The Pathology Behind the Lie

I don’t get spooked easily.

But I’m spooked right now.

Not because of anything imminent.

But because I’m really starting to understand what kind of danger I may have been in.

When the police first told me how lucky I was to make it out of my first marriage alive, I brushed off their concern. After all, they were talking about the man who had cared for me when I was sick and would gently slide my glasses off my sleeping face each night. How could he have tried to kill me?

Yet even though it seemed unfathomable and he had made no direct threats, I found that I was frightened of him. The reports from his other wife that she found evidence that he was planning her death didn’t help to calm my nerves. And the police took his actions and my fears seriously, setting up nightly patrols during those first few uncertain weeks.

Even then, I didn’t really take it seriously.

But now I do.

And my change in perspective came from the most unlikely of places – a podcast about Casey Anthony, the Florida woman who was accused of killing her young daughter in 2008.

At the time of the trial, I remained largely ignorant of the intense publicity. I knew only the basic outline – she accused the babysitter of kidnapping her child and the child’s body was found some time later.

But listening to the podcast?

In many ways, I felt like I knew her.

Because even though she was a twenty-something mother accused of murder and my ex-husband was a thirty-two-year-old man who committed bigamy and fraud, they were operating out of the same playbook.

And the more I heard about her lies and realized the parallels with my ex’s, the more spooked I became. A feeling of looking down and suddenly realizing that you’re precariously perched high above the security of the ground.

(A quick note here before I delve into the details: As stated, I never followed this case while it was active. Even now, I have not referenced any sources apart from this podcast. There may be information that was discussed in the show that is incorrect or incomplete. Frankly, I’m spooked enough from these details; I have no interest in digging any deeper. Also, I have my gut feelings about Casey’s involvement in Caylee’s death, but I’m not going to speculate about that here. I’m more interested in her multiple lies and her reactions (or non-reactions) to her daughter’s disappearance and then confirmed death.)

In many ways, I’m still too close to my ex’s lies to be able to see them all clearly. They are so interwoven with my own memories of what I believed at the time, that it is difficult for me to be objective. In listening to the description of Casey Anthony, I was able to see these behaviors in a more impersonal and detached manner.

And realizing these similarities makes me truly wonder what my ex was (is?) capable of.

 

Everything’s Fine

Casey Anthony’s daughter was missing for 39 days. For most of that, Casey kept insisting that everything was fine. Whenever her mother asked about Caylee, she was told that she was an amusement park or with the nanny. Any concern was brushed off with an, “How can you be so ignorant as to think that?” attitude.

My ex had been living a double life for years at the time he left and the financial deceptions that he carried out were beginning to reach critical mass. It got to a point where he was no longer able to shield me from everything (although he gave it a damn good try, including cutting the phone line so that I couldn’t receive calls from creditors). Whenever I would see something that would give me pause, his reaction would always be, “How could you be so ignorant or distrustful to question that?”

 

Real-Life People Becoming Fictitious Characters

When Casey could no longer deny that her daughter was missing, she then claimed that she was kidnapped by the babysitter. She described to the police how she met this woman through a mutual acquaintance and that she used to babysit his child. This man was real, but he not only didn’t know this babysitter. He had no children.

My ex used a friend in a similar manner. He claimed (to both his other wife and the police) that he co-owned this friend’s business and had a great deal of money coming to him as part of the agreement. This friend (although I’m not sure that’s the correct term) was real. The business was real. But everything else my ex claimed was simply fabricated to connect the dots of lies he had spread.

If They Don’t Exist, Create Them

Sometimes the character needed for the story you’re telling doesn’t exist. When that happened to Casey Anthony, she simply invented the person. For the month that her daughter was missing, she consistently made the claim that her child was with the babysitter. But there was no babysitter. After she accused the nanny of stealing her daughter, she was forced to bring more detail to this imagined character. And she did, even describing the details of the woman’s apartment (which was a merely a vacant unit when the police investigated).

