Fishing Nightmares

Anyone who knows me, knows that there is no television I loathe more than reality television. I don’t care if you sing, dance, cook or do hair. I don’t care if you are or used to be in love with someone famous; if you’re trying to show off how rich and pointless you are, or how poor and pointless you are; I don’t care if you’re trying to find love, or win money- or both. It all sucks to me. So no one was more surprised than I was that I was sitting in front of a television being poisoned with someone’s so-called “reality.”

My friend went through a hard time recently and I went to hang out with her at her house for a while. She decided that she needed a little television distraction- reality television. I resisted at first, but in deference to her emotional hardship, I relented and agreed to watch something with her. And she introduced me to the heartbreaking, tragic, train wreck that is MTV’s Catfish.

Now, even though I’m sure the entire world knows the premise of this show, I will break it down real quick: Nev is a guy who fell in love with a girl online. But when he met the girl in person, she turned out to be someone else. He was heartbroken, his brother filmed that heartbreak- and that short film has started the clock on his 15 minutes of fame. Now, he is going around the country, helping other people meet their online loves and verify the truth about them, and their lives. I watched three episodes of this show with my friend and my super-emotional self couldn’t bear how completely heartbreaking it seemed. In two of the episodes, the online love was a completely different person that didn’t even seem all that repentant that they had led someone on and played with their life. In the other episode, the person was actually real- but they had been lying and using a glamorous alter ego with a fictional life. I know I’m soft- I know this- but it made my chest hurt a little to watch it.

I don’t want you guys to think I’m naive. I know people lie, all the time, about a lot of things. But the concept of watching a person say that they have real feelings for someone and then find out that it was a joke to the person on the other end was tragedy at its best. Now I’m on Twitter (@ShamekaErby if you want to follow me), and I have read my timeline when Catfish is on. There’s nothing but jokes- people seem to find it amusing. And I didn’t laugh one time when I watched it. If anything, it made me sad and cemented my resolve to stay far away from reality TV. But, as usual, I’m getting off track…

Watching Catfish led me to some serious thoughts about online dating. These days, if you’re over the age of 21, saying that you haven’t connected/ dated another person using some form of online engine is like saying you’ve never been to Starbucks. And I am no different. I’ve met people using social network tools, I’ve joined a couple of dating websites. It’s been… surprising to say the least. At first, I flatly refused to even consider it. I wanted to meet someone the “normal way.” I thought it made me some kind of social freak that I couldn’t meet people just going out, and having fun, and living my life. What I figured out later (with my friends’ help, of course) is that I could do those things in addition to dating online- and it didn’t make me a weirdo. This calmed me- because my inner South Philly knows that one of the worse things in the world to be is a weirdo. So I gave it a shot… and regretted it instantly. Because what I met online was a long, unattractive line of- you guessed it- weirdos. Some were brash, some were disrespectful, some were just stupid. It was twice the work of meeting someone in real life because you couldn’t even trust your own eyes. The people could be lying about everything you were reading on their profile pages. Now, I know people can lie to you in person too- but the lies are completely different. If I met you in a bar there’d be no way you could tell me you were 6’3″ when you were really 5’4″. Now when you meet someone in an actual setting, you can’t trust them completely, but there’s at least some things you can be pretty certain about. Dating online has NONE of that certainty. And it’s scary, to be honest. 

I won’t front like I haven’t had some mild success. I met a couple of nice guys- guys that turned into good friends. Guys that I eventually did verify- by meeting them in person. Guys that I can honestly say are good guys. I haven’t fallen in love, and I’m not completely convinced that I could without ever meeting them (like the people on Catfish) but I’ve had some really good conversations and spent some nice quality time. None of it has turned into a relationship- but I don’t think it’s because of the way I met them.

I guess the key to it is the eventual meetup. There’s no way I could call myself being in a “relationship” with someone I’ve never met face-to-face. It’s just too far-fetched for me. There’s this book out about love languages and how everyone has a different way that they love and like to be shown love. Now, I’m a writer so when I heard about this, naturally I thought words of affirmation would be most important to me (especially since I had an ex that never told me how he felt and that was a huge disconnect between us)- but I figured out that physical touch may be the most important to me. I’m tactile; I love to feel things. When I’m sleeping with someone, I need to be touched (even if it’s just a little) or I can’t settle down. I still read traditional books because I like turning the pages. I’m just that girl. So love strictly over the internet will never work for me. Because eventually I’m going to need to hug you, or hold your hand, or feel your touch in some way. That’s just me. But I guess those Catfish people don’t need that- I guess the email, text, phone call connection is enough.

I feel sad for them. Although there’s no shame in online dating (even with all of the weirdos), there has to be some real loneliness at the heart of these things; loneliness that makes you hinge your heart, and your life decisions on someone you’ve never met. I don’t know if it’s “deep down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no hope, end-of-the-world loneliness” as Charlie Brown once said, but it could be pretty serious. All I know is, if anything will make you scared of online dating, it’s that show.

