Even when I was a happily married man with no intentions of ever joining a dating site, I was familiar with the concept of “catfishing.” It’s the main complaint among millennial men who try online dating: that the women don’t actually look like what they advertise in their photos, either because the photos were taken years ago, have been digitally altered, or are of different people.
Women who’ve tried online dating have similar complaints, sometimes about appearance, but more often about the man’s ability to commit. Some men claim to have their own homes but turn out to live with their parents; others claim to be single but turn out to be married with kids. Some men have several girlfriends at once, all of whom think they are in an exclusive relationship. No matter what, if these men lie long enough, they will always get caught, and the person who catches them will always gets hurt.
I would never use online dating as a way to cheat, but in a dark moment of insecurity, I did tell some “white lies” that came back to bite me. I had broken up with my girlfriend (let’s call her Alexa) two months prior, but we had started dating again, albeit not exclusively. I also had feelings for my friend Chelsea, but I knew she didn’t feel the same, and it was starting to weigh down on our friendship. Chelsea and I would get together once a month to rant about dating in L.A., but I was too embarrassed to tell her I’d been messing around with Alexa. I wanted to move on, but I didn’t know how to. I kept telling Alexa I wanted it to be over, but she kept sucking me back in. I didn’t want Chelsea to know how weak I was; I didn’t want anyone to know.
At 5’8″, Alexa was an inch taller than me, and the woman I dated before her was 5’11”. It didn’t seem like I had any trouble attracting taller women, so I didn’t think Chelsea would rule me out based on my height, but I got discouraged one night over dinner at Mozza, when she started referring her 5’9″ ex-boyfriend as “short.”
I froze, swallowed my slice of pizza, and replied, “Five-nine is short?”
“Well,” she shrugged, “It is for me. I’m five-seven.”
“Chelsea, I’m five-seven.”
“I mean, maybe 5’8″ with shoes on, but yeah. If 5’9″ is short, then I’m screwed.”
“Huh…” her eyes drifted off and then snapped back into focus. “For some reason I always pictured you as being taller.”
Maybe this was supposed to disappoint me, but it actually gave me hope. Chelsea and I had been hanging out for months (usually with her in heels), and only now was she realizing how short I was. She thought 5’9″ was short, but under the right circumstances, one 5’9″ guy did the trick for her, and maybe I would do the trick for some unsuspecting tall woman, who wouldn’t notice how short I was until she’d already fallen in love with me and gotten past something as superficial as height.
At the end of the night, I hugged Chelsea goodbye, stretching my chin upward so my face wouldn’t collide with her shoulder. My friend Vanessa (who was also 5’8″ and whom I’d also had a brief fling with) once knocked out my 12-year molar with an awkward hug. Every time I hugged a woman taller than me, I always looked straight up so my teeth would never take the impact again.
“I guess we are the same height,” she observed, innocently.
“I guess that means I’m too short to date you,” I joked. I hate when my insecurities make me tell jokes that aren’t funny.
She appeased me with a nervous laugh and assured me I didn’t have to walk her back to her car.
In the year that followed my divorce, my whole dating life had been a mess. First, I fooled around with my friend Vanessa and ruined that friendship. Then I asked out a girl who was 5’11” (who called herself “The Glamazon”), and right as I was ready to go exclusive, she revealed to me that she had gone exclusive with another guy, whom she had met online and who turned out to be married with a kid. So I started dating Alexa, an older woman who worked for my dad, and now I was trying to get rid of her because I had feelings for Chelsea, feelings which she didn’t reciprocate and which would ultimately ruin the friendship. That was my year: two Platonic friendships down, and two relationships that went nowhere.
I make a lot of stupid decisions that blow up in my face, particularly when it comes to romance, and unfortunately, I wasn’t about to quit just yet.
Online dating had never worked out for me. I had an OKCupid profile, but I started it right after my divorce, before I knew anything about the dating game. Now, after my conversations with Alexa, Vanessa, Chelsea, Glamazon, and all my single female friends, I felt like I knew exactly what women wanted. So I started a new OKCupid profile from scratch: new username, new photos, new description, and I reanswered all their silly questions.
But since I was starting over, I began to fib. I wanted to see what would happen if I exaggerated some things about myself, and based on the big whopper that Glamazon’s married-with-a-kid boyfriend told her, I felt entitled to a few white lies that might get women to swipe in the other direction:
Lie #1 – I live in Santa Monica and I live alone.
Technically true, but not at the same time. I work in San Bernardino and have a place out there, but I stay with my mom in Santa Monica on weekends. My dating profile says I live in Santa Monica because a woman who’s my type is more likely to live in the Los Angeles area, and it says I live alone because…well…what woman wants to date a guy who lives with his parents?
Lie #2 – I’m an Italian citizen.
Technically true, but I wasn’t born in Italy, only lived there for two summers as a foreign student, and speak English as my first language. I can vote in Italy, but when a woman hears “Italian,” they picture something very different, for better or worse.
