I got Catfish'd.

Alright, here comes the whole sad sordid tale:

So I just found out that this girl I met online, who I'd been in love with for 11 years, was actually a huge lie. I met her way back when I was in high school, when I was just 16 (I'm 27 now). Back in those days, there was a game called FreeSpace 2. It was a wonderful space sim. One of the greatest video games of all time. I was frequenting the FS2 forums and noticed a girl there named Denise. Didn't think much of it, except that it was surprising that a girl would actually be into space sims. Well, whatever.

Then I started frequenting another website called DropShip Command. For those of you not in the know, DropShip Command is a website devoted to BattleTech and MechWarrior games. And anybody who knows me knows that I love BattleTech. Just look at my avatar pic. I am super into BattleTech. And so I was browsing the DSC forums and noticed her there as well. Well, this was interesting. Two websites about games that I really love, and she shows up in both of em. Well, maybe I should be a friendly guy and say hi. So I add her to ICQ (Yes, back in those days, we used trusty old ICQ for IMing) and struck up a conversation. It went pretty well... she was just getting into MechWarrior games and wasn't all that knowledgeable about the BattleTech universe. I thought that was great, since I was very knowledgeable about it. It's almost a life passion for me. Why not take her under my wing and uh... that was that start of a great friendship. Mind you, I wasn't looking for any sort of romance at this point in time. I mean, I was 16... I didn't even believe in a long-distance relationship, nevermind an online relationship. That was just really weird and foreign to my mindset.

But gradually, as we kept talking... just found myself attracted because we had a lot of interests in common. And we would talk a lot. Well, she said that she was 12 years older then me, and owned a bar. That was a pretty big age difference. But by the time I fell for her, it didn't matter. And then uh, she sent me a pic of her:


I didn't ask for a pic, but she just sent it. Apparently, it was from a photoshoot. It looked pretty professional. She looked really hot in the picture. Let's face it, she was a hot redhead.

Like, I wasn't planning on falling for her. But we just started talking, every night, and gradually it happened. She was into everything I was, so it seemed like it was perfect. Of course, looking back... it seems way too good to be true. It seems really hard to believe that a hot girl like that would really be into first person shooters, real time strategy games, space sims, MOO3, Star Trek, Star Wars, BattleTech, Dungeons and Dragons, Star Fleet Battles, BioWare RPGs, etc. That seems like absurd make-believe, thinking back on it. But at the time, I guess I was naive and gullible and I just thought I'd hit the jackpot. I mean, I was only 16.

And I never changed my feelings, even after 11 years. I really thought she was my best friend. I remember, we'd stay up and talk till 4am, really late into the next day. It led to me being sleep deprived, cause I'd go to class and fall asleep. Just drool right on my desk in class. But I didn't care, cause I loved spending time with her. It was worth it to me, so I didn't care that I was getting sleep deprived and my grades suffered.

And I never really sought out any girlfriend in high school and college.  Cause I thought I'd found the perfect girl, even though it was only online. Like, I have very particular interests. I like Star Trek, and BattleTech, and Tom Clancy squad-based shooters, and space sims, and uh... it's very hard to find a girl who shares those exact same interests out in the real world. It really isn't very common.

And now I'm sure you guys are asking me why I'm such a dumbass for not trying to get more concrete evidence like info on her address, talking to her on the phone, etc. Proof that she was really who she said she was. All very reasonable questions, I agree. Well, it's pretty simple. See, she told me that she'd once given out her address to an online friend to meet up. And that turned out to be a horrible mistake as she had to fend off this person she met online from trying to rape her. So... I mean, what can you really say to that? After a girl tells you a story like that, you kinda don't really have anything to work with. Of course that explains why she'd want to protect her privacy and stay secretive. I wasn't going to pry and try to get her info, it'd just make me feel like an insensitive douche. So that's why she never gave out her address, or her phone number or anything. It was a good tight alibi, I have to admit.

