There is one thing however that Ramon and Paola had never shared with one another…their faces.
And so when the day finally came that Ramon met his beloved face to face…to say that he was disappointed would have been an understatement. No, he was more than shocked or disappointed, he was utterly heartbroken. Paola, as he instantly discovered was not Paola. His beloved was someone else.
Welcome to the bizarre and devastating world of catfishing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the modern idiom of 'catfishing', please let me, and the somewhat reputable urban dictionary, enlighten you. A catfish is "someone who assumes a false identity on the internet using various platforms including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram".
These online pseudonyms showcase bogus photographs, false occupations, alluring hobbies, such as pillow fighting, and bogus background information. Essentially catfishes create an alternate reality; they falsify their gender, race and / or age, etc and all for the purposes of luring others into a deceptive online romance.
Frightening isn't it? Sure scams, fraudulent behavior and false identifies are nothing new. For as long as sin has abounded so too have devious intentions, schemes and tactics which seek to take advantage of others. But with the advent and expansion of new technologies such as the internet and social networking, a whole new world has opened up for which people can victimize and exploit others. Through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Myspace, Skype and whatever social network is currently trending, opportunities for predators, scammers and liars are extraordinarily vast. The online world is their oyster so to speak. And they are master fishermen…breaking hearts and ruining lives.
As I watched Ramon's reaction to the 'real' Paola standing in front of him, a woman actually named Loyda, I realized that the practice of catfishing wasn't as obscure to me as I first thought.
Of course falsified online profiles shocked and disturbed me; they signified a very calculated and cruel act to purposely mislead someone. That was indeed shocking. However on the other hand the catfish behaviour was something I had often practiced within my own life, especially with God.
How you may ask? Well let me examine what the catfish actually does.
First they lie. They claim to be something that they are not. They hide behind falsehoods, alternate identities; they create bizarre alternate realities to deceive those around them.
Next the catfishes enter into a relationship with someone. At the beginning of this relationship, which starts online, the catfish is 'open' to communication. They express their feelings, they share intimate details, and soon they claim to be in a relationship, within a bond that is unlike any other they have ever felt. They are in 'love'.
Finally the catfish tries to extract what they most desire from their online partner; money, sex or companionship. Unfortunately monetary requests and sexual intentions often prevail over the desire for true love.
And so the catfish relationship is an exceptionally selfish one. The catfish seeks to extract far more from the relationship than he or she actually sows into it. And most devastating, the catfish claims to love when in reality it withholds love in its truest form. Its love is not all-encompassing as love should it be. Nor is it honest or humbling. Instead it's about compartmentalizing, giving only those parts which feel comfortable in sharing. And it's about presenting oneself in an idyllic and hyper exaggerated form far from reality which is full of tangible flaws and discernible imperfections.
So, if this is catfishing than how could we possibly do this to God?
We certainly can't create false online profiles to mislead him since he purposely created us. We can't seduce him through promises of riches. And we most definitely cannot entice him through posting alluring pictures of ourselves, or someone else in our place.
Yet whilst we cannot replicate this online 'catfish' behaviour, we can, and do, catfish God often through our everyday actions and words which can be highly deceptive and shallow.
How many times have you professed your love for God, whilst withholding truths from him?
How often have you claimed to be in a relationship with God, yet flirted with the world?
Or how often have you portrayed yourself as a Christian and at the same time engaged in behaviour that severely undermines this stance?
I know I do, and more than I would care to admit.
Essentially when I do all these things I am catfishing God.
I'm in a relationship with him, whilst simultaneously flirting with the world.
I'm professing to love him, whilst hiding parts of myselfâ€"often those I'm most ashamed ofâ€"to appear more desirable, righteous and pure. It doesn't sound too different to Ramon and Paola's, sorry Loyda's, relationship does it?
Ramon and Loyda's online relationship was anything but perfect; it was a relationship built on a rocky foundation of dishonesty, insecurities, selfish ambitions and shallow affections. And because of that, Ramon and Loyda had little chance of participating in a healthy and enduring relationship. It was doomed to fail, even when the truth came gushing and tumbling and crashing out after years of communication! And that couldn't have been more apparent than that moment when Ramon sat in Loyda's living room, and looked into her eyes…you could see utter betrayal. Loyda had not been devoted to this 'loving relationship', not like he had been.
Someone he loved, or thought he loved, had betrayed him. And all because she was 'bored and seeking validation'.
This was catfishing at its most brutal. Cruel realities were being manufactured in an unreal world. And the consequences were anything but artificial. Real life people were experiencing real life consequences; their emotions were being toyed with and carelessly tossed around for 'fun' or 'boredom' or 'financial gains'. Scary isn't it!
And yet when I treat God this way, that is when I hide from him, when I am misleading and fake, when I lie to him, I too am participating in a catfish type relationship. I am catfishing God; I am not the person I claim to be. And because of that, I compromise, severely compromise, the relationship that we have.
Does God know who you REALLY are?
I suppose it's a bizarre thing to link our personal relationships with God to this bizarre trend of fraudulent online relationships. However when I think about that moment when we will finally meet our Father and creator, I recognize that our relationship with him, its sincerity and depth, will be judged. We will have to account for the way we cherished and natured and sowed into the relationship. We will be judged for our authenticity and asked did we really love and know him?
Watching Ramon and Loyda made me realise that all of us at times hide, lie or attempt to deceive God. We put up this wall between ourselves and God, hoping that an alternate version of who we really are will be sufficient enough for him to give us a pass mark. So we present well publicly, that is through our fabricated profiles, whilst hiding a more realistic version within. Essentially we become our very own Paola's; we present a highly desirable person to the world, and a deeply insecure and ashamed Loyda on the inside.
So, we catfish God!
We attempt to give him less of ourselves whist simultaneously hoping to gain everything from being in a relationship with him.
We give little, and hope for much! Clearly not a healthy ethos for a foundationally strong relationship with God!
Ultimately we need to be honest and upfront with God. We need to be transparent with him.
Of course we can't truly deceive him like online catfishes do. But that doesn't mean that we should not communicate with him and humble ourselves, presenting our flaws and weaknesses and fears to him. Through making ourselves open and vulnerable, we give him the best of ourselves. We don't need to create a fake profile that glamorises and glorifies us. And we don't need to gloss over ourselves in the hopes of being perfect.
Our God loves us no matter what we look like or where we live or who are friends are etc.
So that means we don't need to be artificial with God, to entice him or to have his love. We must simply be REAL and AUTHENTIC with our love for him.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Deakin University.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at: www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html