Hello, happy pervert people of the Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the dating advice column that’s instrument-rated on the black, red and blue lions.

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This week, we’re talking about how to troubleshoot your relationship woes, whether it’s trying to make sure that your feelings are real or making sure that your relationship is real. Sometimes we all need a strong reality check and occasionally reality likes to bite back… especially when what you think is going on may not be what’s actually happening.

Let’s do this thing.

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Hi Dr. NerdLove,

Around a month ago I met a girl online. She was not local (she’s in the UK, I’m in the US), but that has never really bothered me as I love travel and have the means to do so. We got talking on the dating site and I have to tell you, I have not clicked with a woman like this……. well ever. We had a ton in common and connected on even the most obscure things like Disney songs and weird foods. We agreed on religion, politics, and she was to total personality package I look for (sassy, strong willed, but caring for those around her). Massive messages on the dating site turned into 6+ hour instant messenger conversations and I was shocked at not only how well we matched, but that she was just as mutually interested. We were trading pics of our lives talking about plans, and even joking about potential trips and seeing each other.

There was an odd thing or two that seem more relevant in hindsight. First off her profile did not have a picture. I usually never message with people like that, but something was so intriguing about her that I jumped in anyway. After about a week or two of chatting I pushed her on it. I mentioned my social media accounts for trading recipes we had been talking about and asked why she did not have a picture. She told me that she had been stalked by a creepy guy from online dating before and he had used her social media to track her down. Because of this, she said she no longer posted pics and deleted all her social media. She sent me a pic and her story added up; so I took her word for it. She also had a different name on her dating profile compared to the messenger service we switched to, which she claimed was just her middle name that her family used. Also despite me sending an occasional video message, she claimed that I would judge her for her accent and would not send one of her own. Now I’ve had some bad online dating experiences, so I sympathized with her but decided to just keep my eyes open for anything else.

After another few days of massive conversations later and I asked her to Skype, she was down and we set a time and date. Time comes and she is messaging me on the way home before we Skype and then disappears. I hop back and forth between did something bad happen to her or has this all just been a lie…. then decide to just sleep on it. The next morning she apologized profusely and claimed her sister is in the hospital. Yea, possible convent lie… but I pushed her on it and she had way too much back story and specifics for it to have not been at least mostly true, so i believed her. We chatted even more than usual over the next few days and she even promised me that her hate for her own accent would not prevent a Skype session.

Another few days later mid 2 hour chat she mentions so I say why not now? She says she needs 30 mins for her hair to dry and we sit there chatting about how funny it will be to finally Skype and other random stuff until mid conversation... she disappears. I sit there for 30 mins (oh her hair is just taking longer), an hour (maybe she’s having computer trouble), 2 hours and then the pain hits. Either something more dramatic has happened or this wonderful person whose personality was so amazing was gaming me…. I figure I’ll get some apology the next morning but a few days later nothing. I sent a follow up message that was never read and and she had deleted her dating site account. Nearly 2 weeks later with no contact or word on the subject and I wanted answers. Part of me was worried that something bad had happened (she told me that her sister had taken a turn for the worse) but the majority of me was broken into 37 1/2 pieces figuring that either she had just moved on without any word, or I was catfished.

I wanted to make sure nothing had happened to her sister, and if I was scammed to know the truth and have some closure. So I did some digging. She had given me very little to go on in terms of personal info but I’m really good at the internet (a few bad experiences for my friends in online dating have given me practice). What I found was something I was never prepared for and hurts even more than what I was ready to face. Found the social media she said she did not have; she’s real, her sister is alive, all the same hobbies and interests, and she’s in (and has been since long before we started talking) a long term relationship.

Now just to be clear, her dating profile claimed she was single and looking to date monogamously. I even spent a good 15 mins replaying messages through my head just to confirm that she really was flirting with me as much as I thought. But yea a half hour of internal reasoning, fights and disbelief later and I’ve realized I was close to the internet dating equivalent of “the other man.” I’m at a loss. The feelings she showed seemed so real and I fell for them/felt the same…. I have no way of knowing if they were on a break and my Skype interest pushed her back to him, if this was all just some sick game for kicks while she was bored of her boyfriend, if she got caught by her boyfriend and was told to cut off all contact, or one of a million other options.

