Reading this book about a sociopath who managed to con just about everyone he met (his ex-wife says that she could be clever and smart about lots of things and really stupid about others) led to me to mull over a sort of recent experience. Close friends can skip this one. I’m writing about it in case it’s useful to anyone else and because I think we need to teach children (and adults) how to recognise healthy online communication and what to do when it’s not healthy.
In a burst of enthusiasm after my hip operation I joined an online dating site called Tagged. While some adventures were er interesting, and I met some charming lovely men, and I developed a really good sixth sense about who was kosher or not, I fell into a little trap with someone in my own country. But not my own city.
I did write a little story about this but in the shortest of possible shorts: we talked on Facebook and Tagged and email. Movies, music, life……he sent me lots and lots of video clips and later told me that he had worked out how old I was and who my teenage idols may have been so that he chose these to add. One evening over a space of about 2 hours he sent me videos of love songs (I only want to be with you Hootie and the Blowfish, being ‘his song for me’) from Johnny Cash to the BeeGees to Elmeno, to the Clash to Billie Holiday (I’m a fool to want you, of course). He rang me at least 4 times a day but said he was a fisherman so not always around (this of course was a ruse for the time he was with other women). He became very good at starting a fight or making me feel as if I had started one when he was due to come and see me. On several occasions he was due to see me but bailed out (he’d hurt his back, a friend had died, he couldn’t fly due to anxiety, he did come south but had to see his son). In fact he did turn up once but left the next day – because I’d been mean to him but I found out later that he’d taken the woman he was living off’s car and needed to get it back. He used a variety of names (one relatively consistent one with me).
He convinced me that I was obsessive compulsive, he told me he was too good for me, (at 3am, by phone) he told me – well he told me lots of stuff. I truly have no idea why I stayed in touch.
I last heard from him about 6 months ago. In the end he got very little from me (a train fare or two) but it did take an emotional toll, from which I believe I am recovered.
I think I’m a bit like Rockefeller’s wife – clever at some things and just stupid about others. But I also know that the internet is full of false identities and cons, like the one who duped the sad NZ woman who languishes in an Argentinian jail (cocaine). She had never met him.
This man, like Rockefeller, was manipulative and clever at picking the scabs/vulnerabilities and sensitivities of middle-aged women (that’s me). It’s an engrossing thing to be phoned/emailed/txtd/Facebooked several times a day and it’s intriguing to think that someone knows you well.
I reckon that the more we learn about communication and the smarter we become about it online the safer we’ll be.
Hiding in a cupboard won’t work. And like the closed communities that Rockefeller targetted, we need to be smarter about people who tell us they are like us, because often they are not.