Lie #3 – I’m 5’10”
This was the big lie, and there’s no way to interpret it as true. I’m not 5’10”, and anyone who has seen me knows it. But men self-report exaggerated heights all the time, right? And on dating sites, everyone lies a little, right? I mean, if I told the truth and said I was 5’7″, women would probably assume that meant I was 5’3″. Besides, 5’10” isn’t tall; it’s average. Can’t I at least pass for average? I was just trying to make it fair…right?
Well, it wasn’t very fair to the 5’9″ woman who rejoiced at having found my profile.
I’ve never been the type of guy to go for the hottest woman, but that’s mostly because I assume she won’t be interested in me. Yet the new, Italian, 5’10” me, financially independent and living alone in Santa Monica, felt like he was good enough for the hottest profile he found. She was a holistic healer trying to become a real therapist. She reminded me of a smarter, hotter Phoebe Buffay: a girly-girl with hippie inclinations. Her photos were mostly conservative, but there was one take at Burning Man with a tasteful amount of breast and butt cleavage, just to make it clear she had a great body.
And she wanted me. She spent a week sending me charmingly nervous texts, careful to make the perfect first impression on me as though I was the one needing to be impressed. “Welcome to LA!” She wrote. “Where in Italy are you from?”
Crap. What’s going to happen when she meets me and hears my accentless voice?
“Well,” I replied. “When I was growing up, my dad traveled back and forth between Italy and LA for work, so I spent half the year out there, but have the year here. I’m from Siena, but my father is from Sicily.”
OK, now you’ve turned a fib into an all-out lie.
“Wow, I can’t wait to hear all about growing up in Siena!” she answered, and we scheduled our first date.
I shared the exciting news with a friend, who then asked, “So what’s going to happen when this girl meets you and sees that you’re five-foot-six?”
“Five-eight!” my inner George Constanza replied.
She was right, though. I hadn’t really planned this out. I found some shoes online with gargantuan hidden lifts that grow a man by four inches, but they looked ridiculous and uncomfortable. Plus, imagine if the relationship progressed. How long could I live the lie of being four inches taller than my actual height? Would I have to learn to dance in 4-inch lifts? What if we went to the beach together? Or played tennis? So much relationship potential was limited by this lie.
Meanwhile the tall woman was still sending me flirty messages. She wrote one with typos, promptly corrected it, and then followed it up with: “Wow, I’m so nervous when I’m talking to you and I haven’t even met you yet.”
Well, when it was time to meet in person, I was the nervous one. I arrived at the bar early and watched her approaching from afar, wearing boots. I should have been inside the bar, sitting down so as not to draw attention to my shortness, but I wasn’t, and now it was too late. I tried standing on an elevated point part of the curb so I would appear taller, and when she got close enough, I involuntarily stood on my tiptoes.
As I watched disappointment spread across her face when she greeted me, I imagined her thinking, “Great. So you’re a liar, you think I’m an idiot…and you’re short!”
I figured I’d relax a little once we sat down and could meet at eye level, but I didn’t…because even when we sat down, she still towered over me. It wasn’t just the boots and the legs; this woman had a tall torso, too. I cowered in my barstool, knowing I’d been caught in a lie, and kept reaching for my water glass, even long after it was empty.
She never called me out for lying, but after one drink, she got up and left. “This isn’t a match for me. People’s time is valuable and I hate to waste yours.”
After a few minutes sitting alone at the bar, dumbfounded, I received an apology text from her. Yes, she apologized to me. She didn’t call me out for being a liar and wasting her time, but I called myself out on it and offered a counter-apology. I didn’t hear back.
I have no idea how much my height played a role in how badly this date went. It was my first OKCupid date, I was out with the hottest woman who’d ever agreed to go out with me, and I’d gotten her to accept the date under false pretenses. Of course I was going to be nervous, and of course that nervousness was going to make the date awkward, even if she somehow didn’t notice or care about my height.
This began as a story about me being undesirable because I’m short, but upon reflection, it’s really a story about me desiring people who are wrong for me simply because they’re hot. This was a woman who practiced holistic medicine, smoked weed, believed astrology was a legit science, and partied at Burning Man. I don’t want to be disrespectful of any of those choices, but I’m not that guy, I never will be, and any girl like that isn’t for me. I just wish my shallowness hadn’t prevented me from seeing that.
This story also taught me that I’m sometimes willing to lie if I believe it’s what other people want to hear, but as soon as someone gets hurt as a result of my lie, I feel horrible. If I really wanted to wear boots and hide four-inch lifts inside them, I could have done that. If I really wanted to fake an Italian accent and rewrite a backstory of the first 19 years of my life, I could have done that. If I wanted to rent an Air BnB somewhere in Santa Monica and pretend it was my place, I could have done that.
But even if I was willing to lie to get my foot in the door, I still wanted her to like me for me. If she had fallen for a fake Italian accent and a pair of cowboy boots, I would have felt just as rejected, because that wasn’t me. So I changed my height on my profile and moved on to the next one, and as I did, I finally accepted that Chelsea were never going to be more than friends, and I realized I hadn’t answered Alexa’s clingy texts in a week. The 5’10” Italian I invented had done what the real me had been too weak to do: get rid of my toxic ex. He had served his purpose in my life, though, and now it was time for the real me to get some OKCupid dates.