Nev Schulman, host of MTV’s “Catfish: The TV Show,” only found his true self after someone hid their own from him.
In the 2010 documentary “Catfish,” Schulman exposed a troubled housewife in the Midwest who had lured him into an online relationship by posing as a gorgeous young woman.
In his new book, “In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age” (Grand Central), Schulman reveals his own dirty little secrets by way of encouraging everyone to be more honest about themselves.
“I was a d—,” the 29-year-old says. “I always put other people down. And I was aggressively flirtatious with single and not-single women.”
Schulman, who with his brother Ariel (Rel), owned a photo/film production agency in New York that became even hotter after the success of the documentary, decided to change his ways when he landed the television show “Catfish” in 2012.
He did so by becoming celibate and quitting Facebook.
“I knew this was my window of opportunity, this was the moment that if I was ever going to grow up and become the guy I wanted to be, it was now,” Schulman says.
“I was spending too much time pursuing women and other distractions.”
The celibacy ended after 265 days when he found himself in a meaningful relationship with indie musician Shanee Pink. But he has never returned to Facebook, except for a fan page. These days he’s wary of false selves.
“If you are on Facebook, Instagram or any social media that requires an online identity and profile, even if you are totally honest, you are still not representing your true self,” says Schulman. “You are curating who you are.”
Schulman and co-host Max Joseph have spent three seasons on “Catfish” introducing “hopefuls” to the cruel reality of their online relationships. Often they find that even if they’re not the victim of an outright hoax, the person they’ve fallen into a virtual romance with has been lying about one or more critical matters.
Manti Te’o, now an NFL linebacker, became the subject of national ridicule in 2013 when it was revealed that the girlfriend whose tragic death he had sobbed about before the cameras was actually a man who had been duping him online for years.
But Schulman says most catfishing begins with lesser deceptions that grow. And in many cases, the victim is looking for a fraudulent relationship too, though they wouldn’t put it that way.
“What many people are looking for in an online relationship is a very specific, very controlled level of affection. It’s a very selfish way to go into a relationship. But they do that because they are not willing to take their real selves into the real world.”
Schulman freely admits that his own feelings of inadequacy made him vulnerable to the overtures of Angela Wesselman, the 39-old-housewife who first posed as an 8-year-old girl and then her 19-year-old sister, Megan, to draw Schulman into a romantic relationship online.
Wesselman, exposed in the documentary “Catfish,” obviously had her problems. But Schulman stresses that what catfishers and hopefuls have in common is that neither is willing to deal with the personal issues that stand in the way of having a meaningful relationship in real life.
“Hopefuls and catfish are two sides of the same coin,” he writes. “I thought I could put all the negative stuff away in a box — the hypersexuality, the lack of focus, the general d—ishness — and work on trying to be the good person I hoped to be.”
The problem was that it was so much easier to pass himself off as a better person online than to become one in real life.
Schulman says he quit Facebook because he wanted actual rather than virtual friendships. And love. He was finally willing to make changes that were much harder than merely glossing his profile.
“It was the single best decision I’ve ever made,” he says. “Being loved, or liked for your real self... is worth anything you have to do to get there.”