Lies of omission are often just as damaging as an outright untruth. When someone makes a conscious decision not to tell me something that would have an overwhelmingly negative effect, as far as I'm concerned, it’s the same as telling me a bold-faced lie. My children lie all the time; it’s the nature of a child with a healthy sense of self-preservation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in my kitchen, marveling at how NONE of my children are responsible for a certain mess, but there it is, just the same.
I was in a very short-term, long-distance relationship with a guy who I met on an online dating website, and he was a masterful omitter. We started talking and I had an instant crush on him. He was a lead guitarist and singer in a relatively successful band. (They played at House of Blues in Chicago once, but that was probably their peak.) He wrote a song about me and sang it over the phone while I sat on my garden wall one evening as the sun set, and I was totally smitten.
Of course there were red flags, but I ignored all of them because I liked the attention, and because of the way he made me feel. Women do crazy things to feel wanted, and put up with ridiculous behavior if they think it has the potential to turn into something real. Online dating is a demoralizing exercise in frustration. I hated every second of it, except for those few seconds before I opened and read a message. They were filled with bright-eyed optimism and hope. "Maybe this is him," I'd tell myself, then I'd open the message and sigh as some complete stranger asked me to sit on his face.
We made plans to meet in person, and I bought a plane ticket to Chicago. I booked a hotel not far from his house, but it wasn’t until I arrived that it came to light that he lived in his parents’ basement. I rationalized that right away by saying that the economy was tanking, people my age were moving back home all the time, it’s not a deal-breaker. We played tourist in downtown Chicago, visiting the field museum, making fun of the Segway tourists, sharing a funnel cake on Navy Pier, and going to see Joshua Radin at The House of Blues. I paid for everything that we did that day, because he was springing for dinner. We had dinner at a tiny Italian restaurant and his credit card was declined. He had been acting increasingly nervous as the day went on, but I honestly thought it was nothing. It was late, I was tired. I paid and shrugged it off. He took me back to the hotel and told me that he needed to go pick up a prescription first thing in the morning, so I kissed him good night and went to bed.
He came to pick me up at five AM. I groggily got into his car, and he drove about 15 minutes parking in front of a brick building, telling me to wait. After about an hour, he came back out holding a small red metal box that had a combination lock on it, like a safe. He drove it straight home without any explanation, where he handed it to his mother. She unlocked it and gave him one tiny white pill.
At this point I had no idea what was going on, so I forced him to tell me the truth. He was a recovering heroin addict, and the pills were methadone, which he took every morning to stave off a relapse. He literally couldn’t be trusted with his own medication so his mother had to dole it out like Nurse Ratchet every morning. He knew that telling me this would have kept me from coming to see him, so he just didn’t tell me. But he needed that methadone so badly that he couldn’t hide it while I was there. Or maybe he figured that I wouldn’t care.
And it wasn’t the fact that he was on this medication (and several antipsychotics and mood stabilizers, which I also didn’t know about) that bothered me. It was the fact that we spoke every day for more than two months and he never told me. What else was he keeping from me? Turns out, he was hiding a prison sentence that he had only recently completed, the result of a DUI conviction that was at the end of an actual police chase, fueled by heroin and alcohol, a stint in rehab, and who knew what else? I could tell that there were many other things that he was leaving out.
At that point, I decided to cut and run. My flight didn’t leave until late that night, so I became a liar myself. Every time I held his hand, gave him a kiss, or smiled, I was lying to him. I just wanted to get the hell out of there and go back home without any damage. I had no idea who this guy was, obviously.
After I flew home, I called him from the car and ended things. He became really upset, crying and screaming, telling me that while I was on his flight he had cashed in his 401K and was planning on moving to Arizona to be with me. If I didn't want to be with him, he was just going to take that money and go on a cocaine binge that would most likely kill him. I hung up. He texted me more than a hundred times that night, and called me so many times that I changed my phone number the next day. He had some female friend of his email me and tell me that he was a great guy, they’d been friends for years and I was making a big mistake. He used the phone book to call my mother, telling her that he was a cop and needed to reach me about a theft report I had recently filed. My mother believed him and gave it to him; I changed it again.
I called the cops. They did less than nothing, even though he had actually impersonated a police officer. They only suggested that I change my email address and block him every way I could. I called a friend of mine who worked as a professional bullshitter (he was a private investigator/standup comedian) and he called the guy, pretending to be from some made-up government agency called the UDC, (which stood for Urban Domestic Crimes) and told him that I was filing a restraining order against him. He also thought it would be funny to tell him that I was undergoing counseling for a sex addiction. He told him that if he booked a flight, his name would be flagged by the TSA, we would be notified that he was coming, and the police would be there to arrest him when he came off the plane. It was all lies, but it seemed to work. The irony isn't lost on me, I realize that I was lying in order to fight back. I didn't hear anything else from him for about a week.
Then he created a new profile on the same site that we had used to meet and pretended to be someone from Arizona, using fake photos. He created a career, kids, and everything else to make it seem like a different person, even changing his phone number to an Arizona area code to fool me into giving me his number. I didn't suspect a thing until he actually quoted something that I had said to him and I flipped out. As soon as he knew that I was on to him, he lost it. He actually referred to me as Jezebel at one point, calling me a slut and a sex addict. I had to change my number again.
He called my parents' house late one night, drunk, completely incoherent and ranting, and threatened to come over to “murder a virgin.” They called me and told me that I needed to do something about this, so I called the only person I could think of, his mother, and told her what was going on. She didn't know about any of it, despite the fact that he lived with her and was using her phone and computer to terrorize me. She apologized, explained that he was going into rehab as soon as possible, and I never heard from any of them again.
I have met literally hundreds of Internet people since then via Tumblr and Twitter, and have gone on scores of OkCupid and POF dates, some good and some really terrible. I have met honest people and I've met dishonest people. I love traveling to meet people that I have connected with in a way that is missing in my everyday life. I am definitely not as trusting as I once was, but I didn’t let this experience stop me from putting myself out there, romantically and as friends. I feel lucky that this situation didn't end up any worse. The thing is, while it is extremely easy to be deceitful on the Internet, this situation could have just as easily happened if I had met this guy at my corner grocery store or a local bar. The Internet does not corner the market on crazy.