THE BLOG
11/21/2012 04:38 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

MTV's Catfish : The Digital Pen-Pal Syndrome

When I first watched the documentary, Catfish, I wondered, why with today's technology, wouldn't all long-distance online daters include Skype dates as part of their digital courting process? Wouldn't you want to see the live version of the person you may be falling in love with?

With millions of singles dating online worldwide, expanding your search to include another zip code, state, country or continent makes a lot of sense while looking for love online.

In 2012, not using the tools available through Facebook chat, text, and Facetime or Skype video is something I don't understand. What I do understand though, is the powerful need to love and to be loved. This is why so many people misrepresent themselves online to fit into a search in the crowded digital marketplace.

In the first episode of MTV's Catfish, a potential hot boyfriend turned out to be a woman impersonating a man. This truth would have been discovered before Sunny got her heartbroken and fell in love with the illusion of being in love. She had a digital pen-pal who sealed the deal to capture her emotional heart.

The whole point of online dating is to take your relationship from online to offline as soon as possible. Spending hours-and-hours on the phone daily results in creating an emotional bond with someone who may misrepresent his or herself.

What are people lying about? In the online dating industry, we know that approximately 81 percent of members lie about their age, weight, and height, along with posting old photos. In Catfish, it goes further than posting your own photos that were Photoshopped or 10 years-old. We're now seeing people posting photos of someone other than themselves.

When I first started writing my book, The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online in the early 1990s, it was as a result of an online beau from across the country who had been courting me for months. He promised a happy life with marriage and a family. Living 3,000 miles apart, we relied on dial-up quality chat rooms in AOL and analog phone calls. At the time, I was a technology executive for a start-up Internet video streaming company and high-speed Internet wasn't even a concept yet. There was no Skype, iPhones, or video chat services available for us to check each other out. He cancelled a few business trips to the west coast to meet due to work conflicts, which I believed. When we finally met and he didn't resemble his online dating profile photos, I was disappointed, but still thought I could give him a chance due to the months of bonding on the phone. Even smart girls and guys can get duped when it comes to matters of the heart.

A few days after we met, my long-distance pen-pal and potential husband's mother informed me via phone that he had a wife at home. I had high hopes, just like those singles featured on Catfish did. The disappointment was a huge sting to me and a big game to him. I moved on, while he changed his profile screen name and set out to find another out-of-town sweetheart. I learned to spot the red flags so I could pass the lessons on. He called so often, that I didn't notice my outbound calls going straight to voicemail. His snail mail address went to a P.O. box, but I wouldn't have known that.

It doesn't surprise me that singles looking for love online on MTV's Catfish have their hopes at an all-time high, but I wonder, why wait so long to meet in real life if you think you've found your soul mate?

In episode 2, two exotic dancers, Trina and Scorpio had aliases and fell in love from behind their keyboards. I have to ask, why would anyone wait one year to meet his or her soul mate? Would you let technology get in the way of building a deeper relationship with someone you think is "the one?"

Trina who lived in Maryland thought her digital pen-pal Scorpio was living in Georgia with his two children. He told her he loved her and she returned the feelings. Can someone with a perfect six-pack body be too good to be true?

I'm in favor of long-distance relationships and am an advocate and promoter of online dating. I always recommend Skype dates when your significant other is traveling or lives far away to spice up your relationship and stay connected. Refusing to use video technology in 2012 is a big red flag; typically a sign that someone is hiding something.

These days we have the tools where singles can easily find information about their online dates through Google searches, Faceook profiles, and background searches; that is, if you really want to know the truth. YouTube reports that 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, so why aren't those looking for love online using this powerful tool during their courtship?

If the hosts and producers of Catfish easily found out Scorpio's real name, why couldn't Trina? Why would someone create an alias of Scorpio instead of providing his real name?

Trina wanted marriage and children and Scorpio provided that dream through their digital pen-pal romance. He lied about his name, weight, looks, children, and where he actually lived. He created a fantasy world through a profile photo he thought she'd find more appealing.

When they met, Trina felt duped. She relied on three photos sent to her during a one-year period. Again, this was a red flag. Where were the family photos? What about having a Facebook profile? Why was he always so busy with work traveling that he couldn't meet the woman he was falling for?

Once the two met in person, Trina saw an overweight average guy. She felt duped, but agreed to remain friends and eventually decided to take a break from online dating.

The man who called himself Scorpio for a year explained, "Sometimes you want something in life so bad, you'd do anything to get it." Anything included borrowing a photo of another man and using his identity.

At the end of the digital day, being honest and authentic with online dating can lead to a successful relationship. Becoming caught up in the digital pen-pal syndrome for too long, isn't a healthy for dating, and usually won't result in a happily-ever-after outcome. Turn on your webcam if you're in a long-distance relationship. It's time to find out the truth about your digital pen-pal.

Have you ever been grossly misrepresented by someone you felt a strong online connection with?

Your comments and thoughts are welcome.

Wishing you much love and joy in cyberspace, or wherever you may roam.

Julie Spira is an online dating expert and relationship coach. She's the author of the bestseller, The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking or Love Online. Julie creates irresistible profiles for singles on the dating scene. For more dating advice, sign up for the Weekly Flirt newsletter, follow @JulieSpira on Twitter, and like her at Facebook.com/CyberDatingExpert.

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