Op-Ed: How I unknowingly became part of a catfishing scheme that ended in ‘I do.’
Last month, I cried at the wedding of two strangers. Allow me to explain.
Michael, a listener of my nationally syndicated radio program, sent me a series of direct messages on Instagram in early July, asking for a favor. I don’t typically indulge odd requests from random people on the internet, not even ones from my beloved listeners. But the story he told compelled me to oblige.
Let’s back up a couple years. Michael’s cousin Alyson had long harbored a crush on a man named Dylan. But for years, Alyson had found herself mired in the dreaded “friend zone.” Hoping to open Dylan’s eyes to Alyson’s charms, Michael hatched a kooky, cinematic scheme. With his brothers, Michael conjured a fictional new love interest for Alyson named “Ryan Stevens.” Ryan did not exist, but the plotters found a suitable photograph of “Ryan” by searching on Google images for a “generic white male.” The best result in their estimation, the most basic white guy, was a photograph of a grinning man wearing a gingham button-down shirt and a blue blazer. That result was me, in a head shot from 2011.
The ruse — employing a dodgy online technique known as “catfishing” — actually worked. When made aware of Ryan, this dashing (if generic) new fellow in Alyson’s life, Dylan’s feelings for her finally bubbled to the surface and he made his move. Ryan was promptly discarded, and the couple started to fall in love. The truth about Ryan was eventually revealed to Dylan, and the tale became a running joke among the pair’s family and friends.
Alyson and Dylan eventually decided to get married, but as the July wedding date approached, Michael felt there was one mystery that needed resolving: the true identity of Ryan, the man who brought the couple together. Michael decided to find him. He discovered to his shock that I was the guy.
That’s when the messages started: Would I be willing to record a short congratulatory video for the couple, as Ryan Stevens? How could I decline? I recorded a quick clip poking fun at the situation, leaning into my pseudo-identity. I observed that perhaps things had worked out for the best after all, given that my own spouse was shooting the video, adding, “and he’s a dude, so you know, there you go.” Michael was delighted and quickly arranged to have the video played at a large family gathering.
That event produced an even better video. In it, Alyson jumps out of her seat in surprise at seeing the real man whose avatar she had used to win Dylan. After I posted all the relevant photos and videos in a Twitter thread on July 18, the story went somewhat viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views, and the duo appeared on my show.
Michael had pulled off a prank that would go down in family lore. But the bride wanted the last laugh, devising a plan to one-up her playfully conniving cousin. She asked if there was any way I could possibly attend the wedding as a surprise guest. Her only request was that I not tip Michael off. It was incredibly short notice, she conceded — and travel is, of course, a tricky proposition in the era of coronavirus.
Complicating matters further, I had television and radio on-air responsibilities to fulfill on their wedding day. Could I somehow execute my work duties, get myself from Washington, D.C., to Boston, and arrive at the banquet hall in time to pull off the surprise? And could I do it all safely? It turned out that I could and did.
On the big day, Michael sent me another direct message showing off his groomsman gift: a coffee mug with my mug on it. Hours later, I was hiding in a back room of the venue, awaiting my cue from a bridesmaid.
Alyson had arranged for a large group photograph featuring the entire crew who knew the Ryan Stevens story. As the photographer prepared to snap a few pictures, the complicit bridesmaid announced that they were missing someone. Members of the family glanced around, perplexed. Wasn’t everyone accounted for?
At that moment, I waltzed into view, wearing the very same gingham shirt from the nearly decade-old head shot, removed my face mask, and asked if there was room for one more in the photo. Michael and his brothers, the initial schemers, nearly fainted.
As the reception unfolded that night, Dylan and his mother swayed to Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish,” which happens to be the same song to which my husband and I danced with our respective mothers at our own wedding last fall. Up until that exact moment, the entire Ryan Stevens caper had been nothing but pure fun for me, but those lyrics brought on a sudden onslaught of The Feels. And so it came to pass that I found myself weeping at the wedding of two strangers.
Even in these unsettling and heavy times, human connection has a way of prevailing, doesn’t it? Congratulations to the beautiful, happy newlyweds.
Guy Benson is the political editor of Townhall.com, a Fox News contributor and host of the nationally syndicated “Guy Benson Show.”
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