How well can we really ever know the people we date, before it’s too late? Stephanie Wood offers some advice on how to identify a creep before you get in too deep.
I rushed so fast into my relationship with “Joe” that I tripped myself up. It took nearly two years though, to see just how much of an injury I’d done to myself because of my haste.
I met Joe on an online dating site. He told me he was a retired architect, now a farmer and property investor. He was gentle and kind and seemed so full of love for me. The day soon after we met that he pulled a toothbrush out of his pocket and said he’d leave it at my place, I almost fainted with pleasure.
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I lay in his arms and gazed into his eyes and listened to his grand stories and even grander plans. He told me he was buying a new country house and farm and said he pictured me there with him. I day-dreamed about our future country life together. I believed his excuses as to why he stood me up so constantly, even as my anxiety became crippling. I lost my mind.
Coming to a realisation
When I finally found it again, I dumped him. As I started to rebuild my shattered self, I embarked on an investigation of who Joe really was. I discovered he was a small hollow man, a pathological liar, a fantasist. Very little of what he had told me was true. I had fallen for an A-grade creep.
In these locked-down, socially isolated times, we’ve slowed down in so many ways: we’ve baked our own bread and taken up knitting or watercolour painting, we’ve meditated and done yoga via Zoom, we’ve read books and cleaned out our tea-towel drawers.
But these tortoise-like times offer an opportunity to slow down our entrance into relationships too. In the long run, doing so might save us a whole lot of pain and grief. As my clever godmother says: “Better to be with yourself than losing yourself in a relationship with someone who turns your life into a nightmare”.
Our body is betraying us
When we fall in love or think we are falling in love, our body is betraying us. Love is actually a scientific and physiological process: the reward system structures of our brain are in the grip of pumping neurotransmitters and hormones and the cortical circuits which help us make good critical judgments are not sifting negative information as well as usual.
Knowing how our brains so misguide us at these times, it makes sense to reject the whirlwind and be slow and steady at the outset of a relationship. Here are some guidelines to keep the creeps out of your life:
- Keep your would-be lover at arm’s length so you can avoid the virus and really see him or her: is this person really likeable? Are they reliable? Do they treat other people with respect?
- Establish what their relationship with their family is. Creeps are often estranged from their own families who have become fed up with their behaviour.
- Don’t confuse terms of endearment, flattery, kisses, or sex for signs of love, at least until your date has dished up multiple deeds to match.
- Don’t daydream: Repeat after me: daydreams aren’t real, fairytales aren’t real.
- Don’t look for omens. For example, just because he or she says their favourite book or movie is the same as yours, or they’ve always wanted to spend time in an Indian ashram just like you have, doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth.
- Do your due diligence. Check the other person out. If, for example, they claim they are a high-flying property developer, go digging. For small fees, you can do title deed, bankruptcy, and company searches online.
- Beware of Drama Man (or Drama Woman): beware of the one whose life seems an unfolding catastrophe of accident-prone children, business debacles, and emergency visits to the dentist.
- Always beware of vanishing acts and the unlikely, the ridiculous and the implausible excuses for them.
- Beware the man or woman who always makes their problems someone else’s fault; the person who plays the wounded victim, who offloads blame, smearing someone else’s reputation and in the process tries to make themselves look heroic.
- Never give money to someone you barely know.
Stephanie Wood’s new book, Fake, is published by Vintage Australia, RRP $34.99.