Are You Who You Say You Are?

I used to get a sense of Fetlife friends through what they said. It seemed to be a logical way to go about online relationships, but not everyone was who they seemed to be. Typing that out now makes me feel like an idiot because a seven-year-old would know better than I did.

Someone wasn’t who they said they were on the internet. <mock shock>

I’ve seen a fair number of my partners construct a persona out of my writing. It’s done a metric fuckton of harm to my romantic relationships. I’ve watched them have romances with the person they’ve created out of a fantasy. I’ve watched them become confused when they’ve found out I wasn’t the woman in their imaginations.

You’d think I’d know better than to do the same thing with others.

It’s hard not to see who a person is by what comes out of their keyboards instead of how they behave. In the real world, I pay attention to whether they disappear without paying their bills. I catch their Mean Girl expressions and notice that they’re snippy with waiters. I can’t see that stuff online as easily. It’s not exactly common for people to write posts called, “I’m always an hour late for dates because my time is more important than yours” or “I have enough nemeses to populate a small island.”


I’ve started paying more attention to people’s actions than their words online.

If someone has a handful of abusive friends, they’re telling me something about their values.

If they’re gossiping about Jack to me, they’re gossiping about me to Jack.

If they’re intuitive with my boundaries, they’re probably pretty damned decent.

I don’t think most people try to hide their negative traits. It takes conscious effort to communicate through text what I usually show through my behaviour, and it’s hard to always remember that that’s necessary online. I’m conscious of some of the ways my character differs from my written personae, but people tend to disbelieve me when I tell them the less-than-attractive traits that aren’t visible in my posts.

These days I pay attention to how people behave on a tense thread, how aggressively they disagree, whether they maintain friendships with known abusers, how they behave when they’re at their worst. I expect them to be fallible, but these are the moments when abusers make themselves known. I don’t formulate an opinion about people I meet on Fetlife until I’ve known them for a few months. It’s not easy to assimilate information about online actions, but my intuition is my head telling me it’s collected a bunch of clues and reached a conclusion that hasn’t yet hit me consciously.

Some people have told me who they were in plain English. They said they were diagnosed narcissists, assholes, and nursing active addictions. I didn’t believe any of them. I was wrong, so these days, I believe those confessions. It’s absurd that it took me this long to figure that one out.


One thought on “Are You Who You Say You Are?

  1. Interestingly enough recent research has confirmed that the best way to tell if someone is a narcissist is to ask them.


    The subtly missing with text only communication is serious disadvantage to everyone. Our brain will often fill in the gaps with unrealistic interpretations when the things we often detect through visual and vocal conversations are missing. Forming an incorrect picture of someone is an almost certainty. We’ve all made that mistake and will continue to do it.

    Good judgment relies on a huge sampling of consistent data. You just can’t get a large enough sample from text-only talk. Alas, as you point out, no amount of talk is ever enough. Actions always speak louder than words and eventually reveal the truth about feelings and intentions.


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