Suffice it to say, online dating has all the same risks as face-to-face dating- with a few extra thrown in, and it can also be fun… but it’s not the joke that reality TV is turning it into. Not when it’s obvious that so many people take it seriously. I’ll just keep my current method of using it occasionally as ONE of my dating tools- but definitely not the only one. And I’m never watching Catfish again… the things we do for friends… 

Guys With Kids

I know what you’re thinking- where the hell have I been, right? And it’s a long story. But it’s all been good- and I’m back to watching TV. To that end…

Occasionally, I watch this sitcom called Guys With Kids. The show is about three friends (and fathers) who live in an apartment building in New York and how their lives’ and their kids’ lives, intersect. Two of them are married and one is divorced. Now, there’s a lot of overacting and the show is only mildly funny (despite being executive produced by the very funny Jimmy Fallon)- but that’s neither here nor there right now. On a couple of episodes, the divorced guy has made attempts at dating. And it’s made me think of how hard dating must be for single parents- and single people trying to date single parents. To be sure, dating is no picnic for the unencumbered, childless, plus-size but ultimately fabulous being that I am- but for those who have little lives in their hands, it must be infinitely more complicated.

There was a time when I didn’t want to date guys with kids at all. Coming from where I’m from, I know so many girls who are somebody’s “baby mama”- and 90% of them (this is including the ones I like, love and are friends with) bring the drama in some sort of way. Whether it’s trying to take him for as much money as possible, playing tug of war with the kid(s), or hindering his dating life (which sadly enough, ultimately keeps both you and him from moving on), I don’t know too many single mothers who are on chill. This is not to say that fathers don’t need to do better. But I have to come from a woman’s perspective first because that’s what I am. Suffice it to say, the idea of having to tangle with some guy’s rejected one night stand, vindictive ex-girlfriend, or bitter ex-wife was scary enough to make me say “No. Fucking. Way.” So I side-stepped single fathers as potential relationships. That’s not to say that I haven’t had some harmless fun with a few of them (protected, of course), but there was absolutely no long term plan in it for me. But I was younger then…

Nowadays, my perspective has changed just a bit. Now, it seems that I don’t mind kids at all. I’ve turned into an absolute sucker for some babies- and for a man with some babies. Kids are great to me- and nothing’s sexier than a good father. I attribute this to a few things. First, is the fact that my relationship with my own dad has blossomed into something really beautiful. It’s a real, adult relationship. My old man is the light of my life- and I love to hear him say how proud he is of me. The older I get, the more I realize that I don’t know a better man than the one who raised me. Secondly, besides my dad, other men in my life are entering fatherhood and doing such an awesome job of it. We only talk about the deadbeats and the deserters- but we should change that, because I know so many good fathers. Last, my own desire to be a mother makes me fall in love with children left and right- so I have no problem with a man who has children in his life. Parenthood is something I aspire to- so I think it’s a foregone conclusion that I would change my mind from the way I felt all those years ago. But as with any dating scenario, it has it’s pitfalls…

As I stated before, I know a good amount of single mothers. And dating a guy with kids means that I may have the pleasure (or displeasure) of dealing with his ex/ the mother of his child(ren). Now I’m not saying that she’ll definitely be bitter, or vindictive, or spiteful- but she might be… and dealing with that is hard. Co-parenting and transitioning into a possible blended family situation is hard for everyone- and being rude, argumentative or overly demanding on purpose isn’t going to make it easier. Remaining an adult in situations like that can be extremely difficult- and though I might be the grand age of 32, I am not always the most mature person in the world. I’m smart-mouthed and quick-tempered. I’m not always able to hold myself back. I certainly would make an attempt (more than one attempt, as a matter of fact), but sometimes disrespect is too much- even for a relatively calm person. Channeling my inner non-violent, Civil Rights Movement/ Bible verse “Turn the other cheek” isn’t always effective… but don’t worry. I’m not a child. I will give it the old college try. Just know that it may not always work. However, please know that I am not a mean person and anyone who gets cussed out or smacked upside the head by me more than likely deserved it.

The other potential pitfall (and probably the most important one for me) is that I do still want to be a mother. And sometimes I’m afraid that if I date a guy who already has children, that he won’t be open to having any more- and then where does that leave me? I wonder if being a friend/ possible stepmother will still leave an ache inside me, an empty space that can only be filled by becoming a mother myself. And is that just me being overly emotional? The old me would have said that this was proof he wasn’t the right one for me, and that it wasn’t meant to be- but what if that’s not completely true? What if I walk away from something great because I’m hung up on having my “own” kids? Maybe I’m just too hung up on the “ownership” piece, period. Because quite honestly, I have lots of children in my life now. I’m an aunt ten times over. I have younger cousins, and my friends have kids. But they’re not mine- and it just doesn’t feel the same. Hey- maybe I’ll get lucky- and my soulmate either won’t have kids or won’t mind having more. I know that’s not the practical answer- but when are our dreams ever practical?

Either way, I know I’ve grown from the way I used to feel- and I think that’s a good thing. We’ll see where it gets me though… meanwhile, I’ll keep dating- and watching TV…