Jan asks: I met “Ryan, 35” on Tinder and we hit it off right away. Within a few dates, I asked why a guy like him (handsome, smart and funny) would be online and he admitted that his wife had died of ovarian cancer two years before. I took his baggage into consideration as our relationship progressed because I felt that our connection was too good to pass up. This meant giving up stuff like him spending the night at my house regularly and I wasn’t invited to his. He attended therapy twice a week to “move on” and “get over the guilt he had felt for her passing and him moving on.” With trouble, I let this go.
Within six months, he told me he loved me and that I was the love of his life. Our connection and feelings were something I’ve never felt before. We discussed moving in together and set a goal of Christmas. He met my family, my friends, but I had never met his. Maybe this was stupid and my fault, but I kept thinking, Well, they live in another state, so whats the big deal? I also rationalised that like me, he doesn’t have many close friends in the area. I kept brushing away my unease.
After 15 months, I snooped by entering his email into Facebook and discovered a completely different person—same photos, different name. His name is Brian. I was stunned. He came clean and admitted that he’d made up the entire story. Separated for two years and a father of two, his family, friends and therapist had no idea I existed! My conversations with ‘them’ were fabricated. I believed his story—who was I to question it? I believe that people are kind and good. I believed that people do not lie about death and cancer. Ultimately, after planning my life with him, I am shattered and devastated to know that I do not even know this person. Nor does the person I love even exist. So here I am, trying to recover and move on, but its so difficult because I can’t separate the “Ryan” that I knew and loved from the Brian, who manipulated and lied to me over 15 months. Natalie, I am at a loss. What do I do? How do I move on? And how do I not hate myself for letting this happen? I fear I will never trust anyone again. Have you heard of anything such as this?
Jan, I understand how deeply painful the revelation of this deception must be for you but you are being way too hard on yourself. You are failing to recognise that he’s a con artist. His actions are what has in recent years become known as being ‘catfished’—this is where someone sets up a fake identity (typically on Facebook but not limited to there) to trick you into being in a relationship. There’s even a show about it on MTV (Catfish) and what you have experienced is far from being unusual in a world where you can effectively be whoever you want to be with the right social media account and technology at your disposal.
He told a series of lies that were plausible when put together. In a different context, you might have felt extra suspicious. To be plausible, a lie has to have a grain or few of possible truths. When the recipient of the lie has doubts due to what might seem more obvious lies, it’s the plausibility of the original lie that causes them to vacillate between doubting and believing.
He’s ensured that he’s told the kind of lie that typically causes doubters to feel guilty for even momentary suspicion, repeatedly overriding their judgement and their fight/flight response, in turn making it even easier for other lies to slip through, after all, if someone’s a widower who feels guilty about moving on, you’ll convince yourself that he’s finding the right moment to introduce you to his friends, that he’s worried about alienating his family, that the home they shared is full of memories, and that each time you sleep together, that he’s haunted by his dead wife.
Most people don’t fabricate dead spouses in order to lead a double life or get laid– They just tell you that they’re really into you, intimate or promise that they’ll leave, it’s just, ‘You know [their] situation’ and ‘Be patient’ etc. While this version of events would undoubtedly still be crappy, at least you wouldn’t be robbed of your right to choose. This guy is pretty twisted. He couldn’t just cheat; he had to garner sympathy and let you believe that his sock puppets were real people. I don’t know what the hell he talks about with his therapist but he needs to start with his deep-seated issues with women.