We’ve all experienced the post-breakup rough spot where all feels pretty hopeless. It can be easy to give up on love and putting yourself out there again can seem like an impossible task.
Back in 2015, Emma Perrier was dealing with a broken heart of her own, and like many of us in the throes of going through a breakup, she spent a few months hiding out at home and watching a lot of depressing and sappy movies.
But then, she had had enough of wallowing. She decided to take a chance and get back out there, never expecting that she would be in for a wild ride…
Emma braved the world of online dating for the first time
By now, most of us are aware of the difficulties of online dating. The world of Internet dating apps is broad, and not without danger at times.
Emma was already suspicious of online dating apps. Rather than go for the notorious Tinder app, she settled on downloading the dating app Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which is signaled that the app’s demographic seemed interested more serious relationships than the casual hookups Tinder seems suited for.
Emma got started by taking the collection of selfies necessary when registering her profile to “verify her identity.” Meeting men was not easy for Emma, who worked long hours as a restaurant manager for a coffee shop. She was not a regular dweller at pubs and nightclubs either, which complicated things in her quest for love.
She could do this. had just gone through a bad breakup. She was ready for what was next and so began her journey in the world of dating apps.
“I’m a romantic,” Emma told The Atlantic, two years later. “I love to love,” she said, in a thick French accent. “And I want to be loved too.”
At first, it seemed promising
Emma was a pretty woman, and she got responses as soon as her profile was posted. And then, a private message from a dark-haired Italian man named Ronaldo “Ronnie” Scicluna, who reminded her of a high school crush. The message was blurred by the app, so she was not able to read it until she paid the fee.
After discussing it with her sister, she finally paid the £25 ($34) subscription to Zoosk so she could open the message.
Ronnie’s message simply said: “You look beautiful.”
According to his profile, Ronnie was a 34-year-old electrician in England’s West Midlands, just 100 miles away from her own location.
At first, she didn’t notice the red flags
What followed was a quick connection. Ronnie and Emma both worked blue collar jobs and were too lonely Europeans looking for a soulmate. In an effort to impress her, he sent her a few words in French, her native language. However, when Emma returned the favor by sending him a message in Italian, Ronnie did not understand it, which surprised her.
In retrospect, that was a red flag.
Ronnie and Emma moved their correspondence from Zoosk to WhatsApp, a free messaging app, where they would text daily as Emma commuted to work. She wondered how a handsome man like Ronnie could be so into her.
I’m very natural. I mean, I’m nothing. I’m very simple you know … so I was flattered.
Emma Perrier in The Atlantic
“You could easily have picked someone else,” Ronnie told her one day.
“No. You’re the only one I wanted to talk to … I paid because of you,” she replied.
“As soon as I saw your picture I wanted you,” he wrote.
“Makes me happy to know that,” Emma replied.
The only problem was, Ronnie didn’t exist
Ronaldo Scicluna was a fictional character created by Alan Stanley, a short, balding, 53-year-old shop fitter. He created the persona as a way of protecting himself from rejection.
“I was in a pretty lonely place,” he told The Atlantic. “I wasn’t feeling the most attractive of people, I might say. You know, I always struggled with self-confidence and … I was going through a messy separation and I was just feeling like I needed somebody to talk to.”
He used an image of a male model he found on Google to create his false persona. “I’m always nervous about posting personal images of myself,” he explained. “I just don’t like pictures of me. It goes back a long way, to be honest.”
Emma’s profile was the first he saw. He was as captivated by her as she was by the fake version of him.
Emma was being catfished
His flirting with Emma soon progressed to late-night telephone calls. In October of 2015, she wrote how happy she had become since “meeting” him.
“Are you not usually happy, stinky?” he asked.
“I am,” she said, “but you changed something.”
They both agreed to delete the dating app and Emma tried to push for an in-person date. But he kept on putting her off by using excuses.
“It’s hard to keep everyone happy,” Ronnie complained. “Dad loves me working and wants me to keep doing better. Mum wants me to quit. She worries about me. My health. Stress. Dad thinks I handle it well.”
“I think what you need is a [girlfriend] to look after you,” said Emma.
Do you want to know why I started online dating?” she asked him one night. “Because I wanted to … meet that someone and to start something with that someone … not to have a broken heart … which is even more painful when you have never met someone.”
“Me too,” said Ronnie. “We both want the same thing.”
“Give me a date then,” Emma wrote. “I will suit your availability.”
She waited for his reply.
“I don’t think you realize how difficult it is for me to get time off,” he wrote.
“Just a dinner to start with,” Emma begged. “I can do the travel … then if the connection is really there we will find a way.”
“Do you think it will be there?” he asked.
“I have never been so sure.”
“Do you have faith in us?” he asked.
“It could work perfectly well,” Emma wrote.
“And I love you,” he wrote.
“And I love you too,” she replied.
Emma’s coworkers and friends kept asking why they never met her boyfriend, and Emma was beginning to wonder what was going on too. Alan’s excuses were running thin.
