I'm one of those girls who has a pathetic love life and loves to whine about it. As a NBK 19 year-old, I want a boyfriend... but don't know any boys. I don't go to school and I work at a jewelry store with all girls. Plus, I'm incredibly shy with no confidence.
So I take my flirting to the internet.
I normally go on anonymous sites and never have a "relationship" for more than a day. Guys ask me for my name/email/state I'm from. I lie, obviously, because they don't need to know that and I want to stay safe. But I recently learned that this makes me a "catfish." That by lying to these guys, I'm deceiving them and toying with their emotions. As much as I want to believe they're being dramatic and what I'm doing is completely harmless and for my own safety, I can kind of see their point.
Another thing I never do is send pictures of myself or go on webcam (in general, not in a sexy way!). This is for safety, obviously, but also because in reality I'm really shy and innocent, but when I'm online I'm sassy, sarcastic, and upfront. If I send a picture/webcam and someone recognized me, I don't know how they would handle that behaviour change. I know the odds are slim, but still! (Also, if you tell a guy on the internet you're a girl, they automatically assume you're a swimsuit model. I'm not. In the slightest. Otherwise I wouldn't have to flirt with strangers anonymously on the internet. But when I tell guys I don't want them to see me, it sounds incredibly sketchy.)
Do I need to just get off the internet, Auntie? I want to be myself online, but I know better than to tell a stranger my name and email because "he likes me." I want to have a safe environment where I can date a guy, but I may be too young for internet dating. I would love to go out and do some community work and meet someone there, but again, I suck socially and get way too shy. I'm much more comfortable typing than I am talking. I know the best solution is to wait until college, but even then I'm worried I won't get one because of looks/shy/stupid girl problems. Is there a safe way I can meet a guy online?
First things first, Sparkler: the answer is yes. Yes, there are safe ways to date online, and yes, you're plenty old enough to take advantage of them if you like. But also, and much more importantly, YES, YOU NEED TO GET OFF THE INTERNET.
Not that there's anything wrong with the internet, of course. I love the internet! We all love the internet! But the way you're using the internet—not on its own merits, and not as a stepping-stone to real-life engagements, but as a second-best stand-in for the sort of true, close, rewarding human connection you so desperately crave—is basically the saddest and most self-sabotaging thing in the world. Trying to satisfy your desire for a romantic relationship with one-day digital affairs on anonymous forums is like trying to satisfy your desire for a gourmet meal by eating a bag of airplane peanuts. No, worse: eating a picture of a bag of airplane peanuts. That's how far removed you are from the thing you actually want, and it is terrible.
For you, I mean. For the record, let's be clear: what you're doing is not at all terrible in general. The gentlemen of the internet will not suffer long-lasting emotional damage from being lied to for a few hours by a girl they've never met—and any person who claims to have been catfished under those circumstances needs to be schooled in the meaning of the word.
But while your level of caution isn't harmful, per se, it is excessive and unnecessary. Being yourself online doesn't mean making yourself unsafe, and just about any reputable dating site is specifically set up to provide its users with the appropriate combination of authenticity and anonymity. And despite what you may have been led to believe, letting a stranger see what you look like isn't a one-way ticket to becoming a cautionary tale on the evening news—and nobody will ever appear on your doorstep with only your first name and home state to go on. (Okay, unless your name is something like "Rumplestiltskin" or "Bafflesnatch" and you live in the state of Rhode Island; that might narrow the field a bit.)
But the thing is, I think you know this—just like I think you know that the internet is not, in fact, populated by of hundreds of nameless, faceless, super-sleuth predators who want to track you down through your IP address and make a bathrobe out of your skin. It's just that justifying your guardedness with the terrifying spectre of Skin Bathrobe Guy is a lot easier and more pleasant than admitting that you're so terrified of being rejected, and so convinced that you will be, that you won't let even an online stranger get a tiny glimpse of the real you.
And I get that, Sparkler. Really. Because all those layers of obfuscation between yourself and the people you're talking to do keep you safe—not from harm, but from heartbreak. What you lose in authenticity and intimacy by keeping your distance, you gain in self-preservation. But keeping your heart boxed up and bubble-wrapped will only ever give you a pale, pathetic, unsatisfying imitation of what it's like to be in a relationship, because real relationships, real love, real intimacy, all require risk. You have to open yourself up enough to let people see what's in there—and accept that being rejected by some of them is worth it if you could be loved by one of them. There is no other way.
Which brings me to this: that sassy, sarcastic, in-your-face girl that the fellows go mad for online? That girl? Is you. YOU ARE THAT GIRL. The only difference between you and her is that she has nothing to lose, and the confidence that comes from knowing it. And if you can dig down past your terror of being rejected, and instead tap into your online personality's amazing ability to be bold and brash and to just not give a flying damn, you won't have that disconnect anymore between who you are online, and who you are in life.
Do this, and you'll be golden—wherever, whenever, and however you decide to date. Because even without movie star looks, or sparkling wit, or a wealth of experience, you'll still have the one and only thing you need to connect with the right person: the courage to let him see who you are.
? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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