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My Boyfriend Of Three Years Has Been Catfishing Me All Along — Should I Dump Him?

"I really love this person, but I’m not sure how I can cope with the fact that they were lying to me all this time."

Hello, world. My name's Stephen LaConte, and this is Hey Stephen — a cozy little corner of the internet where BuzzFeed readers like you can DM me for advice.

Today, we've got this woman who just found out her online boyfriend of three years has been catfishing her with fake photos the whole time. Should she dump him or try to make it work? Here's what she wrote to me, via Instagram:

Screen shot of DM to Stephen LaConte reading, "Should I continue the relationship with a clearly remorseful and guilty person, or should I leave?"

My reply...

You should leave him. I don't think there's any healthy way for you to move forward in this relationship after such a prolonged and consequential deceit. But I know that ending a three-year relationship with someone you love is easier said than done. So I'll give you five reasons to do it — just in case you need that extra push.

Reason #1: You can't trust this guy anymore. He's shown you that he's capable of some really significant, long-term lies. How can you believe anything he says moving forward? If you stayed together, I think you'd frequently find yourself wondering whether what he's telling you is true or just another lie designed to keep you close. You don't need that drama.

A woman squints while looking at her phone.

Reason #2: You really don't know who your boyfriend is. You say that you love this guy, but I think now's the time for you to challenge that notion. Do you really love him, or do you love the fictitious persona he's been hiding behind? What do you actually know about the guy on the other end of the phone?

And I'm sorry to say this, but I doubt that his lies over the past few years were limited to the photos. Are there other ways he might have specifically tailored his digital persona to attract you? I think you need to put everything he's told you about himself under a microscope now — his interests, his life story, his values and beliefs, all of it. What was real? What was fake? And while he was stealing selfies from this random dude's Twitter account, did he lift some biographical details, too?

Reason #3: It sounds, quite frankly, like you're not that into this guy after seeing his real photos. In your DM, you don't explicitly state how you feel about his appearance, but you note that it's in "stark contrast" to what he's presented to you all these years...and then you added a sweaty emoji to boot 😅.

So, let me read between the lines here: It seems like you do not find this man attractive. And that's okay! In fact, it's a perfectly good and valid reason not to be with someone. For most dating people, physical attraction matters. And while it might sting for this guy to get dumped partially based on his looks, that's a rejection he set himself up for the moment he decided to catfish you. Ironically, by choosing to lie out of insecurity over his looks, he's only going to make those insecurities worse. I hope he learns a lesson there, though I'm not sure he will.

A man on his phone

That brings me to reason #4 you should leave this guy: I have trouble believing he's actually that remorseful about catfishing you. You don't mention how you came to learn the truth — whether you caught him somehow, or he confessed it on his own. But it doesn't really matter. Either way, he's had three years to come clean about this before now. And every day for the past three years, he woke up and decided to keep the lie going instead. He let an entire romantic relationship build upon it. You have to wonder how much his deceit could have possibly weighed on him, if he was able to do it for so long. And why is he sorry now, if he wasn't sorry then?

A woman on her phone under a blanket, with her hand on her forehead.

And last, but certainly not least...

Reason #5 to end it: You need to put yourself first. It's clear from your DM that you're a kind, empathetic person who wants to see whatever good may exist in this guy. And I think one reason you're hesitating to dump him is because you don't want to hurt him, or worsen any insecurities he may have about himself. So, let me just say this: It's not your job to protect this person from the consequences of his own wrongdoings. It is your job to look out for yourself, and prioritize your own comfort, happiness, and safety. Please don't be an advocate for the person who hurt you. Be an advocate for yourself. You deserve that much, and a whole lot more.

I'll end this with a PSA for anyone in an online relationship: I have no doubt that these connections can be meaningful, fulfilling, and real. Heck, for some people, they might even be the ideal arrangement! But if you start getting serious with a person on the internet, find a way to verify their identity beyond any doubt. If they won't even hop on a FaceTime call with you, something's fishy. Listen to your gut, pay attention to red flags, and ask for whatever proof you need to feel safe. A person who has your best interests at heart should give it to you.

That's all the advice I've got for today's DM'er, folks. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @stephenlc. And if you happened to miss last week's column, read on!

Last week, we heard from this man, who recently came to terms with the fact that he's bisexual. Should he tell his wife so he can explore it further — maybe even with his gay best friend? Here's what he wrote to me, via Instagram:

Screenshot of message, reading, "What makes it more complicated is that I have pretty strong feelings for my best friend who happens to be gay. ..."

My reply...

