Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Keep My Friend From Getting Catfished?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I know this isn’t particularly about dating and relationship but I just really need some third party advice right now. A best mate of mine has been online dating ever since he got separated from his wife after having found out she had been cheating on him. 1-2 months into the separation, he met this girl online who is a lot younger than he (he’s middle-aged). After a few months of them chatting and talking on phone, he told me he was falling in love with her and they were going to meet in real life very soon. I personally don’t ever believe in falling in love with someone I have never met in person. Connection, yes. But love? I’m skeptical. But in saying that, being a good friend to him, I told myself not to judge and impose my own opinion on him because we’re all different after all. So I just congratulated him and said that I was very happy for him (given his recent broken home situation).

Then came the day she was supposed to fly over to see him (they live in different state), she pulled the pin a few days earlier due to some medical issue. I grew suspicious but still gave her the benefit of the doubt because it was only the first time. But I asked him anyway, that if he had ever Skyped her yet. And he said yes, they Skyped once. So I was certain that at least her identity (appearance-wise) was real. Then her medical condition got more dramatic in that she would have to go to hospital for treatment every weekend. So that sort of makes it challenging for him to even fly over to see her himself. Her excuse is that she would never know when she would be next in order to meet him because she has to constantly move back and forth between home and hospital (a few hours each way). After hearing this, I asked him to be cautious in that he should stop investing more into this ‘relationship’ emotionally until he can actually see her in real life. I went as far as stating that she may be real, but her circumstances may not. And I could see him taking offences by that, though he did not say it out loud. He just said that they had been talking on phone for one and a half hours everyday. I personally thought that that meant nothing but stopped pushing anyway, knowing that since he had started to get defensive, it would only get worse if I kept being pushy.

So my question is, do you have any advice as to what I should do? Should I just let him be or try to push harder? Because to me, he seems to really want to believe in this relationship, even though there’s little chance of them meeting any time soon. He does understand that the longer he waits, the more he would start to idealize her, which is a bad thing. But other than that, I still don’t know how I can advice him to not invest more into this before meeting her in person.

Will really appreciate your advice

A Concerned Mate

DEAR A CONCERNED MATE: You have a good heart, ACM. The problem is your friend’s heart. Specifically: the fact that he’s listening to that and not his brain. Your buddy has been handed a fantasy and he wants to believe it. And therein lies the problem. See, right now he has two choices: he can either buy into the fantasy that this amazing, younger woman loves him and needs him and only the vagaries of fate keep them apart… or he can listen to nagging part of his brain (and, by extension, you) and think that this mysterious long-distance lover is actually a cruel trick. Considering his real life circumstances, I’m not terribly surprised he’s choosing to believe in the beautiful dream.

And the problem is… you can’t really do anything about it. Unfortunately, Sam Cooke’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” is pretty much a documentary, especially the lyric “turn his back on his best friend who puts her down.” Your buddy wants to believe, ACM because she offers him hope that there’s life and love after having his heart broken.

You are right to be incredibly suspicious. Those last minute swerves of “I can’t see you because REASONS” are a hallmark of catfishing. So too is the fact that her life seems to have more drama than a Lifetime made-for-tv movie. Were I you, I would start playing a little Internet Detective on her and her background. Start with the basics. What do you find if you do a basic Google search? Does she have any sort of a digital footprint at all? What about social media? Does she have a Facebook account? What about Twitter or Instagram? How active is she, and does she have friends who aren’t obvious bots? Do a reverse Google Image search on her photos and see what comes up.

If you want to go the extra mile, I’d start asking questions. Ask to talk to her next time your friend brings her up. Or friend her on Facebook. I would also ask more questions about your buddy’s Skype session with her. Did he actually see her? Or was it just a voice chat because “her webcam doesn’t work”?  Or perhaps a seriously janky video connection that froze a lot?

I would suggest keeping a file – screenshots, links, etc. – of what you find and sit on it. Right now, it sucks that somebody is playing a game on your friend, but until he is willing to question things, there’s not much you can do. However, if this starts to escalate – if, for example, she suddenly has “bills” she can’t pay or is in dire straights because of her “health issues”, then it’s time to take your friend aside with the file and have an intervention. A broken heart is painful, but you can recover from it. Giving money, on the other hand, takes things to another level. Some catfishers prey on lonely men and women and scam them for money they can ill-afford to lose. If it gets to that point – or he’s going to pay for her to come see him or fly to go see her – then it’s time to give him all the proof you have that she’s fake.

He won’t appreciate it. He’ll probably be pissed at you. But better that you risk a friendship that you can repair later than he end up throwing money at a fraudulent fantasy.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I recently started having this relationship with a girl, who was friend of a friend. We like each other and we have a lot in common. After going out a few times and kissing and having a little physical contact,we ended up having a talk about we wanted this relationship to go. I thought it was obvious, we both have expressed that we like each other and feel very comfortable with each other.

Turns out that in the past she has dated a few jerks that have either just left her at random or cheated on her. And after months being “at something,” she is still insecure about starting a formal relationship. She says that it´s not because she wants to have something casual or that she doesn’t want to get involved, but she has a hard time getting into a relationship.

I know that it must be hard for her, but this relationship is getting too friendly, and it’s already been four months. I’m starting to get insecure about us and about her, and I really believe that it’s getting toxic and might end up killing this relationship if neither just goes from being friends with benefits to an actual couple. I’ve talked with her if this is just a casual thing for her, yet she insists that she has strong feelings for me.

So, how do I turn all this friendliness into a romance, and this “we are at something” situation into a relationship? Thanks a lot in advance,  

Wanting More

DEAR WANTING MORE: I’m not entirely sure what the problem is here, WM. Your not-quite girlfriend has made it pretty clear that she really likes you, she likes spending time with you, she likes making out with you…  so it’s just the label that’s the problem? Seriously?

Look, dude, she’s been hurt before and now she’s a little gun-shy. She just needs time to feel secure before being in a full-blown, Facebook-official relationship. Pushing to upgrade your status to “at something” to “boyfriend/girlfriend” isn’t going to make her feel more comfortable with you; in fact, it’ll do the opposite and push her away.

Right now, the best thing you can do is lay out how you feel for her without giving her demands. Tell her, for the record, that you really like her, you want this relationship to be more serious/committed/official. Then let it go, so she can do her thing and get more comfortable with both you and the possibility of being in a for real, changed-the-relationship-status-and-everything relationship with you. The way you can turn this “at something” into a full-blown romance is prove to her that you’re someone she can trust and let her guard down around. And the way to do that? Give her the room and space she needs.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,