By Baila Sebrow

Question

I’m scared and confused about the things that have been happening in my life.

I was dying to meet someone with whom I have a lot in common and is a lot like me, and then I met a guy through Facebook. He messaged me because we have mutual friends on Facebook. We chatted back and forth for months and then he asked me out. I thought I checked him out really well, but it turns out that everything he told me was a lie. This is a frum guy — or at least I thought he was. He gave me so many references, including people in his family, who corroborated his story. For example, he told me that he has an MBA but it turns out he is a high school dropout. There were so many other lies but I can’t tell you everything because I don’t want anyone to know who I am or who the guy is.

I only found out the truth because I spoke to somebody who once dated him. She led me to all the women he used to date, and they all told me that they were afraid to break up with him because he threatened to ruin their lives.

I’m stuck because I’m in love with him and I don’t want to lose him, but I’m also afraid of him. It’s so easy to ruin someone’s life and reputation, and I know people to whom that has happened. What do you think I should do?

Response

When somebody threatens you, it is extremely frightening because you don’t know if the person will make good on the threat if you don’t go along with what they want, and what they want may be unreasonable. So you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Any person who has ever been in such a predicament can tell you it is traumatic.

Here is what you need to understand regarding threats. Threats are made by bullies to intimidate or terrorize you into doing (or not doing something, depending on the situation) their bid. But what most people do not realize is that it is usually the tormentor who is the frightened one. When bullies feel that they are in a state of weakness, having lost control over the person they initially felt empowered by, they threaten to do such-and-such unless they get what they want. They have no other leverage.

Those who throw out threats are not necessarily always uneducated people. It takes a savvy person to ignore and brush off threats, whether they come from a person with whom they are in a relationship or someone in a position of professional power. Remember, threats are just words until they are not.

That doesn’t mean you should sit by idly. However, the worst thing to do is to give in to threats, because there will never be an end to it. You are dating a guy you met through Facebook. Yes, there are wonderful stories of happy endings and beautiful beginnings about Facebook relationships. But, in too many cases, they have brought heartache. When somebody reaches out to another person that they set their sights on, they first do their homework very well; they will stalk their page and see who their mutual Facebook friends are and the kind of things they like and post about. They will use that to tap into the psyche of the one they want. Oftentimes it is a vulnerable person, but not always. Just the thought that another human being understands where they are coming from is enough to create feelings of affection. And once a relationship has formed, the victim can easily buy into any story or reference that is presented to them.

When this guy told you that he has an MBA, did you not think to ask him where he went to school, starting all the way back from high school? And when he gave you a list of references, including his family, why would you not even consider asking people he referred you to? You could have just contacted anybody else who might know him. I’m not telling you this to make you feel bad or accuse you of poor judgment, but I want you to understand that this drama came to be because you trusted a stranger who made you feel like he knows you in a way that no one else could.

By the grace of G-d, you managed to connect with a woman he previously dated who not only shared her tale of grief sustained as a result of her relationship with him, but also led you to other victims. So this is a predator par excellence. I am guessing that since those women are no longer dating him, he did make good on whatever he threatened them with, unless they hung around until he eventually lost interest in them.

My concern now is with you. Let’s take this apart and find a way to work this out for you.

You say that you love him. I disagree with you. You love the person you thought he was. But he is not that person in real life. Loving him is no different than loving an actor in a movie or the voice of a cartoon character, which is really a person doing a voiceover. That’s not who they really are; they are just playing a role. This guy is not real. He is a fictional character to you.

You need to disengage yourself from him ASAP. When you say that you are afraid of him ruining your life, too, I am going to take a lucky guess and assume that you shared with him private details about your life or perhaps even family members. And since he is such a shady character, if you end it with him, you can expect him to make it public. Unless you have done something illegal (if so, contact an attorney for legal advice) that he knows about, then let him do what he wants no matter how much he threatens. No human being has the power to permanently ruin anybody’s life or even reputation. Those friends and associates who are true to you will always remain steadfastly loyal, and those who were pareve towards you, or who never liked you too much, will probably be swayed. So what? That will help you weed out the people who probably don’t belong in your life to begin with. Please believe that you will get through this and successfully move on.

Even though I strongly believe that one should have a face-to-face sit-down conversation with a person with whom they are ending a relationship, in this case it is best that you say very little. I would recommend that you confirm that he is a high-school dropout and verify again that everything else he told you is all a lie.

You might want to message him and tell him that you know that he was not honest with you, that you will not be added to his list of victims, and that his game is up. Expect him to tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about, and that he is an upstanding, moral person, and that the other women were bad. You need to be firm that you don’t want him to contact you anymore. Of utmost importance is that if he threatens you, tell him to do what he needs to do. Never show fear. Such people feel energized when they know that they are intimidating their victim. Stay in control of your feelings and reach out to as many people as you can to help you.

It would be nice to put an end to his shenanigans by informing and warning others, but you then risk a major boomerang. Focus on getting him out of your life. Once this is behind you, I am not telling you that you should never be open to meeting another person through Facebook or any social-media site. There are still very nice people who may live in a different area than you, and I would not want you to miss out on an opportunity to find a good person with whom to share your life. But I urge you to seek assistance from a therapist to help you identify risk factors when you first meet a man, whether online or through a person you trust.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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