53-year-old short, balding Alan Stanley tricked twenty-odd-years-younger Emma Perrier into an on-line romantic relationship by “catfishing,” i.e. presenting a false photo (a picture of a young, hunky Turkish model) and a false identity on an Internet matchmaking app called Zoosk.
Pathetic and despicable? Perhaps, but oddly enough, the old deceiver’s trick led to a happy ending (though not actually the one the reader is likely to expect).
The Atlantic has the story.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories sheâ€™d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second â€œoâ€ in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
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She snapped the three selfies the app required to â€œverify her identity.â€ Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the cityâ€™s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love. …
As soon as her dating profile went live, Emmaâ€™s phone started to bleep and whistle with interest from strangers. The app allowed her to gaze at a vast assortment of suitors like cakes in a coffee-shop window, but not interact with them until she subscribed. That evening, a private message arrived in her inbox. It was from a dark-haired Italian named Ronaldo â€œRonnieâ€ Scicluna, who looked to Emma like a high-school crush. …
Ronnie seemed exciting, so she paid the Â£25 ($34) subscription to Zoosk.
Ronnieâ€™s message materialized. It said: â€œYou look beautiful.â€
A rally followed. Emma discovered that she and Ronnie were two lonely Europeans working blue-collar jobs in England. Charming Ronnie attempted a little French, but when Emma wrote to him in Italian, she was surprised that he didnâ€™t speak it. His mother was English, Ronnie explained, his Italian father spoke English too, â€œexcept when he swears.â€
Their conversation moved from Zoosk onto WhatsApp, a free messaging app. Each morning on the train to work, Emma sat glued to her iPhone. She wondered how a guy like him was interested in her. â€œIâ€™m very natural,â€ Emma said. â€œI mean, Iâ€™m nothing. Iâ€™m very simple you know … so I was flattered.â€ In her favorite photograph, Ronnie wore a leather jacket that made him look like a pop star. As a teenager, Emma had obsessed over the British boy band Take That. But Ronnie was the opposite of a celebrity; he was down-to-earth.
â€œYou could easily have picked someone else,â€ Ronnie told her one day.
â€œNo. Youâ€™re the only one I wanted to talk to … I paid because of you,â€ she replied.
â€œAs soon as I saw your picture I wanted you,â€ he wrote.
â€œMakes me happy to know that,â€ Emma replied.
When four red heart emojis appeared on her screen, Emma was thrilled. Unlike her ex-boyfriend, Ronnie seemed mature and attentive. Ronnie was easy on the eyes, funny, and caring, but there was one problem: He did not exist.
Ronaldo Scicluna was a fictional character created by Alan Stanley, a short, balding, 53-year-old shop fitterâ€”a decorator of retail stores. Alan lived alone in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Like one of the Bardâ€™s shape-shifting characters, Alan used a disguise to fool women into romance, and to prevent himself from getting hurt. His alter ego â€œRonnieâ€ was a ladiesâ€™ man, charming, and attractiveâ€”everything Alan was not.