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September 21, 2023

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Students share experiences of online dating

While some college students see their boyfriend or girlfriend everyday, senior Sarah Eastman relied on her imagination to fill in the blanks from day to day.

Eastman was a sophomore in high school when she met a tall, dark and handsome football player online.

Turns out, she got “catfished.”

“I met him on Myspace and we talked on there and over the phone for about two months,” Eastman said. “He went to a different school, so we never saw each other.”

Eventually, the two thought it was finally time to meet.

“He worked at Cedar Point, which wasn’t too far from me, and he asked if I would come meet him,” Eastman said.

But when she arrived at the amusement park, she found herself confused at what she saw.

“I know I’m not a perfect 10, but I have my standards set pretty high,” Eastman said.

For freshman Nathan Walker, face-to-face communication is the only way he will meet someone he doesn’t know.

The word “catfish,” popularized by the related documentary and MTV show and the recent story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, refers to using a false identity to lure someone into an online relationship.

“I’ve seen the show … I think it’s entertaining and ridiculous because they believe in love over the Internet,” Walker said.

Brion White, graduate assistant in media and communications, explained the process of how some people start relationships online.

“It starts with the computer, moves to phone calls, then pictures,” White said. “At some point you have to meet or there might be some signs of red flags.”

The man Eastman spoke to online had refused to send any pictures to confirm his identity prior to them meeting at Cedar Point.

“He ended up being my height (about 5’1”), pretty round, so that football uniform in his picture must have been holding it all in,” Eastman said. “I felt bad, so I ended up dating him for a while.”

White said people, getting caught up in a lie can be exciting.

“Hiding behind the Internet is easier than putting yourself out there because you control how much you share with a person,” White said.

The uncertainty reduction theory is what White used to describe why people feel more comfortable using the Internet to jump-start a relationship of any kind. When strangers meet, their focus is usually on reducing their levels of uncertainty in the situation, he said.

Sandra Faulkner, associate professor in media and communications, said at some point, people online may want to try other ways of communicating.

“Something people may notice is people tend to be suspicious if reluctant to provide information,” Faulkner said. “People should request to speak through Skype or different hatting services.”

Eastman wasn’t sure why he got so serious about their relationship after a short amount of time, but she said she stayed true to her gut feeling to end things.

“He wouldn’t stop calling for a little while,” Eastman said. “He wouldn’t let go.”

Some people might believe fantasy is greater than reality, White said.

“People can make relationships what they want of it,” White said. “When [people] are with someone everyday, they notice flaws while online, they can make believe.”

Te’o also claims to be a victim of “catfishing.” Last week, the Notre Dame star’s online girlfriend, who he’d claimed died of cancer, was revealed to be a hoax.

White said that while Te’o may have used his online story to generate more media attention, her convincingness may have deceived him after all.

“Te’o is from Hawaii and when he met his lady, she was from Hawaii as well … she culturally connected to him,” White said. “But then again, he said he met her when he didn’t and said she went to Stanford and she didn’t.”

Eastman’s advice to people is to watch what people put on the Internet and who they are talking to.

“You can put yourself out there on the Internet, but know who you are talking to and be smart about it,” Eastman said.

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