I know this isn’t particularly about dating and relationship but I just really need some third party advice right now. A best mate of mine has been online dating ever since he got separated from his wife after having found out she had been cheating on him. 1-2 months into the separation, he met this girl online who is a lot younger than he (he’s middle-aged). After a few months of them chatting and talking on phone, he told me he was falling in love with her and they were going to meet in real life very soon. I personally don’t ever believe in falling in love with someone I have never met in person. Connection, yes. But love? I’m skeptical. But in saying that, being a good friend to him, I told myself not to judge and impose my own opinion on him because we’re all different after all. So I just congratulated him and said that I was very happy for him (given his recent broken home situation).
Then came the day she was supposed to fly over to see him (they live in different state), she pulled the pin a few days earlier due to some medical issue. I grew suspicious but still gave her the benefit of the doubt because it was only the first time. But I asked him anyway, that if he had ever skyped her yet. And he said yes,, they skyped once. So I was certain that at least her identity (appearance-wise) was real. Then her medical condition got more dramatic in that she would have to go to hospital for treatment every weekend. So that sort of makes it challenging for him to even fly over to see her himself. Her excuse is that she would never know when she would be next in order to meet him because she has to constantly move back and forth between home and hospital (a few hours each way). After hearing this, I asked him to be cautious in that he should stop investing more into this ‘relationship’ emotionally until he can actually see her in real life. I went as far as stating that she may be real, but her circumstances may not. And I could see him taking offences by that, though he did not say it out loud. He just said that they had been talking on phone for one and a half hours everyday. I personally thought that that meant nothing but stopped pushing anyway, knowing that since he had started to get defensive, it would only get worse if I kept being pushy.
So my question is, do you have any advice as to what I should do? Should I just let him be or try to push harder? Because to me, he seems to really want to believe in this relationship, even though there’s little chance of them meeting any time soon. He does understand that the longer he waits, the more he would start to idealize her, which is a bad thing. But other than that, I still don’t know how I can advice him to not invest more into this before meeting her in person.
Will really appreciate your advice
A Concerned Mate
You have a good heart, ACM. The problem is your friend’s heart. Specifically: the fact that he’s listening to that and not his brain. Your buddy has been handed a fantasy and he wants to believe it. And therein lies the problem. See, right now he has two choices: he can either buy into the fantasy that this amazing, younger woman loves him and needs him and only the vagaries of fate keep them apart… or he can listen to nagging part of his brain (and, by extension, you) and think that this mysterious long-distance lover is actually a cruel trick. Considering his real life circumstances, I’m not terribly surprised he’s choosing to believe in the beautiful dream.
And the problem is… you can’t really do anything about it. Unfortunately, Sam Cooke’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” is pretty much a documentary, especially the lyric “turn his back on his best friend who puts her down.” Your buddy wants to believe, ACM because she offers him hope that there’s life and love after having his heart broken.
You are right to be incredibly suspicious. Those last minute swerves of “I can’t see you because REASONS” are a hallmark of catfishing. So too is the fact that her life seems to have more drama than a Lifetime made-for-tv movie. Were I you, I would start playing a little Internet Detective on her and her background. Start with the basics. What do you find if you do a basic Google search? Does she have any sort of a digital footprint at all? What about social media? Does she have a Facebook account? What about Twitter or Instagram? How active is she, and does she have friends who aren’t obvious bots? Do a reverse Google Image search on her photos and see what comes up.
If you want to go the extra mile, I’d start asking questions. Ask to talk to her next time your friend brings her up. Or friend her on Facebook. I would also ask more questions about your buddy’s Skype session with her. Did he actually see her? Or was it just a voice chat because “her webcam doesn’t work”? Or perhaps a seriously janky video connection that froze a lot?
I would suggest keeping a file – screenshots, links, etc. – of what you find and sit on it. Right now, it sucks that somebody is playing a game on your friend, but until he is willing to question things, there’s not much you can do. However, if this starts to escalate – if, for example, she suddenly has “bills” she can’t pay or is in dire straights because of her “health issues”, then it’s time to take your friend aside with the file and have an intervention. A broken heart is painful, but you can recover from it. Giving money, on the other hand, takes things to another level. Some catfishers prey on lonely men and women and scam them for money they can ill-afford to lose. If it gets to that point – or he’s going to pay for her to come see him or fly to go see her – then it’s time to give him all the proof you have that she’s fake.
He won’t appreciate it. He’ll probably be pissed at you. But better that you risk a friendship that you can repair later than he end up throwing money at a fraudulent fantasy.
Some people are natural artists and end up in the Louvre next to the MONA Lisa. Others end up with glitter, crazy paint and spaghetti noodles and still create abominations. It’s the same for me and dating, I read you and a few other awesome blogs to try and upgrade my skill set. I do a pretty good human impression but I have this one terrible quality: creepers and abusers are magnetically drawn to me and please for the love of gods, teach me how not to be the approachable gal! I’ve tried headphones, strategically place books and endless hours of cats or archaeology…
I gave up on being nice and accomodating a long time ago but I do have a very wide circle of friends with various quirks and issues. I’ve been slowly removing the Nopes: the missing stairs, creepers and boundary toe-stompers from my circle (like the large guy who was going to kidnap and assault me in his unregistered car “as a joke” that caused me to have a nervous breakdown and have to leave university for the semester). What’s worse is teaching people around me about rape culture like my mum who has no boundaries and just doesn’t get why guys swooping in to save you against your will (even if they are your older professor friends is creepy and gross). My family is screwed up but loving that’s a whole other letter, Doc.
