be the next day, the next year or the next decade. But sooner or later, it will catch up with you. Although I learned my lesson as a kid, I still thought the MTV show was more ridiculous than realistic. I’d convinced myself it must be flattering to be the photo people used as a “Catfish” too. That is, until it was me.