Help! My Mom Is Catfishing Some Guy on a Dating Site.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 31 2014 6:00 AM

My Mother Is a Catfish

My mom is pretending to be a 28-year-old woman on a dating site.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
For the past few months, my mom has been catfishing a guy online and I don’t know what to do. Earlier this year, I decided to give online dating a try and signed up for a free online dating site. My mom was very supportive and interested in me finding someone, and, unbeknownst to me, created a fake profile to scope out the site. I was perturbed when I found out, but I went along with it under the condition that she didn’t message anyone. She broke her promise and created an elaborate profile that mimicked my life (without using my name) and began talking to a few people. She ended up forming a friendship with one guy who was getting divorced who she felt sounded depressed. While pretending to be a 28-year-old woman, she offered him suggestions on how to fix his profile. I begged her to cut it off with him, but she hasn’t. In fact, she created several new profiles and pretended to be interested in him to help build his confidence. What really scares me is that he left a gift certificate for her to pick up at a local store, which I persuaded her not to use. I know this guy owns guns and I’m scared for her if he ever finds out she’s not who she’s pretending to be. She’s already seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety, so I don’t know what else I can do. My dad is aware of what she’s doing but he just brushes it off. Am I the crazy one for thinking this is a serious problem? My mom needs a new hobby, but she’s full of excuses for why she can’t work or volunteer somewhere because of her health.

Advertisement

—Dumbfounded Daughter

Dear Dumbfounded,
I have a suggestion for something that might productively occupy your mother’s time—a job at the dating site OkCupid, coming up with new experiments on how to tweak their algorithm. OkCupid just revealed it had been telling members that poor matches were actually good matches, in order to track what happened. All on her own, your mother came up with her own exceedingly bad match: a depressed, gun-owning young man looking for love, and an older married woman looking to make herself feel wanted. I appreciate your bringing up the opportunity to recommend the compelling documentary, Catfish, from whence the term catfishing—to entrap someone into a romantic relationship by creating a false social media identity—is derived. It sounds as if your mother’s adventures could make a good episode on the spin-off television series. If she doesn’t get shot first. You have warned your mother about the dangers of what she’s getting herself into, and presumably you’ve suggested she discuss her activities with her psychiatrist. But if she won’t there’s nothing you can do. I can understand your father’s stance. Likely he’s glad she’s occupying herself and is probably not highly concerned she’s going to find someone to replace him. You need to tell your mother you are bowing out. Not only should you leave the website she’s infiltrated, you should tell her you are not going to be a sounding board for her alternative-identity activities. But don’t give up on finding someone; just move to another dating site. As this one notes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a career-driven woman recently married to a similarly career-driven man, and we both plan to continue our child-free existence. I happen to be the type of person who craves the approval of my husband’s family, but they have given me the cold shoulder. My husband’s mother and sister also see children as the most valued products of a relationship. Recently, in a moment of utter stupidity and desperation (and after a glass of wine or two), I texted his mother that I was expecting. Now they love me! I get messages during the day from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, including lengthy emails full of pregnancy and child-rearing advice. We live far away, but at some point my lie is going to be revealed. I have asked my husband to stay silent until I can figure out how to fix things, but in doing so have made him an accessory to my lie. How do I come clean while minimizing the inevitable damage? I am normally clear-headed and smart, so I still can’t believe I did this and have allowed it to go on for over a month! 

—Liar Liar

Dear Liar,
If you don’t straighten this out, and your in-laws are the type of people who insist on being there for the delivery, come next March you’re going to find yourself staging your own kidnapping in order to get out of having to explain it’s neither a girl nor a boy, but a lie. It's also a violation of your marriage, and your husband's relationship with his family, to make him party to your deceit. You need to correct this, all right, but it’s going to be difficult to explain to your in-laws what really happened. Saying that in an alcohol-driven moment of insecurity you sought their love by conjuring a nonexistent pregnancy is unlikely to make them re-consider their coldness. It would instead color all your interactions for a long time to come and make them question anything you said—along with your sanity and sobriety. This is especially the case since you don’t intend to ever make real your bogus claim about producing a child. So I suggest you say right away that unfortunately the pregnancy was a false alarm. Sure, this will inevitably result in a barrage of questions and concern about this turn of events: was the pregnancy wishful thinking, a defective test, a miscarriage. But you and your husband then have to be resolute enough to say that this is a private matter and you just don’t want to discuss it beyond confirming you’re not pregnant. Marriage is one of those great life shifts that has a way of bringing up long-buried psychological issues. You say this is totally out of character for you, so you should examine what’s going on that would prompt you to blurt out something so inevitably self-destructive in a search for approval from your new husband’s family.

—Prudie

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 31 2014 12:02 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Staff writer Alison Griswold shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.