Her friends made her realize
One night, Emma was at work, closing the restaurant with a Spanish waiter named Abraham. Emma shared how she badly wanted to meet her mysterious boyfriend. Abraham responded: “But Emma, the guy doesn’t want to meet you … maybe it’s not even him.”
Emma said they’d talked on the phone.
Abraham said her boyfriend was “probably an old man.”
Then he said he’d heard about an app that could help.“He could be a psycho,” he added
Soon, Emma’s family recommended she stop talking to Ronnie. He had refused to meet her after six months, they said. “I didn’t want to listen to them,” Emma said.
But one evening after work, she downloaded an app called Reverse Image Search as a way of finding the original source of a profile photo.
“Believe me I was scared to use it for the first time,” Emma said. She uploaded the photograph of Ronnie wearing his leather jacket. Within seconds, she learned the man in the photo was a a model and actor from Turkey, called Adem Guzel.
“Do you have anything to tell me about Adem Guzel?” she wrote in a text message.
“It is me,” Alan replied, thinking fast. Those were his modeling pictures, he said. He’d once used another name. “It was a long time ago,” he promised.
Alan was still lying. “I would have lost someone that I really treasured,” he said.. But Emma said he needed to reveal himself through a FaceTime call. He categorically refused, saying FaceTiming was for kids.
But Emma had problems giving up the fantasy
“I couldn’t believe it because, you know … when you talk to someone every day, and you share your life … he was my confidente,” Emma said.
She eventually discovered Alan’s true identity when he accidentally sent an email using his real name. She started to investigate.
“I knew,” Emma said. She typed Alan’s email address into Google.
Right then, she found everything she needed to know. “Everything, everything,” she sighed. “His Twitter accounts. Where I’ve seen his face.”
It was devastating and I felt sick. You have no idea how much I’ve been hurt inside.
She then called Alan. “Is your real name Alan?” Emma asked.
Alan finally came clean. “I could not be any more apologetic,” he said. “I told her everything.”
It was, Alan said, a “big error of judgment, the worst and biggest mistake of my life.” But even in his telling of “the truth,” Alan told Emma he was 50, shaving off a few years.
Alan finally sent her a real photograph of himself, wrinkles and all. “It might sound cruel what I’m going to say,” Emma told me, “but I carried on talking with him, after I knew who he was, only because I wanted to know why he did that to me,” Emma said. “I’m 34 at the time, but maybe another girl, when she finds out, she could maybe go too far, maybe kill herself.” After the big reveal, Emma asked Alan if he wanted to meet her. “I really wanted to go, to end the story,” she said. But was Alan dangerous?
To protect others, she reached out to the Turkish model
Emma decided that she needed to protect others from this happening to them, and so, she sent a Facebook message to the Turkish model Alan had been impersonating:
“Hello Adem, we don’t know each other but a year ago I met a guy online and that man is using your picture and pretends he is you under another name. I wasn’t sure if getting in touch with you was a good idea but I needed you to know, kind regards, Emma.”
Adem, who was 35 at the time, almost ignored it as he received a lot of messages on the daily. But something told him to reply.
After reading Emma’s message, he wrote back. “And the conversation just started,” Adem said. He was furious when he heard how Alan had treated Emma. So he had a video call.
“It was crazy,” she said. “I wasn’t sure it was him, I was always in doubt.” And he was nervous too!
I never do FaceTiming. But somehow I wanted to do it with her.
Adem Guzel in The Atlantic
“You are so real,” Emma said, crying. “You really exist!”
Emma and Alan ultimately met for some closure and had a good talk. “We talk, talk, talk,” Emma said. She asked him about drinking whiskey with his father. Was even that true? “ He said his dad passed away a few years ago.
Her Prince Charming turned out to be real after all
But in the meantime, Emma’s connection with the Turkish model Adem was developing into something more.
She invited Adem to London. She wasn’t going to waste time on another long distance guy! “It wasn’t to flirt, believe me,” Emma insisted. Adem said yes immediately.
On March 31, 2017, Emma sent her catfish a goodbye text message:
“Alan I wanted to tell you that tomorrow I’m going to pick up Adem at the airport. And I still don’t know if it’s good or bad but I’m going to meet ‘my Ronnie.’ You built up all this shit, I’m not sure if I should thank you or detest you for that. But this is happening.”
She then picked up Adem at the airport the next day. “I was really nervous,” Adem said.
Right there and then, Emma decided to kiss him.
“Three minutes later I felt like I know her a long time,” Adem said. The chemistry was undeniable. She gave him a key to her apartment, and together they went sight-seeing around London. Later, when Adem opened his suitcase, Emma saw the the leather jacket from her favorite photograph!
Soon, their fairytale-like story was everywhere.
“My catfish became cupid,” Emma told the Daily Mirror, “And now we’re living happily ever after.”
Today, the couple lives together in London. “He’s lovely,” Emma said, “He’s a lovely man.”
While Emma could have given up on love, she decided to keep an open mind, even after the traumatic