But even though I was in love with her, she said she didn't feel the same way. And that hurt, but I still wanted to talk to her. At this point, she'd basically become the best friend I'd ever had. So it hurt, but I just pretended to get over her. Even though I hadn't. My feelings never changed in that time. She was the world to me. I just kept that torch for her in my heart.

But I always wanted more. I guess in the back of my mind, I did feel like Gatsby. I did dream that one day, I might stand at the end of a pier and glimpse the green light at the end of her dock. Call me a romantic or a fool, but that was a glorious dream. So last night... I thought about that picture of her that she gave me. And I got curious and decided to try a google image search with the image. And it turned out that the picture was one on www.stephaniebeaton.com. That particular picture was actually of a straight-to-video horror movie actress named Stephanie Beaton who lived in Los Angeles, CA. Well, that really threw me, because I knew from talking to her for 11 years that she just owned two bars. And I'd also figured out on my own from random conversations that she lived somewhere in Washington state. So this was all starting to seem like bullshit. I was seriously shocked. I thought after 11 years, I could trust this person.

And so... I went to confront her and this... tragedy unfolded in the chatlog below. I know, I know, everyone hates reading chatlogs. Well, it's really the best way to present this horrible trainwreck:

Delta Assault: Denise, I need to talk to you about something. This is actually serious.

Denise: That... is a lot of messages. Okay. What's up? :)

Delta Assault: Well, it wouldn't be so many if you actually checked your ICQ. Remember when you sent me that pic of yourself? Ya know, the one you said was from a photoshoot?

Denise: Mmhmm?

Delta Assault: http://www.stephaniebeaton.com

That look familiar to you?

I'm honestly not sure what to think right now. Was all of it a lie?

Denise: She looks somewhat like how I used to. She's thinner, or was there. It was wrong. I thought better of it immediately after the picture was out there, but then I couldn't take it back. I'm sorry.

Delta Assault: I dunno. I dunno what to believe. Are you even female? Have I been talking to a guy for these 11 years? That would really fuck me up.

Denise: Would you believe what I told you anyhow? Please believe I never meant you any harm. We weren't cybering. I refused all offers of gifts or anything like that. It was a mistake. A big, long, terrible mistake that I've been trapped in for a long time now. Please, please believe me on that. I've mantained the charade of that picture, that moment of vanity, out of *penance.* I've known for a while that you'd be hurt if things were revealed to be otherwise.

Delta Assault: That other picture of you being tickled wasn't actually you either, right?

Denise: No. Same woman.

Delta Assault: So... are you a guy? Cause the more I think about it, the more the idea of a girl who plays D&D, SFB, and BattleTech starts to seem like some kind of fantasy. I just want to know what the truth is.

Denise: *sigh* Okay, entire truth, then. I am male. I am also ten years younger than I have pretended. This means that I was fourteen years old when I started. Please remember the stupidity of that age range when you consider whether malice was intended. I'll tell you all about the psychology of it if you care; again, no malice. Please believe that. I don't know if that helps any; I know I have done actual harm, and there's nothing I can do to make that up, but I will try. She was my fantasy as much as anything, and being her has trapped me for more than half my life now.

Delta Assault: Oh my god.

Denise: She was a carefully-constructed ideal. You weren't interested in me, you were interested in her. That she wasn't really behind a keyboard somewhere doesn't reflect on you. It's all on me. I've done a terrible thing. I'm sorry you had to find it out. She would have stayed well off in the background; she's off all the forums now. There are no new people being met. I'm determined not to hurt anyone else this way.

Delta Assault: Are you gay or something? Is that why you did it?