Me trying everything from dressing modestly to resting bitch face and headphones everywhere, it doesn’t stop me from being stalked by men and women alike (everything from a random local community dude creep, to a girl cyber stalking me in a uni class to do her work and then creepy abusive guy I most recently dated for 3 months but ended things hard is now using mutual hobbies as a way of seeing me, so I quit gaming and advertising where I’ll be until after I’ve been there). Pre last creeper, I had to live cautiously and hide my existence and I was only just recovering my sense of safety and freedom when he turned out to be gross.
Last creepy guy sabotaged my academic work, ignored me for 8-10 hour online games, outrageously lied and stole from me to leverage his way back into my life, abused me and gaslit me, had weird kinks he wouldn’t negotiate until mid coitus, left sh*t stains on my sheets that I initially thought were one of my cats having been sick, thought cutting finger nails and reciprocal foreplay was not a thing he had the do, and then threatened suicide when he wouldn’t get his own way. My housemate years ago was found dead by me so I really didn’t want to come home to his bloated corpse in my cute little flat.
I’ve tried all the no contact and blocking to the sun with this last disgusting guy and victim support counselling because the stress brought back my OCD since that guy was a hoarder and had a stench like a dying whale and rotten teeth. I’m addicted to sniffing mothballs, listening to T-Swift’s “Clean”, I just got 5 bottles of perfume for my birthday and I’ve just stopped washing my hands 34 times a day. But I missed gaming and the friends I made in it.
So, I personally engaged actual qualified professionals help to negotiate my return to our role playing club and other gaming hobbies (think two personal psychologist sessions especially devoted and victim support counselling to coming back) and our gaming group wanted us to go through *mediation* without specifying what it was they wanted of me and he has done nothing to talk to them so I left the hobby altogether because they had no victim support policy and didn’t enforce any consequences on him and they wouldn’t ban him from games despite his refusal to talk at the table.
I’m not being part of a club that pushes me out and expects me to do all the mature compromising at my expense for this creepy dude. The thing is, this guy was deemed unsafe by Team Me, but he hogs all the games and there’s no effing justice so I miss out on everything in case he is there, can’t create or confirm plans because he shows up uninvited and I have to avoid a lot of cool things I’d like to do in case he’s there. Leaving gaming was one thing, but I’m tired of missing out on medieval faires or games, the free comic days or the cons in my city or geek themed pub quizzes.
So what do I do to keep away the creepers like this one and since I’ve emerged from my rock, what do I do if I see this guy? I already have mental health disabilities and he makes me both anxious and full of rage. I have taken up poetry and improv since and now I’m going back to university to study in July after the breakdown.
Life On Mars
I’m sorry all that happened to you, LoM. You’ve done a lot of things right – from kicking the guy to the curb, to focusing on your self-care and doing what you need to do to be healthy and safe.
Now, let’s dig in a little to what you can do next – both in dealing with this guy, with your former social groups and avoiding future creepers.
First and foremost: boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. You have the right to enforce your boundaries at all times, to any degree that you wish and by god you should do so. Establishing firm boundaries – including a willingness to call dudes out on their shitty behavior you’re being irrationalright then and there – is part of how you keep creepers and predators out of your life. Yeah, it’s scary and intimidating. There will be guys – and their (occasionally even well-meaning) enablers – who will push back against you for having boundaries or enforcing them. They will tell you that . Well, a) fuck that and b) you’ve had enough shitty experiences that your Spidey-sense is going to be more sensitive than others’. They will tell you that it’s unfair because he doesn’t mean it or know better. Tough shit, because it’s pretty easy to see when a dude only behaves like that to women and anyway even goldfish can fucking learn. They will say you’re being a bitch. Fine. BE a bitch. Be Queen Bitch, First of Her Name, Empress of Back Off Or Pull Back a Stump.
Being “nice” is great, but “nice” also is what assholes will leverage to get to you. Sometimes you’ve got to be a mean motherfucking soldier of love guarding your own security. You’ve been hurt, abused and violated by people before. You have to be the strongest advocate of your own safety and interests. So put up those boundaries, and let the people who’re worth letting in prove it by respecting them.
Next: your social circle. Unfortunately, y’all got a bad case of Missing Stair paired with an equally bad case of Geek Social Fallacies. A lot of geek communities are averse to “drama”. Unfortunately, they tend to blame said drama on the person who points out that it exists, not the person causing it. It’s easier to pretend it doesn’t happen than it is to actually address it and admit that maybe the person they like is a shithead and they need to do something about it. That, after all, would violate Geek Social Fallacies #1 and #2. It’s easier to get the person saying “we have a problem” to be quiet about it than it is to actually do something.
