Dear Prudence

Help! My Mom Is Catfishing a Guy Online—By Pretending to Be Me.

One aspect of this really scares me.

A person types on a laptop that has an illustrated hook snaring it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Maksym Rudoi/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

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.

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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. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Mom Is Catfishing Some Guy on a Dating Site.” (July 31, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

I recently started a new job at a company that has been in the local news. Shortly before I was hired, the owner was sued, because while all the senior positions went to men, the rest of the staff was made up of extremely attractive women. I do not look like my female co-workers. I’m a brunette who’s over 25, and I’m not “curvy,” just one big curve. I’m slowly being introduced to our clients, and the first time I met one, he said, “Oh, you must be one of the new hires!” and everyone at the meeting laughed. Only after another client said it did I realize he was referring to my boss’s legal troubles. It’s astounding how many clients have now made the same joke. I overhead one client call me the “nottie.” I’m now feeling pressure to try to look hot, when that’s not what I’m about. I don’t want to offend clients, but it’s insulting they feel they can say this to me. I would go to my boss, but I feel I should be able to handle this myself.

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Your firm must have been a source of endless stimulation and even hilarity for the male clients for so long that they no longer notice that they’re flouting the normal rules of courtesy. I’m infuriated on your behalf, but please don’t let your response be to try to turn yourself into a hottie. Your job is to do good work for the clients, so I agree complaining to the boss will be awkward and won’t resolve the situation. When these jerks make their remarks, just ignore their implications. Upon hearing the “new hire” joke, reply: “Yes, I started in December. I really look forward to working with you.” In acting class they teach the importance of subtext. Good actors, through a facial expression, a pause, or a tilt of the head, subtly express their internal state. So you might say to yourself, “Yep, the Victoria’s Secret show has closed, and now real women are working at Letch & Co. But I will do you the favor of pretending I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That half-smile or raised eyebrow from you might just cause the jokers to reconsider their behavior. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! My Twin and I Share an Earth-Shattering Family Secret.” (Feb. 16, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 30-year-old single female. It’s always been an aspiration of mine to become a foster parent. There is a tremendous need for it in my county, and I want to help kids and their families. Another desire of mine is to get married and build a family with said husband. Most of my friends and family have been overwhelmingly supportive as I’ve been going through the necessary trainings and background checks to be a foster parent, and I anticipate having my first placement within six months.

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However, one friend suggested that I’m setting myself up for old maid status by putting a “barrier between myself and a man who’s interested in me.” My initial response was “good, it’ll help weed out the men not cut out for me,” but upon further thought, perhaps I’m being cavalier? Anyone dating in 2018 knows it isn’t easy. I want love with a life partner, and I want to share love with kids in need—must it be mutually exclusive?

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Is your friend Rachel Lynde? I’m not sure how helpful your friend is, but she certainly has a way with words. I certainly don’t encourage you to think of any children you might foster as tiny little engagement-ring-blockers. The idea, I suppose, is that it’s only possible to snag a husband if one is as commitment-free and unencumbered as possible, and your hypothetical future mate, who might have been interested in you had you two met at a coffee shop, is going to be scared off if he sees you’ve started parenting without him. There’s some truth to that, in the sense that single parents often have a more challenging time dating than the childless, whether that be arranging for child care in order to go on dates or figuring out how to broach the topic with a new boyfriend or girlfriend without making it sound like they’re looking for a just-add-water stepparent.

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This is fairly common knowledge, but I think it bears repeating: Not everyone finds the love of their life, or even a middling-to-good love of their life. Some people are really lovable, really responsible, really earnest, and really want to settle down with someone, and it just doesn’t work out that way. I have no idea if you’ll meet a guy you want to marry, and who wants to marry you; much less whether or not it will happen if you start fostering children first. Probably starting to foster children will make it more challenging, not less, but it’s not the same thing as “setting up a barrier” against marriage. You’re not Sleeping Beauty trapped behind a marriage-repelling wall of briars. You’re saying that you’re ready to start being a foster parent, husband or no husband. You can either wait to find a husband and settle down together (which, as you well know, there’s no guarantee you will) before you do so, or you can start now; I think it makes a lot of sense that you’ve decided you’re ready to move ahead, with or without the husband. If he comes along, that’s great. I hope he does! But if he doesn’t, you won’t have put your life on hold for him. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! Will Becoming a Foster Parent Ruin My Love Life?” (Jan. 8, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

Last night, a bit too much wine prompted my fiance to tell me a secret he’s been keeping for years: He thinks I smell bad. And that’s why our sex life has been on the decline. I know I do sweat more than some people, but I shower daily and always use deodorant. I can’t figure out if I am actually as bad as he says or if he just thinks I’m stinky because he is lucky enough to have totally odorless sweat. I am seriously considering calling off the wedding because of this. I just can’t imagine that our marriage would last if he’s repulsed by me. Am I overreacting, or do I need to leave him?

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At least you have the answer as to why his ardor swells every time he gets a sinus infection. Of course it’s a terrible blow to have your fiance reveal that he thinks you smell like goat stew that’s been left in the sun. But consider this another way: He must really love you if you’ve been together for years and he’s asked you to marry him despite experiencing a slight gagging sensation when you’re close. You acknowledge that you know you sweat more than the average person. So you might possibly have a condition called hyperhidrosis. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments, from industrial strength deodorant to Botox, which can help tame the sweat. You might also suffer from bromhidrosis, or excessive and offensive body odor. Here’s a primer on it and some steps you can take to try to address it, starting with eliminating certain food from your diet, such as garlic, peppers, and fish. Although your boyfriend demonstrates the truth of the adage in vino veritas, you might also see if alcohol is a trigger for your less pleasant aromas. Certainly you need to see a doctor about this—it’s possible you have another underlying medical condition. Make sure you find a physician who takes this seriously and is willing to work with you to get you smelling fresher than a can of Febreze. If you feel your fiance told you in a cruel or malicious way, or you think he is establishing the groundwork for breaking up with you, then you need to engage in a frank discussion about where your romance is headed. But if he needed some liquid courage to blurt out that you two have a problem, then acknowledge that this must have been as difficult for him to say as it was for you to hear. Say his honesty makes you appreciate the truth of Shakespeare’s sonnet 94: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” —E.Y.

From: “Help! My Fiance Thinks I Have Horrible Body Odor. Should We Break Up?” (March 1, 2012)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

I’ve been married to my husband for almost 20 years. During that time he’s been a good husband, father to our girls, a great friend, a wonderful lover. Until last week. For the past year, we’ve had my niece’s 19-year-old friend living with us. She’s a beautiful young woman and my husband made a few comments to her about how cute she was.

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