So I’m at a loss on a few things, Dr. NerdLove. First off how in the heck am I supposed to process this? It’s not like there was ever anything official between us, but we we both flirting, acting and talking in a way that made it clear we were interested in something coming of it. I don’t let my heart into anything like this easily, but it fell right into this one and I feel kinda pathetic that it is hurting me as much as it is. I can deal with rejection or a lack of interest, but being someone’s play toy or temporary hold over when I really valued them hurts a bit deeper. Most of all, do I call her out on this via social media or tell her boyfriend? I’m not the revenge type, but I’m hurt by how this all went down and feel that her boyfriend has the right to know.

Appreciate your work, God bless, and keep on being awesome,

Dazed and Confused

I hate to tell you this, D&C: you weren’t the other man. There was no sister, there is no boyfriend and there was no lovely lass in the UK who’d been slowly falling for you. You’ve been catfished. Your feelings may have been real, but the person you felt them for doesn’t actually exist. Someone decided it was fun to play around with a stranger’s emotions and, well, you happened to be the person to fall for it.

But I’m going to have to be honest, D&C: you did a lot of the work yourself. This was not a particularly elaborate hoax; there were enough red flags flying around this person to host the 2008 Olympics. The first and foremost is that this was someone on a dating site without a profile photo. This is 2016, not an AOL chat room in 1996; nobody who’s serious about online dating has a profile without a photo attached. Even anonymous Craigslist hookups will post something—a torso shot, abs, ass, something. So that right there is red flag number one.

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That being said, a photo—or even a series of photos—doesn’t guarantee that the person is actually the person you’re talking to. There’ve been plenty of catfishers, fake Twitter accounts, even bogus Facebook accounts that simply stole someone else’s pics. Sometimes they’ll use a less-famous model or celebrity, other times they’ll just borrow from somebody else’s Instagram account. Hell, on occasion, folks’ve just used stock photo images like George Costanza putting a photo of a model in his wallet. This is why Google Reverse Image Search and the “Search Google For Image” option in Chrome is your friend: it can help you determine just who’s actually in that photo you’re looking at.

But let us say that you did your due diligence and were reasonably convinced that this photo was of an actual person. The fact that you only ever had a still photo and that she would never Skype, Facetime or send a video is another very big clue about the fact that this was never real. Unless they’d roped another person in to play the role, it’d be an immediate give-away that this was all a giant put on.

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Then there’s the constant drama. Drama is one of the biggest and clearest indicators that you’re dealing with a catfish. Drama serves a dual purpose. First, it keeps you on the hook. Drama is addictive; it feeds our desire for narrative and excitement. Even when we’re only experiencing it second or third-hand, being connected to drama, no matter how tangentially, makes us feel important. It feeds into the feeling of being the protagonist in the story, connected to all of these important, life-changing events.

Drama also helps cover up logical inconsistencies and keeps you from asking too many questions. For example: your piscine paramour’s reason for not having photos on her dating profile. It’s marvelously convenient, even though it fails basic logic. To be sure: many, many women have been stalked via dating sites and on social media. I have friends who’ve had guys who’ve tracked them down off Tinder and even Instagram. But at the same time, the behavior doesn’t match the story. Yes, there is no one right way to behave after being stalked. But this is one more area that should set off your Spidey-sense.

Same with missing your Skype date. Getting stuck in traffic is one thing; you might reasonably try to reschedule for the next day and get suspicious if she refuses. A sister having a catastrophic accident, on the other hand, means that asking too many questions makes you the asshole. How dare you act like this when her sister’s in the hospital? Now you’re on the defensive and more likely to take her at her word because you don’t want her mad at you.

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But let’s bring it to now. You’ve found her social media profile, you’ve caught her out in all these lies, and you’re feeling pissed. What now?

Now you let it go. You loved well but not wisely, you had your heart stamped on and now the thing to do is to take a little time to recover and move on. Holding onto this pain and anger isn’t going to do anything but hurt you and make you bitter.

I realize that you’ve been wronged. I totally understand wanting to say something, to call her out on her lies and deceptive ways, to make sure she’s punished for what she’s done. However, that’s your ego talking; you want to get your own back because this person insulted you on a deep and fundamental level. It’s a lovely fantasy, but in practice, it’s simply not a good idea.

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Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it is her and she was indeed the guilty party behind this. What, exactly, are you expecting to happen? Her boyfriend has no reason to believe a total stranger that tells him she was cheating on him, especially since this never went beyond online flirting. If you have no social circle overlap, then it’s not as though her friends are going to notice. Are you going to feel better if your attempt at instant karma goes over like a wet fart in a hurricane?

Wanting to “warn others” by putting her on blast is bullshit too; that’s just dressing up wanting revenge in a prettier story so you don’t look like an asshole who’s trying to sic a mob on someone he doesn’t like.

