This post is no pity party. This post is not about whining. This is not 'all men are bastards'. This post is about the time I didn't pay attention to the signs. It's about identifying the gaps in your own self esteem. It's about knowing when you need to push back, establish boundaries, and be clearly and unequivocally you. It's about resilience, and coping; recognising a mistake but not blaming yourself. If we look at every experience as a pragmatic chance to learn about ourselves, we can never fail. It's taken me a long time to write this post, longer than any other blog I've ever written. Part of me wanted to keep this a very guilty secret for a long time; a bigger part of me realised that we really need to address this as an issue - on both sides of the equation.
I am a strong, independent and confident woman. I speak my mind and I pull no punches. But, when it comes to matters of the heart, I can sometimes be a complete twat. This post is about the time I realised I had a lot more work to do on both my expectations and my approach to my own feelings of loneliness, and the issues of self worth bound within them.
My (long since deleted) Tinder profile
You meet many people along the way in 21st century dating land, but the last thing I expected was to happen across a fully paid up member of the psychopath club. If you aren't expecting them, they're pretty good at not being spotted. Their natural chameleon-like nature means that they constantly shift and transform into a form conducive to the perfect execution of their plan (whatever that might be). Some are motivated by money, some by another form of gratification. All psychopaths are entirely self serving, view other people as objects for use, and are ruthless in the pursuit of their targets and goals. They're cold, calculating, and remorseless, lack empathy and emotion, but will mimic these things to get what they want. They are skilled actors. This Psychology Today article describes how a psychopath approaches a relationship or sexual encounter as an opportunity to exercise power and control and to further whatever their particular agenda should be.
Below are screenshots from my online courtship with Mr A. We met online, messaged, talked on the phone, video called... and arranged to meet. At one point he said to me 'I read a lot about psychology, I find it very interesting... The way that someone can say certain things in order to make another person think or behave in a specific way'. With that in mind, let's first look at some of the warning signs that I completely missed along the journey.
The 'I'm totally not' pre-emptive strike. A psychopath will deliberately single out the qualities most akin to his nature and assure you that they do not belong to him. See also the below...
The 'you're safe with me' line. He said to me on two occasions 'Tinder is full of psychopaths; I can't believe how unbalanced some people are - I can't imagine what an awful experience it must be for a woman'.
'I get you so much' - see also 'we have a connection'. Trying to establish intimacy and closeness without effort. Laying the groundwork for the 'you had me at hello' strategy.
The psychopath will suggest weakness in themselves either to engender pity, or to invite a reciprocal response.
*eye roll* if someone is trustworthy, they're usually not going to mention it in this way. Linguistically, the psychopath is often calm, measured, but sometimes clumsy.
Here he's reminding me on a subconscious level that I need to fully invest myself in this process, otherwise I might miss out. This is very deliberately manipulative. Additionally, here he clearly demonstrates a distance from his past actions - no regret, no remorse. He continually reinforced this message with me, that we are not defined by our actions or even our work: a message of consciencelessness.
A number of times he reassured me that he wasn't an 'online pervo' . However, this is likely a trust building strategy, as well as an attempt to distract from the fact that he quite clearly is.
Placing higher level ideas in the mind of the target. Subtle overpromising. Repeated mention of concepts and institutions like love, and marriage, in order to place long term strategy in the thread of consciousness. Note the 'you complete me' vibe thing going on here; ergo, the implication you are incomplete without me. He also planned out our next few dates, places we would go, people he would introduce me to - all tactics to keep my mind focused on the belief that our imagined intimacy was growing.
The night before we met he sent the following
By that point, I'd bought so deeply into the fantasy that I was virtually sleeping in a wedding dress. I was utterly convinced that this person that I'd spent 4 hours a day on the phone with, who had sent me endless thousands of messages, songs, videos, map locations, was my soulmate. He clearly overcompensated with some truths in order to make himself more believable in the gaps. I am not ashamed. I was naive, yes, but that is not a source of guilt or shame. I thought I knew him, but all I really knew was the person he'd constructed in order to manipulate me within his game.
We had in-jokes and secret codes; I genuinely felt connected to this man on a level I'd never experienced before. He promised the world, kept me utterly enthralled with compliments, conversation, and unending pledges of kindness and security.
The day of our first meeting came, and I'd never been so excited. We met in the morning and our date lasted close to 24 hours. It was virtually perfect in every way. There was no awkwardness or clumsiness, no weirdness or shyness. It felt like I'd known him for years. He made me feel all the things he said he would - safe, special, desired, comfortable, natural... the level of intimacy 'we shared' was just beyond my comprehension. It felt so right. It's an important point to note that I'm usually incredibly good with interpersonal instinct. I usually know straight away if someone is duplicitous or up to no good, and I pride myself on that. At every step of the way, he'd allayed any fears I had, any qualms were quashed, any of my negative feelings had been effectively addressed and reversed. He groomed me to the point of complete trust and absolute adoration. I believed we had fallen in love; he even told me we had fallen in love. We planned the next few months out with our work schedules; we messaged each other as soon as we'd said goodbye. My heart sang with the pure joy I felt. Two hours later, I received this message:
I replied, but my message wasn't delivered. I messaged later that day, but my message wasn't delivered. They never would be - because I'd been blocked on every network we'd communicated through. Ghosted in the most sinister manner possible.
