Dear Annie: Tackling my catfish trauma

Dear Annie: When I was 12 or 13 years old, I had a pen pal in a different state. I’ll call him “Casey.” This was long before anyone had ever heard of the term “catfished.” We wrote several long letters every week and sent many photographs and small gifts. At times, we would speak on the phone. This was pre-cellphone, and I would have to save my allowance and telephone from a phone booth.

I knew all about Casey’s parents and siblings, as he did mine. The correspondence went on for about four years. For me, it was a strong case of puppy love. Then Casey wrote that he was very sick with some type of cancer. The information about this illness was all very vague. Within the year, I received a letter from Casey’s alleged brother, who broke the news that Casey had died.

Several years went by, and I happened to travel to Casey’s state. I thought I’d give his brother a phone call that wouldn’t incur long-distance charges. I was dumbfounded to learn that Casey was very much alive and living across the country. Everything I thought I knew about Casey and his family was a lie, including the fact that Casey was a girl and not a boy. I felt betrayed and deflated.

I am now 70 years old, been happily married for 48 years, and learned that “Casey” lives within an hour’s drive of my home. I was able to Google Casey’s contact information. My question is, should I call Casey? I’d like to dissect the pen pal years and ask questions about why she did this. — Catfished

Dear Catfished: Before you decide, think long, hard and honestly about the expectations you have for a confrontation. What are you hoping to get out of it? There’s a scenario where you express to “Casey” the trauma and pain her deception caused, and you get some answers and a heartfelt, long overdue apology in return.

But I want you to be prepared for the other potential outcomes. It’s possible that she’ll deflect her wrongdoing, dig her heels in and you walk away more frustrated and upset as a result — or with nothing at all. Oftentimes, the people who commit to these sorts of charades are lonely and seeking companionship, though obviously in an inappropriate way. Casey may not even fully understand why she did what she did all these decades ago, which leaves you with more questions than answers.

Ultimately, the only person who knows what’s the right choice is you. It may be your chance to finally release the hold this event has had over you and fully heal, but do proceed with caution. A good therapist can also help you to sort out this trauma and process the effects you still feel today.


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