When my ex met his soon-to-be other wife, he told her he was divorced and that his ex-wife was remarried. This fabricated “second husband” of mine remained a mere sketch until he tried using the same story with the police. And they pushed for details. So my “husband” and I had been married a year, were on friendly terms with my ex (in fact, apparently he even attended our imaginary wedding), lived in Snellville and had three dogs. Oh, and my husband apparently worked as a chiropractor. Strangely, I appreciate the fact that if my ex was going to invent a life for me, at least it seems he made up a good one.

 

Names of Fictitious People Pulled From the Environment

Of course, the nanny that Casey Anthony invented needed a name. She was given the made-up moniker Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, which was later found to be cobbled together from the names of Casey’s boyfriend’s neighbors. Unfortunately, there did happen to be a real Zenaida Fernandez in the Orlando area at the time. I can only imagine the trauma this poor woman faced as she was questioned by the police and hounded by the media.

My ex was also forced to come up with a name for my fabricated husband. He settled on Mark (Marc?) Mercer. When I learned about this pretend husband’s name from the arresting officer, my mind immediately remembered a prominently-placed billboard for Mercer University. The location? Snellville.

 

Just Write it Yourself

Casey Anthony apparently created several email addresses to send messages as other people. She apparently didn’t know enough about IP addresses to not be fingered as the origination point of these emails.

My ex got into my email account and sent a “Merry Christmas” email from me to him that incorporated the fake fact that we were divorced. The only problem? This email was dated in July because he either neglected to alter the date or didn’t know how.

 

Fake the 9 to 5

For months, Casey Anthony told he friends and family that she had a well-paying job as an event planner at Universal Studios. She would get up, get dressed, and go…well, anywhere but Universal Studios, as they had no record of her ever being an employee. My favorite detail – when the police asked her to take them to where she worked (after they learned that Universal didn’t know her), she walked them into one the buildings, up an elevator and down a hall. She didn’t admit the truth until her back was literally against the wall.

I’ve had to try to fill in the gas about my ex’s fake employment, as he took all of the related documentation when he left, but from what I uncovered, he pretended to have clients in his freelance business for quite some time. He made up assignments, pretended to work on them when I went downstairs to his basement office and funneled money from credit cards when he needed to get paid from his invented clients.

 

If You’re Backed Into a Corner, Just Change Direction

When police discovered that the nanny’s supposed apartment was vacant (and had been for quite some time), Casey Anthony then came up with a new story about the nanny’s location.

When asked by the police why he was recently in Brazil, my ex first denied ever being there. Then, when confronted with the evidence of the trip from passport records, he then claimed that it was a work trip (this was the story that I had been told along with details that even included pictures of the trade show he supposedly was working). The police then proved this claim false with a short phone call to his boss. Although he was no longer freelancing at this point, he then asserted that he was doing a side job for somebody. His other wife soon dismissed this fiction as well.

 

Financial Lies and Bad Checks

Casey Anthony had a problem. She told everyone she had a job that paid well, yet she often had no real source of income. While her parents bought her gas and often provided her with a roof over head, she faked the rest with a series of bad checks.

I don’t have much detail about most of my ex’s financial deceptions because the evidence went with him (but suffice to say, he made many purchases with money that he didn’t have). But I did get to see a series of emails between the band that played at his illegal wedding and he and the other wife. He continually assured them that “the check is in the mail.” I’m sure. He also strung his attorney out who made the comment to me after the divorce hearing, “Not until I get paid first.” At that one, I just had to giggle. And then there’s the one that gave me my only sense of justice in this whole mess. He lied on the taxes and, as a result, I was granted innocent spouse relief. Thank you, IRS, for seeing him for what he is.

 

Garnering Sympathy and Flirting With the Professionals

Casey Anthony would flip between continuing to live her life that nothing had happened and playing the victim. After her case was over and she was found not guilty of the murder charges, she started a relationship with one of the investigators from her case.

My ex (and by extension, his attorney), kept whining that I was “vindictive” because I alerted law enforcement about his bigamous marriage. I know, poor baby. In an email to his other wife and my mother, he then went on to describe me as “impossible to live with.” Of course, the letter then went on to accuse me of doing exactly what he was guilty of. Nice try. His smarmy behavior continued when he went to my attorney’s office to pick up some keys. The paralegal called me after he left and said it was disgusting how he was flirting with her and trying to win her over. Maybe he was looking for wife number three?

