So, you swiped right on a sociopath. Not your garden variety toxically narcissistic asshole (though that shoe fits too), but a bonafide lying, conning sociopath.
I know you don’t want to believe it. You’re a smart woman. Likely a successful professional woman. A woman of financial independence and hard-earned and formerly bullet-proof romantic skepticism. A woman who probably thought she was way savvier than this, who thought her worst mistakes were behind her. Sorry, sister. Welcome to the club of disillusionment.
He does put on a nice show, doesn’t he? His first-impression game is unassailable. He’s handsome, exciting, charismatic, interesting—well, seemingly so, at first. He arrives in your life with impossible enthusiasm and boundless emotional availability. Tired of men ghosting you? You won’t have that problem with this guy provided you remain in his thrall. Sick of the unanswered texts? His responses are so prompt as to make it seem as though he’s been waiting by his phone just to banter with you. Tired of emotionally distant men who won’t commit or fear to connect? Boy, are you in luck! He tells you he “loves to be in love.” That after “detoxing” from his last relationship, he’s ready to find his one and only. Never mind that he's likely communicating with several other women, running the same con on them at the same time he's getting his hooks deeper in you.
You know the “con” in “con man” is short for confidence. It means someone gives you confidence in their intentions, then takes advantage of your trust.
Once he has romanced you with his cheesy lines that you roll your eyes at but are also secretly charmed by, entertained and horrified you with his hair-raising tales of being a photojournalist on the frontlines of almost every major conflict zone in the world, from Chechnya to Afghanistan, stoked your pity with the impossibly florid and variously tragic stories of the deaths of his entire family, once you have stewed a bit in this manipulative sludge of pity and need, then, suddenly, something terrible befalls him. Maybe his car is stolen or broken into, all of his earthly possessions inside—gone! Maybe he was wrongly profiled by the police, and those pigs took everything he had. Maybe someone cheated him out of money that was coming his way. Maybe there was a tragic misunderstanding and he’s been kicked out of where he was staying—by no fault of his own, of course. He is always the victim, you see. Always.
But anyway, now is when he makes his move. He’ll come to you asking for your help. Maybe just a little money to get him through the next couple of days. Maybe a place to stay. Maybe a meal to tide him over. He’ll paint his face with shame, and tell you he’s never been in a position to ask for help like this before. He’ll say ridiculous things like, “A man pays for his own whiskey,” even though you’ve happened to notice you’re the one who's been paying for all the whiskey since the second date. He’s so embarrassed. But you’re the only one he can turn to! The only person in his life who understands him, who might possess the kindness to help him!
While you may have misgivings dogpiling in your head, you do think of yourself as a kind person who gives people the benefit of the doubt. And even though you feel like something is hinky with this guy, you’re not sure you can live with yourself if you turn him away in his state of abject need. Such bad luck has befallen him! It’s the good and human thing to do, to help him.
So you buy him dinner. Or you let him crash on your couch. Or in your bed. Or you give him money. Or you let him borrow your car. Whatever it is, you think it’ll be just the one thing. But if the phrase give him an inch and he’ll take a mile had a face, it would be his.
In retrospect, it’s all so very obvious.
But in the meantime, you’re making the best of the situation. You’re helping him! Surely a man of his age and experience will only need your largesse for so long. He has some pride after all (spoiler alert: he doesn't). And everything he’s told you indicates he’s a resilient and resourceful person who’ll not be kept down by any hardships. Indeed, such qualities are featured constantly in the stories he tells you, yet you can't help but notice they never seem to materialize in the here and now. And the stories, the tragic stories that he tells again and again, as if your pity needs to be recharged. The boarding school rape, the sister’s suicide, the fire fight in Tikrit, the dead mother, the rebels in the Congo, the fucking Serbians, the shrapnel wounds, the motorcycle accident, the Russian Roulette, the shelling in the poppy field in Afghanistan, his tete-a-tet with Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, the dead child in Afghanistan, and on and on. You’ve heard all of it at least twice now, probably more, and you’re wondering if he ever talks about anything else. (No, he doesn’t.) It’s as if they’re lines he memorized, rather than real things he experienced. With each telling they seem more and more ridiculous, but you can't believe he's lying to you. Because that would mean not only that all the affection and love he's showing you is suspect, but also that you're a gullible moron who's being taken for a ride. That's a terrible duet of facts to confront, so you decide you're just being paranoid and you keep going.
When he’s not inventorying his life’s tragic experiences (one or two of which might be true, but who can tell?) he’s pelting you with romantic greeting card cliches, endlessly spouting the same Dostoevsky quotes, or having a wrenching emotional breakdown of some kind—you know, because of the PTSD.
