This story is by Billi Lynn Holt and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Around the birth of the millennium, twenty-first-century electronic components have influenced how everyday people relate. Friends and family can share details of their lives through the internet on social media with gushy thoughts, funny photos, and memories in the form of memes. My stylist, Julia, is no exception to the latest craze of finding a romantic relationship online and has her own experience with internet dating. I met Julia on a beautiful spring Saturday at a unisex beauty salon. I was on the schedule to have my hair bleached and receive a Pedi-manicure at 10:00 am that morning. Julia was my stylist for the day. She greeted me with a warm welcome and gave me the impression that she was a professional. She wore her short brown hair up in a pink, polka-dot scrunchie, and she wore black pants with a matching black shirt. Her matching black apron covered most of her body, and her apron pockets were bulging. She probably was twenty-something years old, single, and working full-time as a cosmetologist. I settled my things on her station and asked her if it would be better to turn off my cell phone.
“That’s totally up to you; if it rings, it won’t bother me in the least.”
She asked me how my day was going, and I expressed that I was looking forward to a “fresh look.” I laughingly explained I needed to look good for selfies that I might use for dating websites. She smiled and started conversing about how she genuinely enjoyed her family relationship and job. She told me she completed her schooling here in Upstate, New York, and has been a fan of the various social media websites. She also stated that she never dreamed that one site, in particular, could match her with the man of her dreams. But is he her prince charming? Julie secured the black plastic cape around my neck as I sat in the styling chair. She helped pass the time by telling me about her present-day life. Julia spoke with delightful admiration about her parents and is proud of how they have brought her up. The youngest of a semi-large family, she feels that she is not spoiled like many others her age. She likes to think that her ingrained sense of moral values can face any challenge before her and welcomes the chance at true love and creating her own family. Julia appreciates her parents and family, especially her grandma, Claire. Sadly, Julia and Grandma Clair still grieve the loss of her grandpa’s untimely death a few years ago. Since her grandpa passed, she has had a more meaningful role in her grandma’s life. Julia loves spending her time with Grandma Clair and recognizes the loneliness and pain Grandma has felt. The loss of Grandma’s husband has taken a toll on her grandma’s emotional well-being, and she wants to help her in any way she can. The two plan to share an apartment when they can agree on a place, hopefully easing the strain. She tells me the story about Grandma Clair and how she grabbed the attention of an online suitor that brought her beatific world crashing down.
“My grandma began this long-distance relationship with a man she met on an internet dating website. He robbed her, but she didn’t realize it until the end. Grandma believed every word he said. He was charismatic, sweet-talked my grandma, made her laugh and feel young. I hate to say it, but my grandma was vulnerable and naïve.”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry to hear that happened to your grandma,” I replied.
“Yes, it’s awful. This “man” messaged her on a dating website, then began sending her love letter emails that later turned into texts on her phone. He told her she was beautiful, smart, gracious…. everything she wanted to hear. Grandma just ate it up; she loved what he said. I didn’t step in at the time; I didn’t think he would do that to her.”
“Oh? I think I have heard about this kind of thing before; what you are describing, please continue.”
“Grandma was so depressed because grandpa died, and she was alone at the time. This “man” would pay attention to her every day. He talked to her for hours every day. They talked about getting married.”
“Wow! Marriage? Sounds like he was feeding her a line….,” I replied.
“Yes, he was feeding her a line. She trusted him. He convinced her that he was the “love of her life.” Grandma believed him. Eventually, he started asking for money; the way he did it made my grandma think she was helping her fiancé. Soon, sending him money became an everyday thing. She would send him hundreds and hundreds of dollars at a time. She faithfully wired it to him through Walmart MoneyGram,” explained Julia.
“Your grandma never questioned why he would only use MoneyGram? Did he send any photos?”
“No, grandma didn’t question him about how she sent the money because he told her that if she sent the money by MoneyGram, she could avoid paying sales tax on the money and get a great price to send it. She believed him! The photos he sent her looked too good to be true. I believed they were fake. I could tell they were fake because the photos would be of the full-body shot of a man showing his shoes or him sitting on some object. How can a person take their full body shot? I knew someone else had to have taken the picture. He never sent any selfies, and the pictures he did send were too “perfect.” My grandma didn’t see it. She was so happy to have someone in her life. She believed him when he said he was “the love of her life.”
“She was hooked on “the love drug,” Julia.”
” Yes, she was hooked. She sold her $250,000 home and drove to Texas to meet him. She believed they were going to get married. When she arrived in Texas, the address he gave her was an empty car lot.”
“Really? She sold her home and drove to Texas to marry him? And he did that to her?”
“Yes, he did, and when she tried calling his cell number, a voice recording said, “the number you have dialed has been disconnected and not in service.” My grandma was devastated…., had no way to find him. He took every penny of my grandpa’s pension from her. I was so hurt for my grandma; we had to file a claim with her bank and hire a lawyer to get my grandpa’s pension back. Grandma is up there in age, and we have no idea how long this will take to reimburse the money.”
“Sounds like your grandma was “catfished,” Julia. I’m so sorry for your grandma.”
“Catfishing” is a phishing scheme used by con artists to lure internet victims into a false relationship extracting money from unsuspecting, unknowing users. The con artist will create a fake profile online with unauthorized photos of seemingly desirable and unattainable prospects for love, marriage, or relationships. The best way to “catch a catfish” is to research their online accounts that may be linked and look for consistency—also, submit one of their photos in Google reverse image search. If you are sure a “catfish” has found you, please report them.
After Julia painted my hair with platinum bleach, she said the process would take about a half-hour or so to process, so while we were waiting, she started my pedicure and continued telling me her story. While she rubbed my feet with a peach-smelling scrub and began soaking them in the warm footbath, Julia told me about her own experience with internet dating.
“I “friended” someone named “Sam” from Louisiana on “TikTok.” I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend; I usually post pictures of everyday things I do just for fun. Sam tried to “friend request” me for a while, but I didn’t notice for months. Once I noticed, I thought he was attractive, and I became interested. We started chatting back and forth long-distance on the site and realized that we liked each other.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. I’m disappointed with dating websites. Aren’t you concerned about being scammed like your grandmother?”
“I thought about that. I decided that’s not going to happen to me! My situation is different. Sam and I have been talking for months. He has never once asked me for money. After about a year of chatting on the site, we met in Florida. Sam drove from Louisiana to meet me there. I made sure I had family and friends around me when I met him. He was everything he described in his Bio. We had a great time in Florida, and we “hit it off.” Sometime in the future, I plan to move down South and be with him.” Did she find her prince charming and the “Happily, ever after?” Who knows?