About a year after my second marriage ended, I signed up for a certain online dating/relationship website that promised a more harmonious experience than those that deliver matches or sparks. As with so many of my life experiences, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was only having a few drinks every night, so I told myself, and I was handling things more or less better than I had during the swan song of my marriage, so why not? I was starting to get to a more emotionally (not to mention financially) stable place than I’d been before, and I’d heard how much of a “jungle” it was “out there,” but I figured I could handle it after all I’d been through. Well meaning friends and family recommended that I “get back out there” and “get back on the horse” (which is an awful metaphor, by the way), so I figured I was probably doing the right thing. At a minimum, I’d at least be able to have dinner with someone on a regular basis instead of eating alone. Hard to see a downside, right?
Buckle up. This might get weird.
The first person who responded to me seemed like a nice lady. She lived about four hours away in northwestern Minnesota, and on paper we seemed to have a lot in common. She’d grown up in the same Christian denomination, had gone to a university that I was familiar with, and had been divorced twice, just like I had. We sent each other a few messages back and forth, and seemed to be on the same page with some of the compatibility issues of life. I did find it a little odd when she asked me the first day “are you ready to find the love of your life?” Given that I’d just explained everything I’d been through in my previous marriages, it didn’t seem completely out of place, in an “are you over your ex?” sense. But it also felt a bit forced, since we hadn’t even met in person yet. She asked if we could exchange numbers in order to exchange photos, since we were both on the free version of the site, and I agreed. We both found the other person attractive, and agreed to a phone call later in the week. The phone call went well, and I thought we were both very honest with each other. We’re in our forties at this point, life hasn’t always gone according to plan, but hey, we’re handling our respective baggage as well as we can.
A few days later, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to do some background checking, mainly because I have kids, but also for self protection. She’d told me she’d been married twice, but what she had failed to tell me was that she’d also been married two additional times. In fact, I also discovered that she was still married to husband number four – and, as it turned out, living with him.
Given that we’d not actually met in person, I didn’t want to make a huge deal about this. I told her what I’d discovered, asked her about it as non-judgmentally as possible, and asked for an explanation. She told me that all of her previous husbands had been abusive, and that she had filed for divorce with the current one but had no place to live, so was just waiting for it to be finalized. I encouraged her to figure out what she was doing before looking for a relationship, and told her I wouldn’t be expecting to hear from her again until she had. She got angry at this point and told me that she had decided to stay with her husband anyway, because even though he mistreated her, she at least knew what to expect from him. I told her I thought that was kind of dumb, but that she could decide how to live her life.
I try to maintain an open mind about how people handle themselves and how the “rules” of relationships are more like “guidelines.” For example, people who start relationships on the rebound may have the deck stacked against them, but it doesn’t mean things won’t work out. On the other hand, waiting a fair amount of time between a relationship ending and a new one beginning, while advisable, doesn’t guarantee success. I hoped that she would pursue some growth for herself and maybe eventually find the kind of relationship she was looking for.
I was surprised to hear from her again about six months later, when she sent me a picture of her divorce decree and asked if we could have coffee sometime. I told her I wasn’t really interested, and she said she understood, but I don’t think she did. I told her about how I had hit rock bottom, how I’d found recovery and with it my self, and I apologized for the way I had handled our brief period of communication (calling it a “relationship” seems a bit overblown). She accepted my apology, and caught me up on her life briefly. For the next year, I got the occasional text message from her, and I tried to respond with kindness as one would to a person who wasn’t handling life very well, but the conversation always eventually escalated to some form of plea to give her a chance to prove to me that we should have a relationship.
This culminated a few weeks ago with a Facebook friend request, which I accepted. I breathed a little easier when I saw that she was in a relationship, and sent her a quick message to congratulate her on this. I mean, all any of us want is just to love and be loved, right? Not long after, she called and asked if I could give her some advice on the relationship. She’d gotten involved with him as a sort of “consolation prize” due to loneliness, she said, and even though he was nice and bought her things, she wasn’t happy. She wanted to get out of the relationship, but she was going along with it because nobody else was interested. “I mean, I wish you wanted me, but since you don’t, I’m going to move in with him.”
The very existence of that conversation, in my view, was enough evidence that this was a very bad idea, and I told her that, but she said she knew what she was doing, so I wished her well. A few hours later she sent a long text message that (essentially) said she would no longer be contacting me, and I decided (finally) to make that easier for her by blocking her.
I know, I know, that seems like it should have been the very first step, right? Lesson learned a bit late, but as my therapist once remarked, I have a history of “an overactive sense of personal responsibility.” This bizarre experience reminded me that I’m not responsible for anyone else’s happiness or decisions, that I am far better off without someone who attempts to manipulate me in any way, and that I can let someone pursue their objectives (in her case, to not be alone at any cost) while also protecting myself.