Anna Rowe’s Anti-Catfishing Petition Misguided

Anna Rowe was duped into a 14-month romance with a married man she met on Tinder who had used a false name and profile picture. The woman, from Canterbury, England, now wants the use of false names on dating websites to be made illegal. What the man—“Antony Ray”—did isn’t unusual online behavior. There’s even a name for it—catfishing—using a fake online persona to trick someone into a relationship. To date, Rowe has persuaded about 40,000 people to sign her online petition on change.org to make catfishing a crime. There has been a lot of coverage about Rowe’s proposals in the British press.

Every minute I look, a hundred or so more supporters have signed the petition. The subject has hit a nerve for anyone who has ever had their heart broken by a lying unfaithful partner. That’s a lot of people. Most likely some of them have lied themselves when they were in other relationships. Tinder is a casual dating site to hook up with people based primarily on how hot their profile photo looks— not the best place to find a long-term partner. It’s a nookie site. Rowe has already met with members of the Metropolitan Police Fraud Squad in London to discuss her proposals. If the man had used his fake profile to ask Rowe for money, or for trolling and posting intimate pictures of her, that would have been a crime under British law, and rightly so. But should the nanny state legislate further to prevent bad judgment in dating, or should it be caveat emptor, or perhaps caveat dater?

Despite my status as a champion of the cheated-upon, I have grave reservations about Rowe’s proposals. Forcing people to give their real names and other personal details in dating profiles could have serious implications for privacy and safety. It would make it much easier for a man to track down a woman he has communicated with online. She might have to endure stalking and other unwanted attention from him. Then, would demanding full disclosure on dating sites spread to other areas of social networking? For example, on meetup.com, a first name is sufficient, and you can have your cat as your profile picture if you don’t want to use your face. I know many women who love engaging in activities on meetup.com but would feel very uncomfortable if they had to post their full names online. Even if a website claims that personal details will be kept private, there is always the risk of a data breach. As Tom Lamont of the Observer reported on February 24, 2016, when the extramarital dating site ashleymadison.com was hacked in 2015, details of 30 million subscribers were made public, causing numerous resignations, divorces and suicides.

Dating profiles are commonly fictionalized. Men tend to lie about their status, not only claiming to be single when they are not, but also saying that they have better jobs than they do in real life. Why? Men have been lying about their marital status and exaggerating their wealth to attract babes since time immemorial. Women tend to lie about their age and their weight. Why? Because they want to attract more men to respond to their post. One man told me he wrote a dating ad asking for a woman brave and honest enough to post a recent picture on her profile. He was rarely able to recognize women he met in person from their online pictures. Another man wanted to marry a woman he met online and have a family together. After living with her for a while, he discovered she was ten years older than she had claimed and could no longer have children. Devastated, he ended the relationship. Should this woman have faced criminal charges for lying online about her age? It would be a slippery slope to legislate that couples must be perfectly honest with each other or face prosecution. After all, a huge percentage of people at one time or another will have lied to a sexual partner, for good or bad reasons.

I’m no fan of infidelity. It always involves dishonesty and betrayal. If the man isn’t lying to the other woman, he’s lying to his wife. If he has multiple mistresses, they are highly unlikely to know about each other. He knows damn well that giving a woman the appearance of being special to him will deepen her bond with him and allow him to get more out of her. In my book, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, I write about how to get over the devastation of betrayal and use the shock of it as a catalyst to move on to a more fulfilling life—with or without a partner. The best revenge is to get past the need for it. Legislating against infidelity is not the answer. Increasing government regulation of how people represent themselves online could have dramatic unforeseen consequences down the road for individual freedom and personal privacy.

You always need a certain amount of common sense and skepticism when engaging in a relationship with a new man, whether online or in person. Nadia Khomami covered Rowe’s story in the Guardian on February 24, 2017. After a long online correspondence, “Antony” eventually sent correct photos of himself and visited Rowe twice a week for six months. For me that would be a huge red flag: why trust a man who has posted fake photos? Secondly, he described himself as a businessman who traveled frequently for work—the classic lie of a philanderer. Rowe threw caution to the wind by having sex with him the first time they met in person. It appears that after dating only a few months, the man asked her to marry him several times and then grew more distant. Not the behavior you’d want in a long-term partner. Rowe saw that Antony Ray was looking for women on Tinder again. She did some digging and discovered that he was a married lawyer who had used a fake name in his profile. He was a dastardly cad who broke her heart, but he wasn’t a criminal.

There are plenty of exceedingly intolerant countries where infidelity is criminalized. Penalties can range from fines to prison to stoning adulterers to death. I’m grateful that I live in the United States, where it is these medieval attitudes towards sexual behavior that would not be tolerated.

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