Then you begin to couple these mounting annoyances with the fact that he is definitely not pulling himself up by his bootstraps. Rather, he’s attached himself to your bootstraps. And your wallet. And your home. And your friends. He tells you he spends all day looking for a job or editing his book (another spoiler: there is no book) or otherwise engaged in normal, productive things that fully fledged and sane adults do. Meanwhile, he is more and more shameless about availing himself of your generosity. You’ll pick up yet another bar tab or bag of groceries and he’ll wax poetic about how he’s going to pay you back, how very soon he’ll be the one who takes care of you. That’s not what you need or want; you’ve told him that, but he doesn’t care. Your independence does not fit into his narrative. You're not even a person to him; you're a means to various ends.
And questions continue to blossom exponentially in your head like popcorn in hot oil. Questions like: So, if he sold his photographs to publications like the New York Times and La Monde and Time, why is there absolutely no record of his byline on any images at all? Why do the photographs you see him make seem so completely different than the other stuff of his he’s showed you (i.e., like the work of a hack instead of a professional with 20-plus years of experience)? How exactly has he been to 160 countries, anyway? (I mean, come on. Think about it.) Why is there hardly any trace of him at all on the Internet? Such a storied war photographer should be a Google hitmaker, right? But all you can find is his portfolio site full of intense conflict photography and a bunch of polaroids of sexy ladies in states of undress. Most of those photographs in which there is a woman who looks like she wants to fuck the camera are actually his; the aesthetic is bolstered by vintage film. In actuality he’s more a pornographer with pretensions than a real photographer.
(Fun activity: Take screenshots of his photos, flop them, then use image search and discover all sorts of talented photographers from whom he stole the images.)
At any rate, you started fishing around, investigating some of the shit he’s told you. If he’s mentioned my name and my profession, your intrepid Googling probably brought you swiftly to this very blog. Welcome. Hopefully you’ve found it in time to avoid getting too thoroughly sucked in. Maybe I’m the first woman you’ve found. Or the second or third or fourth. There are many (10 that I know of; I'm sure there are more), and until the authorities finally give a shit about a man scamming well-intentioned women via dating apps, there will be more.
Yes, nearly every single thing he has told you is a lie. Yes, he is manipulating you for money, shelter, food, booze, sex, pity, and adoration. Yes, he is dangerous; he’s dangerous to your emotional and financial health, he’s dangerous to your sense of trust in yourself and the people around you. If you prove unpliable, he will steal your credit cards, bank account numbers, and/or any valuables he can get his hands on and vanish.
The name he is telling you is not his real name. One day you’ll find out what it is and you’ll Google that. You may even go so far as to pay for a professional background check or a private investigator, as some have. If you do, you’ll find vastly more information than you have when you Google the name he tells you. You will learn he’s a plagiarist, a fraud, and a thief. You will learn he’s listed as a missing person in San Francisco. You’ll find a trail of people who’ve been duped, conned, lied to, stolen from.
You cannot fix him—though he’s assured you your love for him is the only thing that could. He will never get any kind of a job; you will pay for literally everything, which is exactly his intention. He will have made it seem that without you in his life he will literally die. And he will, if desperate, cut himself open to convince you of this.
(Fun fact: that scar on the inside of his right elbow is not from shrapnel in Syria or Afghanistan or whatever the fuck he told you. That was a self-inflicted wound.)
But you’ve already let him in, to some small or great degree; to turn him out would mean you’re capricious and heartless, right?
Wrong. It means you’re smart and looking after your own best interests. Do not hold back. Do not wait and see what happens. Do not think to yourself that once he gets this or that straightened out, he’ll be fabulous. He will not. He’s not only an insane, calculating, manipulative fraud, he’s also a shitty boyfriend. He’s a selfish, racist, egotistical attention whore with an addiction to high drama. He’s a petulant child who demands all of your attention and all your financial and emotional resources. He makes the most ADHD-afflicted toddler seem like a rational adult.
All the women who’ve crossed his path are unanimous in their assessment that he is one of the worst things that have ever happened to them. My most constant goal in life is to never have to look at his smug fucking face ever again.
I am, to this day, mortified and ashamed that I fell for his whole act. I am mortified that I brought him among my circle of friends who trusted him with their property, their children, their pets, their esteem, their sympathies, and their good intentions. I am ashamed that I didn’t heed my better judgment even when it was screaming at me. Instead I pressed on, convinced that I was taking a chance on love.
I was spectacularly wrong.
Be smarter than I was. Get out. Get out now.