It may appear that I have my shit together. I mainly do these days, but I learned the hard way, I put myself in dangerous situations, and basically made a load of really poor decisions over the years. I have many many great dating stories, funny ones, lighthearted ones and plenty to keep this blog going for a long time. But I also have a couple of really dark tales that have shaped who I am as a person. They are the basis of all advice that I give to people these days, despite times having moved on immeasurably. So I’m going to share them here.
These aren’t easy stories to tell. I don’t come across particularly well in either, but they are important lessons in safety, in trust and in always letting someone know where you are.
We start way back in 2008. I had been through my first proper breakup, my partner of 4 years, the guy I’d bought a house with, the guy that had proposed to me and I had rejected, cheated on me and left. I lived alone, I had a mortgage to pay. I was in a low paid job, times were a struggle. I worked hard, but fuck me did I play harder. My version of playing wasn’t to go out with friends, it wasn’t to spend money getting drunk. It was to frequent adult dating sites and have sex with strangers. Lots of strangers. Nearly every person I met during this period were awesome, respectful, wanted the same thing as me. One of them is still a really good friend of mine to this day. I have no regrets. Well, I have one.
I became overconfident. I became cocky. Nothing had gone wrong, I’d been meeting guys in public places, always, first before coming home with them. Then there was Simon. He was different. We chatted, lots. He was a headteacher at a primary school. We chatted for hours, days, weeks. It was unusual. The standard protocol was to match and meet pretty quickly. Not with Simon. Phone calls, messages, emails.
Then came the photos. Lots and lots of photos. I still hadn’t seen Simon’s face, only a rather appealing torso shot. But he was amazing. Funny, smart, great job, own place, showered me with compliments and seemed interested. I forgot that the reason I was there was for non committal, no strings attached sex. I started to develop feelings. He told me he had too. So I sent him photos. Starting pretty tame, but then absolutely everything. No shame. I was dumbstruck. Spellbound. All photos were sent and emailed (WhatsApp wasn’t a thing back then!). This man had everything on me. All I wanted to see was his face.
And then I got it. I’m sure the wiser amongst you have already figured out that Simon wasn’t who he said he was. Well, not strictly true, he was all the things he said he was, along with married. His profile photo was most definitely not of his torso. I was a 26 year old woman. He was a 52 year old guy. He looked nothing like I expected. I had been catfished. He never intended to meet me, he just wanted my photos, and I gave them to him. I let him down gently once he had revealed himself. Told him I’d had a change of heart. He was too old, I wasn’t comfortable that he was married. Didn’t mention he wasn’t my type. Polite, honest (almost) and thought that would be the end of it. Lesson learned, maybe it was time to get off the sites and start dating the old fashioned way. Well, the new fashioned way!
I wish that was the end of the story. Alas, it was just the beginning. I heard nothing for about 6 weeks. He went away nicely, took what I had said, said he understood and we both went along with our lives. Until I was called into my bosses office one day at work. I had worked there for years. My boss and I were close. He gave me lifts to work. We were mates. He looked so awkward when he called me into the office and I instantly knew that something was wrong. My boss presented me with an envelope, and then said he was going to leave the room whilst I read the contents. I’ve never been more grateful for the way he dealt with the situation, and I owe him everything.
Inside the envelope were my photographs. Printed. In all their glory. Over 50 of them. Along with emails of graphic conversations. Simon had been posting them to my place of work for 4 weeks. They’d kept it from me, but it had started to get out of hand. Luckily, work did nothing. These things had been addressed to my boss, he had seen them, not the 200 other employees. Simon hadn’t know about my relationship with my boss, and his plan to fuck me over had backfired. All he had managed to do was embarrass me, my boss and change our relationship going forward, but I hadn’t lost my job which I’m pretty sure was his intention. Then the phone calls started. My mobile, my landline. Day and night. All hours. Constantly. Sometimes 100 a day. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t think.
He never spoke, but I knew it was him. Then he started driving by my house. Just sitting outside in his car. Nothing more than that, he would just sit there for hours. If I ever approached to tell him to leave me alone, he would drive off. I changed my mobile number. I unplugged my house phone. Disabled and changed my email account. He would call work, ask for me and then just breathe down the phone. Luckily, I was promoted and transferred to a different site a few weeks after, but I knew he could and would find out where I was working again. It had to stop. I had to do something. How many other people had he been doing this too? How many women was he duping?
One morning in November, 5 months after first starting to speak with Simon, I made my way to the local police station and reported him. It was horrific. The police were amazing, but I was mortified. I took everything with me so they could work out who he was. He was arrested. The rest is history. I had changed as a person, and the lessons I had learned proved invaluable for the next 10 or so years of internet dating.
I took a massive break from dating/shagging and worked on myself. On why I feel the need to go and shag strangers for validation. On why I didn’t respect myself enough. I have never sent a photo of myself since. I have never told a close friend or family member the full details of this story, and I never will. I will never reveal his name or what happened to him. It’s my story. It’s my history. It was the darkest 5 months of my life, but it has given me the strength, the conviction and the capacity to always check a person details before giving any of my own. I’m the catfish catcher extraordinaire. I’m beyond careful with details I give out.
These days it is even easier to share photos of yourself, but I would encourage you to always think twice. Let my lessons be your teachings. Be careful out there folks, it’s a fucking minefield.
That’s enough for one blog, the second story can wait until another day.