Here’s the other thing: you don’t know that this is the person behind your catfishing. It could be, yes. It could also have been her boyfriend. Her sister. A friend of hers. It could be someone who’s completely unrelated to her who just exploited her lack of privacy settings as the base for the fantasy that was sold to you. Hell, it could be a completely fake profile in some overly complicated double-bluff. You simply don’t know.

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I understand your frustration. I totally understand your anger. I’ve been where you are and I can tell you from personal experience: there’s nothing to be done here. You were wronged. It hurt. It’s embarrassing. But holding on to this and hoping to be an agent of karma isn’t going to make you feel better, get back the time you spent on her or take away the sting.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to just accept that this happened, that it sucked and learn from it. Forgive yourself for being human, for wanting to believe in someone you cared for and for having been fooled. Then take this experience and learn from it. Now you’ll know what to look for next time someone tries to pull the wool over your eyes.

Good luck.

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What’s up, Doc?

Not sure how to introduce myself here, but I’m a 20 year old male, fairly introverted, but not extremely so. I’m good at making friends, but I don’t have very many close friends; I mostly just have a lot of people that I know, that type of thing. Anyway, let’s dive in. So I broke up with my girlfriend of four years about three weeks ago. She was emotionally abusive, and it took me a lot longer to see that than it should have. I knew that I was going to break up with her a month before I did it, but I chose to wait until after the semester was done since I didn’t want this to affect either of our schoolwork (we’re in college, of course). About two weeks before the breakup, I met a girl at work, and she became a good friend (I’ll call her Sue). I talked to her about my ex (and my plan to break up), she witnessed one of my ex’s attempts to isolate me from all of my friends, and we became good friends quite quickly.

Anyway, after I broke up, Sue and I quickly started to become more than friends. Two nights ago, for example, we got super drunk, got super silly, and ended up cuddling and falling asleep together. Last night, we hung out again, and I kissed her. (I wanted to wait until we weren’t drunk.) After I kissed her, she brought up the thought that she might be a “rebound.” It doesn’t feel like a rebound to me, but I did move quickly from a longer relationship into this new relationship, so she may be right. I don’t want to hurt her by using her as a rebound, but I do want to be more than friends. So the gist of my question is, how can I tell if she is a rebound? And if she is, is that bad, and what do I do?

Thanks,

Rebound Recoil

First of all, RR, good on you for getting out of an abusive relationship. Don’t beat yourself up for how long it took you to leave; it can be really difficult for people to recognize and leave an abusive relationship. The important part is that you did get out; that speaks a lot to your strength and your courage.

So let’s talk a little about your current situation and the idea of “rebounds”. The fear of a “rebound” relationship is a little overblown, in my experience. Most of the time, what we call a rebound tends to be a relationship that simply didn’t work out; we cast about for reasons why it didn’t work and settle on “it was too soon” after the previous relationship. It’s a neat and tidy explanation to an event that—more often than not—was actually complicated and messy.

Don’t get me wrong: folks can and do rush into relationships before they’re ready. It may be that they’re trying to prove something to themselves (or to the world around them), that they’re afraid to be alone, that they’ve mistaken lust for love or that they misjudged their readiness. But that can happen at any time, regardless of how soon it was since you broke up with someone.

There’s no magical amount of time that you need to spend to insulate yourself from a rebound relationship. People recover from break-ups at different speeds. Some people recover very quickly. Others take months or even years. Sometimes it can seem like you “got over” a breakup quickly because you’d been doing the emotional work to recover from it while you were still with them.

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Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with having a relationship that doesn’t lead to church bells and wedding vows after a break-up. Sometimes the supposed “rebound” relationship is what you needed to heal.

And sometimes that “rebound” relationship turns out not to be a rebound, but one that’s going to last, just as one-night stands can turn into decades-long relationships. You don’t need an arbitrary number of days off to provide the stamp of validity onto your new relationship; you just need to let the relationship be whatever it’s going to be.

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How do you proceed from here? Just take things easy and let it come as it’s going to come. Talk it out, but don’t talk yourselves out of it just because it’s been three weeks. Don’t try to rush things or overcommit too soon. Enjoy what you have with Sue for what it is. Not every love story is going to be or even should be an epic. Some are short stories. Some are dirty limericks.

If what you have with her is a temporary thing, that’s fine. It’s also fine if this turns out to be the love that will last you the rest of your life. Just don’t try to force it into being something it’s not.

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Good luck.


Have you been catfished before? Did a rebound relationship turn out to be something more? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.


Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write doc@doctornerdlove.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

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Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.

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