On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Actually, nobody knows you at all. So it's easy to create an Internet identity that reflects what you want to be — someone much smarter and sexier than you are in real life. Just lie a bit about yourself and use a photo that is photoshopped, misleadingly cropped, or not of you at all.
This sort of thing is a minefield when it comes to online romance. Do you want to risk the possibility that the one who falls in love with you is Loving a Shadow rather than the real person that you are? What about the odds that you are running afoul of that yourself?
If a guy uses a female online identity to romance someone, this trope overlaps with G.I.R.L., or perhaps he's a Cross Player if it's literally his avatar in a game. This likely adds Incompatible Orientation to the other problems already associated with this sort of deception.
Compare Unseen Pen Pal, which may explore similar themes.
- In .hack//SIGN, Tsukasa and Subaru start a relationship while Tsukasa's consciousness is stuck in the virtual reality game called "The World". As it turns out, Tsukasa is actually a girl in the real world, instead of the boy her avatar was, due to self-loathing and wanting to escape due to her abusive father. Luckily, Subaru doesn't mind and after the anime, when Tsukasa is freed from the game, they get together in the real world.
- Belle: The protagonist tracks down a hacker who had crashed her concert out of concern that he was hurt. Just like its source material and the other adaptations Belle draws from, her entering his castle is framed like a date, and she even tries to romantically kiss him before he cringes away. Good thing, too, because he's younger than her in real life.
- Btooom!: Ryota's and Himiko's Btooom! avatars are married and it turns out they really are who they thought they were!
- Recovery of an MMO Junkie revolves around two MMO players who fall in love, but with a twist; they're both using avatars of a different gender, and neither wants to admit it. However, the main issue for both of them is their guilt over lying rather than worrying about the other's identity — in fact, Moriko already seemed to be crushing on Lily before realising she was played by a guy, but didn't mind at all when she found out.
- Catfish is a Documentary all about this. A New Yorker strikes up a romance over Facebook with a girl from Michigan only to find that she, and all of her friends, and all of their friends are Sock Puppets for an eccentric middle-aged mother.
- In Avatar, Neytiri would never have started dating Jake if he had been in his real body. Eventually resolved by him Becoming the Mask.
- In Hard Candy, this goes both ways. We have this charming guy and this sweet young girl, and they have so much in common. But they are both faking it. They are really predators, trying to lure each other into a trap.
- In Chatroom, the female lead starts falling for the male lead, based only on how he has presented himself online. The reality is far darker than she is willing to see.
- The impetus of the plot of Sex Drive, where the main character has been lying about being some handsome buff guy and owning a classic 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge... which actually belongs to his brother. Subverted in that she was lying about many of her details and assumed he was too. Double Subverted because it was all a plot to steal his car.
- In Slave Jade, the protagonist is a sexually submissive woman who start spending online time with a sexually dominant man. She likes the things he writes to her about BDSM; she finds it insightful and sexy. However, the guy is a totally clueless social misfit who only manage to comes across as insightful and sexy by copy-pasting insightful and sexy things that other people have written and pretending that he wrote it himself. When he kidnaps her, the author portrays him as a total creep. She ends up shooting him, and after barely surviving the wound and blood loss from the bullet he ends up in jail. The book ends with her having recovered and decides to start looking for a new master — determined to find a good one this time, and concluding that giving up BDSM because of the bad experience with the creep would give him far more power over her life than he's worth.
- Will #2 aka "gay Will" of Will Grayson, Will Grayson gets his storyline kicked off by going to meet Isaac, an AIM buddy that he's fallen in love with. Isaac turns out to be a front for a female friend. To say that Will is heartbroken and angry by this would be an understatement.
- In Beastly, Kyle tries to get around the whole looking like a monster thing by looking to date a girl online. Kendra tells him that it would never work out the way he wants it to, because while relationships can start online, he'd have to meet the girl in real life eventually, if he wants to break the curse. She then points out how Kyle posted several lies (or at least stretched truths) about himself online, to try to be more appealing to potential girlfriends. After that conversation, Kyle uses his magic mirror to see what the online twenty-something-year-old girls look like in real life. They turn out to be an old man, a middle-aged police officer, and a twelve-year-old girl, to name just a few. The young girl gets pissy when Kyle calls her out on her charade.
