By JENNIFER K. BAUERNev Schulman’s life changed the day he decided to meet the woman he had fallen in love with.
Schulman fell in love online. He’d never seen or spoken to the woman face to face. When he showed up unannounced on her doorstep, the hot 19-year-old he expected turned out to be a depressed 40-year-old married mother who had woven an intricate web of lies with multiple Facebook accounts and text messages.
All this happened in front of a camera and can be seen in the 2010 documentary “Catfish” made by Schulman and his brother. They ended up coining a term for a social media-era dating wrinkle. A catfish pretends to be someone they’re not by using social media to create false identities with the intent of hooking others into an online relationship.
The issue received national attention last year when it came to light that college football star Manti Te’o was the subject of a hoax involving a woman he fell in love with online. During the 2012 season he was led to believe she died and spoke of his grief to national media. It turned out she never really existed. He’d never met her in person.
Schulman turns 30 this month. Manti Te’o is 23. They are members of a generation living life filtered through touchscreens and keyboards, falling in love through emoticons, exclamation points and fragmented sentences. Schulman has become the go-to expert on catfishing. He’s the star of MTV’s hit series “Catfish,” now filming its fourth season, which features him traveling the country helping lovelorn social media addicts root out cons.
Last week he released his first book, “In Real Life: Love, Lies and Identity in the Digital Age.” He will speak and sign copies at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23 in the Compton Union Building Senior Ballroom at Washington State University.
“In Real Life” is being touted as a guide to love and life in the digital era. Drawing from his personal story, Schulman gives his opinions on what motivates catfish and why people fall for them, how to avoid being deceived, how to turn an online relationship into a real-life one and “the power of the digital detox.”
In an excerpt published online by MTV from the chapter “Less is More,” Schulman offers smitten men alternatives to the sexts or “junk shots” they might be considering sending their love interest. Among them are giving her a handwritten note, buying or picking her flowers, or (gasp) actually calling her and speaking to her on the phone.