Denise: *pained little laugh* That's the thing of it, I'm not! More explanation to follow. In actuality, I have the sort of personality that completely fades into the background. I have a sister ten years older than I am; she's talkative, and the age-difference meant that I couldn't really compete in dinnertime conversation. I spent all my time after school cooped up in an office with a computer, and I was still fading away online. I decided to try an experiment. I would play my game at the time (it was Subspace, if you're curious) with a handle that suggested I was female. Being as I was fourteen, I went with the tremendously-subtle "A Sexy Whip Vixen." Even with the charade being that ham-handed.... I was right. Everyone was a LOT nicer to the imaginary female-me. It was utterly addictive, this business of being liked. It was a long time before she started to sort of take over my mind. There've been times I've seriously worried about my sanity (I know you have some choice remarks of your own on that subject, believe me, it's nothing I've not lashed myself with). When *I* found the lady from the picture who'd had such an impact on me, it broke me in much the same way you're feeling now. The world was unreal, all of a sudden, because she was a real person, I wasn't her. I disappeared for a while at that time. I went on vacation with my parents. Told them I'd met a girl who'd lied to me, misused someone else's picture --got to hear what they'd say about someone who'd do that. But overall, it helped me get my head back together. I vowed that from there on, Denise would start a slow pullback from forums, ICQ chats... let existing friendships drift apart as ordinary human relationships do. I've tried to pull back and away with as little harm to my victims as humanly possible. Please believe that if you believe nothing else.

Delta Assault: Keeping the charade up for 11 years is impressive. Impressively psychotic. I'm uh, I'm really glad I didn't cyber with you, ever. That's a big relief now.

Denise: I know. To both of those.

Delta Assault: I'd be even more scarred right now if we had.

Denise: I have wronged you, and I'm sorry for that. I will never be able to make that right. Was I further wrong to try to slip away quietly? I'd really hoped to spare you the impact of all of this.

Delta Assault: I'd rather you told me the truth. Like... right around when I said I was in love with you? That would've been a good time to spill the beans. Instead of stringing me along and talking to me about how the Mass Effect 3 ending sucked and all that bullshit? The Mass Effect 3 ending is awesome compared to this ending. Do you know how fucked up I've been because of you?

Denise: LOTS of people say that to women without meaning it at all, you know. That's one thing I've learned in half-being one all this time. It tears me up inside every time someone seems attached --I don't know if that's any consolation to you at all. I have some idea what I've done to you, yes. Please... I was fourteen. A damaged child, when I started. I tried to go with the path of the least pain; I'm very sorry if I made a mistake in choosing.

Delta Assault: Have you told the truth to anybody else you've fooled in this web of deception? Cause I think you should.

Denise: You're the first to find her. I take it from how you're speaking that you're in favor of the full reveal? ...Which you just answered. There are people who stand to be hurt very, very badly by that revelation. I know it would seem like justice to you right now, because I've caused you pain. You want the truth to shine through and for the nasty hideous liar to wither away in its light. But I tell you that there are people who depend on this mirage as a friend. Ripping it from them... would be inflicting the pain you're feeling now. There's a good chance they never have to feel that. That's what I hope for. It's a fishhook. It hurts to put it in. I did that in ignorance, an idiot youth. But it will cause real damage to rip it out. Or that's been the theory these past years. (That does not mean I consider them my "catches" or prizes or any other nonsensical nastiness. The analogy serves only as a description of the harm inflicted. My victims are real people to me. This haunts me terribly.)

Delta Assault: I actually saw the movie Catfish. Thought it was really good. Never thought I was living it.

Denise: I'm afraid I haven't seen it.

Delta Assault: Okay. Well, I don't think I want to talk to you ever again. I've wasted enough of my life on you.

Denise: I understand. Will you be telling others, or will you leave me to my penance? She only exists now in the hope that others won't be hurt. She eats my time, my life, so that I might not inflict this on others.

Delta Assault: I don't really talk to anybody from that time, so no, I guess I can't.

Denise: But you think maybe you should. If you ever find yourself in a position to, or where you feel it would be justice to do so... remember this pain I've caused you and please believe that I'm trying to spare others. I am living in a well-deserved hell. I made it for myself. I don't want anyone else to suffer. I'm very sorry that you had to. 
I wish you the best life you could have from here on out, and luck in finding a real one. They exist. Ask them for pictures, and for voice; pictures are hard, and voice is impractical to fake.

Delta Assault: Uh huh. Go fuck yourself.