Reading time: 6 mins
By Ellen Kirkpatrick
I didn’t actually realise my date was catfishing me until after the date. I met him on the street outside a bar in Notting Hill, and my initial reaction was, “oh, he’s shorter than I thought he’d be.” He had dark hair, and a face that wasn’t overly handsome, but not ugly. When pressed by a friend, I’d put him at a six out of ten. Really, not bad.
He went in for a double kiss, stamped out his cigarette, and opened the door for me into the crowded bar. It was full of early-thirties, well-dressed people holding long drinks. We got gin and tonics – “Oh you like gin and tonic? I always drink gin and tonic!” – and stood beside the bar to chat. Somehow within the first few minutes of conversation he’d managed to show me all of his tattoos. He showed me photos on his phone of the tattoos that weren’t accessible. One was a tattoo of his birth stone. It was a splodge of colour underneath the dark hair on his calf.
He told me his family owned three Italian restaurants in Notting Hill. He helped out at the restaurants most evenings, which was why our date started after nine this evening, on a Thursday. His profile on Tinder had said “Investment Banker”, so I asked him about that, and he told me that he’d just finished his university degree but hadn’t gotten a job yet, so he was just “helping out” at his parents’ restaurant in the meantime.
We discussed travelling – a lot of his Tinder photos had been in exciting destinations abroad. One, a shot of him eating ice cream on a street in New York City, with a yellow cab in the background. Another photo showed him in front of a temple in Indonesia, with a monkey on his shoulder. In both photos he was wearing distinctive Clubmaster sunglasses, the same ones he wore in all his photos.
He told me he’d just come back from New York, where his friend was starting a fashion label and had asked him to model some of the pieces, for lack of anyone else. He seemed embarrassed about it before saying, “Want to see the photos?” and then showed me a few snaps of him wearing smart shirts and trousers. They were typical street style shots, posed as if he was crossing a street, or hailing a cab, or walking through Central Park. They were beautifully shot and very cool.
After one drink he asked me if I’d mind joining him outside. I obliged, following him back into the cold, where we continued chatting while he smoked. We decided against going back into the bar – it was busy, and too loud – and instead he told me he’d take me to one of the Italian restaurants, where we could get wine and dessert, since we’d both eaten.
As we crossed the street, two older Italian men hailed my date, and we stopped. “Oh, sorry, that’s my dad,” he told me, before greeting his father and the other man with kisses. The three of them launched into a conversation in Italian while I stood there, arms folded across my chest, feeling misplaced. Eventually he introduced his father and uncle to me. They were both drunk. We moved on, heading into the restaurant.
Inside, his cousin greeted us in Italian and took us to a table. We shared a bottle of wine and sampled a few desserts from the menu, all ordered by my date in Italian to his cousin. He told me more about his family – his mother was French; they owned a house in Sardinia; his sister had moved to Australia to travel and work. He was interesting, and seemed genuine, and there were no awkward pauses in the conversation.
It was getting late, so when we’d finished the wine I told him I’d better get home. As we left the restaurant and walked to Ladbroke Grove station, he pointed out and then approached a middle-aged woman. His mother. She was standing outside a restaurant, smoking. They talked in French, he introduced me, and then we continued towards the station, with him apologising that I’d accidentally met both of his parents on the first date. I managed to joke about it and shrugged it off.
We both lived in Shepherds Bush, so we caught the tube together, chatting, and then he walked me from the tube station to my door, and kissed me goodnight. I didn’t have a big spark, or butterflies in my stomach, but as I went inside I knew I’d had a pretty good time, and I thought that I’d definitely like to see him again. I’ll admit it helped that he spoke French and Italian, could get free service in three Italian restaurants in Notting Hill, and had a house in Sardinia. I was willing to overlook the awkward moments of meeting both his parents on the first date.
As I got into bed, I reopened Tinder, to reread through our initial conversations and compare my first impressions with the real person. I looked through his photos – the ice cream in NYC, the monkeys in Bali – and compared them to the single close-up selfie on his profile.
The man in the travel shots was definitely taller than my date. With the Clubmaster sunglasses on he bore a striking resemblance, but it wasn’t the same person. I opened Google and reverse image-searched the picture of the man with the ice cream in New York City. The original source of the photo was from a blog. I scrolled through the Instagram of this American street style blogger, realising that every “good” photo of my date was actually this blogger. His profile on Tinder had contained only one photo of himself – a shot with the same Clubmaster sunglasses, and his hand half-covering his face.
I sent him a text message thanking him for a good night, and then had the following conversation with him over text message:
Me: Hey, random question.
Me: Do you know a guy called Adam Gallagher?
Him: Haha how do you know him? He’s my cousin.
Me: Hah. That’s so random.
Him: He’s a model. Well a proper one. Why do you ask?
Me: Just curious.
Him: Haha please don’t tell me you’re more attracted to him. Even though we pretty much look the same haha.
Him: Don’t three dot meeee
Me: Haha then explain Adam Gallagher.
Him: How do you mean?
Me: You know.
Him: I know what?
Me: Why are all your tinder pictures of your “cousin”?
Here, I showed him an example of an image on his Tinder profile, and its first occurrence on Adam Gallagher’s Instagram.
Him: Haha oh shit! My bad! Must have clicked on it by mistake. We’ve done a few shoots together, so when I received mine I got them all in one go.
Me: Haha okay. Show me a pic of you two together.
Me: Seriously dude
Him: Haha sorry I fell asleep. Let me find you one.
He didn’t reply.
So… this is probably where I should have ditched the fish. But I discussed it with my friends. “He’s got a holiday home in Sardinia,” I told them. “His family has three Italian restaurants in Notting Hill. He was really nice, and we got along well! But also… I think he’s actually insane? Like, I think he’s a legit sociopath.” One of my friends – the one in a relationship who lives vicariously off my hilarious single life – told me to go for it. Others were unsure.
The next night, I was out for drinks at my local pub in Shepherds Bush. I was drunk, and after a day of chatting to my friends about the Catfish, I decided I wanted to meet him again, to see if he was worth the potential craziness. Or, maybe I was just drunk and fancied a hook up. So I drunk texted Catfish. He was out too, but heading home, so when the pub closed I followed his directions to his house. He lived with his mum, which he’d conveniently left out of previous conversation. He let me into his room, which was messy, with an oversized TV shoved on top of a chest of drawers. He was sitting on his windowsill, smoking. I think we watched something shit on his too-big TV.
I woke up the next morning with a hangover. He was still asleep, but I realised more than anything I didn’t want to wake up next to him and go through that awkward morning chat with this potential-psychopath. Sure, in person he seemed normal, but some part of this guy was clearly insane. Oh, and the sex was just not worth the possibility of him murdering me. Plus, who knew if he was lying about his family’s home in Sardinia? I got changed, and crept out of his house, terrified I’d run into his mum.
Before writing this article, I sent him a message to see if he wanted to say anything, but he didn’t respond. I also checked on his Instagram, to see if he was still using Adam Gallagher’s photos. He isn’t, anymore, but he now has 20,000 followers. His very own street style shots amass a few hundred likes each. Maybe one day, someone will use his photos to catfish another unsuspecting Tinder date.