There are two separate issues you're grappling with right now: First, is it okay to explore your sexuality by hooking up with men outside your relationship? And second, is it okay to explore the strong feelings you have for your friend by hooking up with him? Those two questions present entirely different complications to your marriage, so they require different answers. Let's break this down.

We'll start with #1: Exploring your sexuality with men. You write that this is something you already know that you need. I think it's valuable that you were able to look inward, be honest with yourself, and come to this realization. That can be hard to do. An even harder thing, of course, will be telling this news to your wife. But you should certainly do that before you start any sort of exploration.

A man with his head in his hands.

Now, just to be clear, I don't think every queer person is required to disclose the full range of their sexuality to their partner. If you were happy to stay monogamous with your wife forever, I think you would be well within your rights to keep your bisexuality private, if that's what you preferred. But you're looking to change the terms of your marriage, and that decision obviously can't be made without your wife's involvement. The alternative would be cheating on her, and of course, I do not recommend that.

So yes, I think you should discuss this with her! Be prepared to answer questions — she's likely to have a few, since you recently got married and this has never come up before. You don't owe her an apology for your sexuality, but you should acknowledge any hurt and confusion that this revelation may cause her, especially given the timing. It might be helpful to explain some of the reasons that you kept this private at first. From there, you should let her know that you'd like to stay in your marriage, but you've also been feeling a need to explore this new and unknown part of who you are.

A man and woman sitting on a couch, not looking at one another.

Of course, I can't tell you how she will respond. Some people would be thrilled at the prospect of opening up their marriage. Some would never do it in a million years. And plenty of others fall somewhere in the middle. Just be sure to give your wife whatever space she needs to process what you're suggesting. Encourage her to make the right decision for herself, in whatever time she needs. There's no need to rush this. Make it clear that you don't want to pressure her into any arrangement that she would eventually come to resent.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the conversation goes smoothly, and you now have an open marriage with full clearance to experiment with men. That brings us to question #2: Should you sleep with your friend?

A man and woman talking while drinking coffee

You write that you have "pretty strong feelings" for this person, so I think you need to consider your actions carefully here. Hooking up with him would be more than just physical; you'd be fostering an emotional connection, too. Even if your wife is okay with you sexually experimenting with other people, is she okay with you actually dating them and forming long-term relationships with them? Maybe she would be, but it's a different calculation that you'd need to make together.

The truth is, there's no "right" way to have an open marriage. Some polyamorous couples have several long-term, emotional relationships with outside partners. Others stick to their spouse for their emotional needs, but have sex with whoever they want. Some couples only allow one-night stands outside the relationship; others are totally fine with repeat partners. Any path is valid, so long as it is thoroughly discussed and enthusiastically agreed upon by both people involved.

A man and woman laying in bed, each on their cell phones.

But you did write in asking for my advice, so what the heck, I'll give it: I think you should avoid sleeping with this friend for now, and try to explore your sexuality with other men first — people with whom your connection is more physical than emotional. I think you'd have a clearer head throughout that process, enabling you to really focus on your own journey of self-discovery, untethered from your feelings about any specific guy. And your wife might take some comfort in remaining your sole emotional partner. That is, after all, slightly closer to the arrangement she originally signed up for. If your wife is willing to open up your marriage at all, this seems like an easier, lower-stakes path to start.

A man and woman holding hands

And that brings me to my last point: I really hope you and your wife can find an arrangement that works, but it absolutely must work for both of you. If your wife does ultimately consent to letting you explore outside your marriage, please make sure she is genuinely comfortable with it. Heck, maybe she'll be interested in sleeping with other people herself, which of course, would be fair enough.

But if you sense that your wife is at all uncomfortable, that she's only going along with an open marriage because she's terrified of losing you, then it's time to pump the brakes and consider alternatives like marriage counseling, a trial separation, or even divorce. I hope that splitting up isn't the outcome here — but it would certainly be better than an unhappy relationship. Good luck. I'm rooting for both of you.

Got a problem you want solved in this column? DM me! My inbox is always open. Just read the fine print below first.

THE FINE PRINT:

All DMs sent to me are for publication on BuzzFeed only. I do not respond to individual messages or provide any advice one-on-one. Please don't submit a question unless you want it published on BuzzFeed. We'll always keep you anonymous. You must be 16 or older to submit. Also, please try to keep your DMs as concise as possible. Instagram has a limit of 1,000 characters per message. Try to fit your whole problem in one message if you can. It will greatly increase your chances of getting picked!  If you want, here's a handy character counter you can use to draft your question before DM'ing it to me. Thanks, y'all!

PS: If you've got any advice for today's DM'er, sound off in the comments! I'll be reading...