Now, you can consider approaching some of the members of your old group individually and giving them the download on what this dude has done. Taking this on a one-on-one level might get people to listen in a way that a group setting might not, especially if there’re many, drama-enabling “Let us REASON together” who drown out all other voices. It may be easier to divide and conquer and keep those individual friendships even if you can’t be with the entire group. And hey… get enough of those together and you’ve got a new group entirely. But if they, as a whole, are going to focus on the idea that there’s some middle-ground to be had… well, I refer you back to the Boundaries Boundaries Boundaries paragraph.
And, bee-tee-dubs: boundaries also means “tell me if this dude is going to be at the event too” or saying “I can’t be at this event if he is going to be there”. Yeah, you’re asking them to draw lines and choose sides. Which sucks, but your right to protect yourself overrides “be reasonable”.
And finally: if you do have friends you can go to Faire with or cons or pub-quizzes, do so. Let them be your shield, your linebacker, your tank. They can run interference if homeboy sees you and tries to make contact. They can be the ones to get you out of the room if you start to have a panic attack or need to get out before he triggers some form of PTSD. Don’t think #squadgoals, think #brutesquad.
It sucks that sometimes assholes win. But if you want to continue enjoying the hobbies you love and the others won’t consider safety over Social Fallacies, you may have to carve out your own space instead.
For starters, my details: 26 years old, male, no dating or sexual experience. Been an on and off reader for sometime, and I really appreciate your articles.
Basically, I’m pretty terrified of being abused in a relationship.
To give some context, my best friend was in an emotionally (and potentially physically, not sure) abusive relationship a number of years ago and it’s honestly the most I’ve really seen of a relationship outside of my parents. He’s free of her now and she is out of his life, but it’s left it’s mark on him as I’m sure any abusive relationship will. The thing is, I think it has affected me as well.
At first, the abuse was the ‘get him away from his friends’ schtick, but I figured this was the usual ‘honeymoon’ period where both were all doe-eyed and kissy goo-goo at the time. All good if that was the case, but it wasn’t. It got to the point where I’d not see him at all, and he starting failing classes in school as he was forced to do his abuser’s work for her, skip classes, drive her everywhere and dote on her like royalty. I’d rather not get into further details.
To this day, I regret saying nothing when I started to have my suspicions about what was going on. I was young and stupid and didn’t want to possibly alienate a guy I’d known since I was 4 so I held back. Thankfully, he gave her the arse and in the aftermath, he opened up about the ordeal with me over dinner and I had a chance to apologise for not asking if anything was wrong.
Now, seven years on, I’m finding that I’m terrified of being in the same position. I’m clinically depressed, so it can be hard to look on the bright side of things, but I make a conscious effort too. But after seeing what my friend went through and how much it affected his life, I’m scared I’m going to end up in a similar situation. When the only relationship I’ve seen grow from the ground up is one where a dear friend almost had his entire life ruined, I hope you understand my trepidation at least a little.
The root of the problem I think is I’m a pretty weak person overall. Physically and mentally. But I also have a lot of hangups that require stricter boundaries than I feel I can enforce. And while I’m on the cynical side of things, I catch myself falling for women at the slightest bit of compassion tossed my way, which is embarrassing and makes me feel like a moron; someone easily reeled in with behaviour that to be expected from a good person.
In summary, I feel lost right now. I feel like I’m the perfect target for a predator, which is a terrifying. It doesn’t help that, as a male, there isn’t as much help out there to fallback on if I do indeed end up in a bad relationship as there might be for a women. It makes me scared to even try dating or meeting people, which I know isn’t going to do me any favours, but the fear remains despite the knowledge. I’m seeing a therapist (re my depression and social anxiety problems), and it’s helping slowly, but I wondered what your take on this is? Am I just off my rocker? Is the fear legit but overblown? Is it worth even thinking about?
Stunned and Bewildered
There is reason to be aware of abuse, SaB. Guys get abused by their partners and it can be hard for them to admit that it’s even happening. Hell, I was in an abusive relationship.
But there’s being aware and being cautious and then there’s being so on the look-out that you’re seeing abusers in the shadows and under the bed. It’s possible to be so cautious and so worried that you end up terrified of phantoms instead of reality and end up doing nothing.
Like I just told Life On Mars above you, the key to avoiding abusers and users is to not let them get close… and that means having strong boundaries and enforcing them. You have to be willing to risk relationships by being willing to stand up for yourself, and it’s rarely as hard as when you have to stand up to people you like… or as necessary.
With all that being said: don’t be so defensive that you give up any chance of being happy. If you want to date, you have to be willing to take chances. You don’t find love without risking being vulnerable with someone, and that risk comes with attendant rewards. You know what a toxic relationship looks like, having seen your friend go through it. Now you at least can learn to recognize the warning signs. Just as importantly, you know what you need to do.
And the thing is: you may not be strong now, but you can become strong. Strength, whether physical or emotional, is something you build and work toward. The fact that you’re working with a therapist is good; they can help you develop that strength and learn what to say and when. You’ve got this, SaB.