Hours and hours of emotional preparation; days and weeks of carefully selected words and actions designed to engineer me into the most compliant participant possible. Careful listening to my every reply in order to respond in ways that would create an imagined intimacy in my mind. A game of cat and mouse, a power game, perfectly executed from start to finish.
As the realisation sank in, the emotion overwhelmed me in its ferocity. I was shocked, hurt, angry, sad, confused, and completely devastated. I tried to negotiate with myself, maybe I was wrong, maybe he lost his phone, maybe there'd been an accident... but I knew. There was a moment where I'd suddenly remembered reading an article about psychopathic behaviour and everything began to tumble, to crash, terrifyingly into place. Every conversation, every tiny red flag, every time I thought 'that's odd' and dismissed it. Every time his speech pattern changed slightly, or he started using a new word. Every time he reflected my words in his. Every time he spoke an emotion as a fact; stunted and clumsy. Every time he said the 'perfect thing'. Every time it seemed to good to be true.
I began to blame myself. It felt like he'd violated every part of me; physically, mentally, emotionally. I felt like he'd raped my brain. I don't think that's an exaggeration, by any means. I felt so idiotic, so completely ridiculously stupid. One of the many ways he'd complimented me was to tell me repeatedly how clever, how intelligent, how clearly bright I was; in the aftermath, I see how this was a taunting, a smugness, a clear and unashamed demonstration of his power over me. Even if he meant it, what he was actually saying was 'look at how clever I am'.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20 in these situations. I can break down every conversation now and I can show you how it points to the final endgame. I can see how obviously, and fairly crudely, I was manipulated. At the time, though, not so fucking much. And that's the point of this post. I'm not victim blaming and I'm certainly not going to say that anyone deserves to be treated this way, but it's so important that we recognise that there are predators out there who specifically target certain women for specific reasons.
- We all have vulnerabilities, cracks, Achilles' heels. The gaps in my self esteem relate to my need to please, to be loved, and not to be alone. I am confident in my mind, in my body, and in my outlook. He identified my desire for comfort, for security and for love, promising, delivering, and systematically reinforcing these messages. My first advice, therefore: if they're saying all the right things, if it seems too good to be true... It probably is. It is important to remember they are truly charming, smooth and charismatic.
- Psychopaths mimic emotion, and behaviours, in order to appear more 'normal'. If you notice that someone seems to adapt in this way, even subtly, be wary. They'll adopt words, speech patterns, phrases.
- They are emotionless and remorseless. If called upon to display emotion, it may be recalled in a factual way rather than a truly emotional way. For example, rather than laughing, they might say 'You make me laugh'; rather than frowning or crying, they might opt for a description like 'I'm upset'.
- They feel no regret, and have no conscience. They will see their actions in the past, no matter how devastating, as not defining them. They distance themselves very clearly from emotional repercussions, which may at first appear pragmatic, but actually demonstrates this lack of conscience through time.
- They may try to make you feel sorry for them. They'll throw a pity party. They invite you to see their (manufactured) vulnerable side. They manipulate you into seeing them as the victim, in order to grow your trust. In my research for this post, I've spoken to women who have been exploited by psychopaths for financial reasons, and this tactic seems often to be a preferred method for exploiting and extracting cash from victims.
There are other clues, they may cause drama, stir the pot, manipulate situations they don't even need to be involved in, pathologically lie, be unable to apologise convincingly... but you need to look for them.
In a way, I was lucky in that he was not pursuing me for financial reasons. I was also fortunate that his plan was not long term, or protracted, or complex. His plan revolved around the process of seduction, the creation of false intimacy and the power that brought. From the research I've done since, it seems this is fairly typical behaviour from a psychopath pursuing a sexual goal. It will be a proscribed formula that he follows from one target to the next. It saddens me that another woman will, even now, be falling for it.
I have no desire to punish myself over this. I do not wish to become disillusioned or hardened or cold. It has opened my eyes to the world of online dating more as a field where these disordered personality types are able to thrive, and to execute their Machiavellian subplots. It has made me change the way that I do things, the information I share about myself. It has altered the way that I view my approach, their approach, and the way I view my own presentation of myself.
The only way to know if someone is trying to exploit your weaknesses is to be honest with yourself about what they are. If you can see your own armour's chinks, nobody will be able to get through them without you noticing. That said, if someone uses you in order to further their own agenda, it is never ever your fault. Never.
You can protect yourself by being aware, you can shield yourself by building self esteem in your areas of weakness. You can help protect your friends by knowing the warning signs. But you cannot be held responsible for someone who abuses you in any way. Your self esteem cannot be added to or manufactured by anybody else, it is yours alone. It will never come from an external source.
I won't be made to feel as if I can't trust other people. I refuse to change how I feel about love, about romance, about the future. I point blank cannot accept that there aren't good, wonderful people in the world. I am not traumatised, I am not desolate. I am not broken, I am not weaker. My eyes are more open, my resolve is more strong. I am now better equipped, more questioning and more patient.
There is no shame in making a mistake, an error of judgement; we can learn from all experiences. As I learn, I grow, and my potential for future happiness increases.
Yes, I was ghosted by a psychopath - and my life has changed for the better.