Online dating offers plenty of scope for deception. We all know it. I am sure few people actually set out to deceive - however like all forms of corruption, these things probably creep into existence. Starting out, it's all good intentions and cautious optimism: the cheery bio, kooky interests and of course - the beautiful portraits. Personally, I am a fan of the flip-book approach, and like viewing potential dates in a variety of settings: on the street, in a restaurant, and inevitably - at a summer festival. I like to picture myself there, strolling hand in hand through the leafy boulevards of Paris, perhaps, or maybe sharing an ice-cream in some rural idyll.
However, when posting carefully curated images online, people have been known to go one step further, and actually post a picture of someone else. Whilst this may seem ludicrous, I would think there are scenarios in which this can appear to be a rational, even desirable, action.
Naturally, there is nowhere to go with this. Sure, grab a picture of someone better looking and substitute it for your own drab snap - however, what then? You still have to meet the other person. Like wearing sunglasses at night, such deception only makes sense if you are a drug-addled wreck. And yet, there are plenty of people out there trying to cheat their way into a relationship. I myself have been 'catfished', and would have to say it was a pretty unsavoury experience. However, above all else, it left me feeling bemused.
Lindi was a thirty one year old PA from Streatham. We met online and chatted for several days, exchanging the usual witticisms and cultural interests. However, my bank of e-banter quickly emptied, and I was keen to meet. As Funkadelic one said, "I was cool, but I had no groove" (with several backing singers repeating 'no groove').
We met in Soho for a coffee - always my preferred choice when unsure. There's something noncommittal about coffee. It's the low-pressure option - the most casual date possible. Sitting at the far end of the spectrum from dinner, and just before 'a quick drink after work', a coffee is date-lite. Still, we ended up having coffee in the pub, which immediately put me on the back foot, my venues and drinks in disarray.
By the time Lindi arrived I was on my third americano. Looking perfectly lovely, she requested a skinny latte - feeling slightly heady I switched to herbal tea, an even more ludicrous choice for this ramshackle boozer.
From a cold start we eased into a soft lull of conversation. Lindi worked for a City law firm and thought it was ok, I also worked in the City, and kind of didn't mind it - we were on fire. As the chatter wore on, I started to find something distracting about her oval face. It was as if she were a slightly less refined version of her online self. There was a certain cragginess I hadn't spotted previously - strange; it was after all my custom to carefully examine my date's photos, zooming in to discern the reality, squinting to bring clarity to the hazy nightclub snaps. In my mind, I was not dissimilar to Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, a dour detective pouring over the evidence in search of the truth. In reality, this stalker-like activity was a waste of time and energy and I was not overburdened with either. Still, I was constantly amazed at how different people looked in real life.
Lindi was quite clearly the person I had met online, only she seemed to be using someone else's face. I couldn't quite place it at first, sure, she was blond and smiley, just like her shimmering avatar but there was something amiss. I was pondering this when her iPhone lit up on the table. The caller's image beamed up at me, the very same sun-lit beauty I had met online - her head cocked to the side, a leafy background, an unwanted friend cropped from the shot - it was her.
"Oh god," Lindi said, snatching her phone from the table. She headed for the door, taking the call - from herself. Returning a few minutes later, she slumped into her seat.
"Who are you?" I said, "and I don't mean in an existentialist way - just, who the hell are you?"
Lindi had used her married sister's picture - without her consent. She conceded it was madness - however, like a grizzled sailor predicting a rough crossing I concealed my alarm, and simply nodded. No one is going to come out of this well. It's funny; I thought as I headed out into the night, she was beautiful anyway.