I had never been on a dating app before, so I filled out the profile with total honesty.
When I complained that I wasn’t getting any matches, my friends consoled me and tried to lend a helping hand.
They pointed out that I had no makeup on in my profile pictures, since I rarely wear any. And those angles in the photos I had taken by fellow tourists? Not always the most flattering.
I decided to update my profile with new pictures. I hired a professional photographer, makeup artist, and hairstylist. The hairstylist put in some curls. I looked beautiful; I felt great. The photographer met me at UCLA. With picturesque Royce Hall as the backdrop, he used his lighting equipment and camera to take the most amazing head shots of me. I uploaded the photos online — and racked up more matches almost immediately.
A 6-foot tall, Italian-born, New York college-educated widower started chatting with me. His name was Samuel. We exchanged numbers, and for the next week, he called and texted me every day. I was so happy, I told my friends so they could help me analyze his texts. I found out that he was in the antiques business, that he had been to Kenya. So I asked about Maasai warriors, cows and ritual bloodletting. (That may not sound romantic, but I found it intriguing since I studied anthropology in college. Plus, anything was romantic in that accent.)
I thought of him as an Italian Indiana Jones.
He had a picture of a 2-year-old, blond boy on his profile. That was his son. He explained that his wife had passed away soon after the boy was born. And I jumped — like, 10 steps ahead — into the future of this relationship, thinking about becoming the best possible stepmom I could to his poor, half-orphaned boy.
I then fast-forwarded another 100 steps and thought about Samuel’s little boy grieving for me upon my death. I even started to cry a little, thinking about how he was going to give me the best damned eulogy about how much I’d meant to him, and how much he loved me.
But back to reality: In one of his texts, Samuel sent a full-body picture of himself, overseeing several boxes of art. He was in a black T-shirt and jeans, and looked great. I started to panic because I could tell that he wanted to get a full-length picture of me too. But I was texting him at the park. I didn’t have any makeup on, no pretty dress to show off. I wasn’t looking at all like the woman in my online profile. I felt like a fraud, a fake.
But I told myself: “Look, you’ve talked to this really sweet, really amazing guy for a week now, and if he’s scared off by a natural photo of you, then it’s not going to work anyway.”
So I sent him a picture of me in my jeans and blouse, no makeup.
And ... he wasn’t horrified! He continued to call and text. I felt relieved. And we made plans to meet the following Sunday, although we didn’t immediately specify a time or place.
A few days before we were planning to meet, I received a notification from the dating app.
Samuel had been banned for suspicious activity.
I searched the app’s FAQs and found out that suspicious activity is often related to money scams. And then it hit me: I wasn’t the only impostor in this imaginary relationship.
I began to think back on little things, things that I dismissed but were perhaps red flags. His texts were sometimes marked by spelling errors that I attributed to typos and fast texting. A few times he even misspelled my name, texting “Good morning, Julienne!” instead of Julianne. When he was told me about himself, he said he was from Italy, and spelled “accent” as “ascent.” I figured it was just because English was his second language. But after the warning from the app, I began to wonder whether he’d ever gone to college.
I said nothing, and waited to see what happened next. Sunday — the day we were supposed to get together — came and went. And the following day, he texted me to say good morning, and that he was thinking of me. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I texted him back to ask why he hadn’t finalized our Sunday plans. He apologized, said he had childcare issues, and added that he hoped he hadn’t left me with a bad impression.
I thought about texting him back after that, to get to the bottom of whether he was real or not, whether I was being “catfished” or whether he did indeed have childcare issues that day. As I looked back at the texts between us, I knew that I was already too vested with someone I’d never actually met IRL. He never asked me for money. But I imagined myself becoming one of those lonely victims willing to give away their life savings to someone they never met. So I backed out.
I guess I liked my money too much.
And I guessed I would never get that tragically beautiful eulogy from little what’s-his-name.
I quit the dating apps shortly after that. I scared myself thinking about how much I was willing to change for someone I had never met. I was going to start styling my hair and wearing makeup everyday. I was going to raise the little boy of someone who — now that I look back at it — had spelled my name wrong four different times.
I wanted to meet someone new so badly that I became too willing to compromise my expectations. I should have suspected that he wasn’t as educated or well-traveled as I thought, but I was prepared to overlook this possibility because I wanted to believe he was this interesting person, because he seemed interested in me.
I cut off contact with Samuel and never heard from him again. Although I never figured out what the real situation with Samuel was, I learned a lot about myself. The professional pictures weren’t the most honest, but I kept them because they made me feel more confident. They represented the version of me I had long been striving to be. Someone who was beautiful, as well as kind and very, very smart.
And though Samuel was not real, he made me happy for a little bit. If I could be a better version of myself for an imaginary person, I realized that I could be a better version of myself for me.
And if the right guy comes along, and a real relationship follows, I hope to be that person for him too.
The author is a finance manager at UCLA and you can find her on Instagram @juliannehho.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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