- In Ready Player One, Art3mis breaks off her relationship with Parzival because she feels that he doesn't know the real her at all. Her personality is exactly the same, and her looks are the same except for a birthmark on her face. He loves her anyway.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "I Robot, You Jane", Willow once dated her nice charming chat-buddy Malcolm... who was actually a incorporeal murderous demon possessing the computer system.
- How I Met Your Mother: Ted meets a girl through World of Warcraft. She turns out to be completely crazy.
- Earth☆Star Voyager plays this trope straight, but in reverse chronological order from usual. Priscilla is the ship's computer, a large box of plastics and metals. Thus, Huxley is simply annoyed when she falls in love with him. However, when she shows him the picture of the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter that her personality was based on (possibly recorded from), he's amazed that a woman who looks like that would go for him. (Which doesn't change the fact that this Priscilla is, and always has been, plastics and metal.)
- Date My Avatar is a Spanish television format that runs on this concept. Two people train 'avatar' actors to behave like they would do on a date, and the two 'avatars' go on a date with each other on behalf of each participant, while they watch separately the whole thing. After the end of the date, the two participants finally meet and decide if they want to stay together after what they have seen.
- Catfish: The TV Show is all about exposing people who catfish others.
- Played with in Basshunter's 'Boten Anna' where the singer gets a crush on what he thinks is a IRC bot, only to be heartbroken to find out that it's actually a real life girl admin.
- The Guild's song "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?" is the Trope Namer. See page quote.
- Bad Religion's song "I love my computer" rolls with this. "...'cause you are just a number and a clever screen name."
- "Online" by Brad Paisley is about a lonely guy who never even managed to get to "second base" and who want women to see him for who he is... online!
Online I live in Malibu
I posed for Calvin Klein
I've been in GQ
I'm single and I'm rich
And I got a set of six pack abs that'll blow your mind
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening has this come up as part of its Chain of Deals. One part of the chain has you taking a letter from a lady (after you give her a hibiscus flower) to Mr. Write, her Pen Pal on the other side of the island. When he opens the letter, he shows you that she sent a picture of herself. The only problem? The picture is of Princess Peach — but his Unseen Pen Pal is really a goat-woman.
- This xkcd strip demonstrates how the internet makes you appear smarter.
- This one has a more romantic theme.
- Dave once had an online girlfriend who turned out to be an artificial intelligence. He didn't consider this a dealbreaker, but it still didn't work out.
- Hilariously subverted with Artie the literal Intelligent Gerbil, who had a brief bout of mutual-UST with someone he met via BBS. She broke it off to avoid revealing she was really an Intelligent Hamster. It wouldn't have worked anyway, as a few story arcs later Artie would eventually come to terms with the fact that he was gay.
- The Dilbert character Wally takes this one step further. When approached by an attractive real life female, he refuses, explaining that real people can never be as good as technology. He then proceeds to take her photo, so that he may photoshop it and date it online instead of dating the real her.
- Keiki has a Valentine's comic in which Ivan courts a "Cassandra Catfish" over the Internet. He eventually discovers that Cassandra has claimed several other men as her boyfriends. The news then expose her as not a high school cheerleader who resembles Emmy Rossum, but Taylor Swift with a fake name and profile picture. Ivan ultimately becomes disgusted that he briefly became a boyfriend to a singer he doesn't like.
- A Cracked column imagines the world without the internet, including the appearance of women who crawl on the ground (trick photography) and those who hold portraits of celebrities over their faces all the time (avatar substitutes).
- In the B-plot of the Doug episode "Doug's Adventures On-Line," Judy falls for a refined, artistic man named "Leonardo D'Warhol" whom she meets in an online chatroom. Unfortunately, he turns out to really be a nerdy 12-year-old: namely, one of the Sleech brothers from Doug's school. The A-plot also features a non-romantic variation, with Doug befriending another "kid" online, who turns out to be a shady music store owner who steals Doug's rare records.