 

I know that the possible murder of a child and the deceptions involved in fraud and bigamy are worlds apart. I’m not trying to equate those two situations. Yet, if Casey Anthony did intentionally kill her daughter, it doesn’t seem to be an act driven by malice or even momentary rage. Instead, it would have been an act by somebody who is willing to take extreme actions to get what they want without concern for the consequences.

And by seeing those parallels between her undertakings and my ex’s, I now am starting to believe that he really was capable of taking extreme actions. Maybe even extending to murder.

And that is spooky.

 

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My Side, His Side and … the Truth?

narcissist lie

One of the more infuriating responses I’ve received when others have heard my synopsis of my ex-husband’s actions that led to the divorce is, “Well, you know how it is. There’s your side, his side and then, somewhere in between them, there’s the truth.”

After I swallow my scream, I try to respond with a well-meaning and polite-sounding, “That’s so awesome that you haven’t met anybody like him. I hope you never do.”

In general, I am a huge fan of the concept that there are facts and then there is the way we perceive the facts. And those perceptions can be very different. Give two people the same fictional book and they will not only interpret the characters’ actions in different ways, they will likely build mismatched views of the protagonist’s appearance.

Yet the text is the same.

And that’s where I have a problem with this phrase being applied to the circumstances surrounding my divorce.

Of course my ex-husband is entitled to his own opinion. But he is NOT entitled to his own facts.

Which is exactly what he was doing.

When he told the police that we had been divorced for years, I highly doubt that he was simply expressing some metaphorical feeling that he was keeping under wraps. As he recorded my salary on the financial disclosure as a third more than it was, I don’t think it was because he’d viewed the numbers in a different way. And when he described how his “workday” was going while he was on his honeymoon, I struggle to believe that he was really under the impression that he was working long days on the trade show floor.

Those are facts. And there are thousands more where those came from.

And those facts don’t care about feelings – his or mine.

Now, when it comes to the particular climate of the marriage that acted as fertile soil for those deceptions to grow, I’m sure we have our own opinions and perspectives. I would have loved to have been given the opportunity to hear his side. To try to understand where the unhappiness resided and to learn more about his interpretations and outlook.

But I was never given that chance.

So all I have is my side, my best guesses at his side and the facts.

And as for the truth? I’ll never know.

Love, But Not “In Love”

in love

“I love you, but I’m not ‘in love’ with you.”

 

This sentence, although common, is one of the more bewildering and unsettling statements to both utter and to receive. It both speaks to both caring and to a pulling away. It professes concern while confessing a lack of desire. Those little words are an admission that the deliverer wants what is best for the other person, but no longer wants the other person.

For the speaker, this declaration may come from months or years of feeling that something is missing, even as the exact nature of what is lacking remains elusive. To the listener, the words can prompt a sense of helpless falling, tumbling upon the rocks into the deep and dark pool below.

Sometimes this feeling of loving without being “in love” comes at the crucial point where a relationship is transitioning from the early hormone and excitement fueled lust and attraction into a more mature and steady love. When the expectations that the early rush will persist forever come crashing against the reality of settling into the comfort of the known, the lack of intensity can be interpreted as a lack of desire.

Yet other times, this feeling comes on more slowly and after the relationship has successfully navigated the passage into a more stable and long-term relationship. Often it slides in unnoticed, until one day a realization is reached that the passion, the wanting, is gone.  When you look at your spouse and you see a good parent, a good provider, a good friend. You feel safe with them. Perhaps too safe. The unknown is gone. The danger is gone. The hunger is gone.

 

We cannot have desire without uncertainty.

 

When we first begin seeing someone new, there is no doubt that they are “other.” They smell different, feel different and we cannot predict what they will say or do next. The unknown is a bit scary (after all, we don’t know where this will lead), but it is also exciting. A road trip without a map provides plenty of adventures.

That taste of fear is titillating. It feeds into our base desires and interrupts our more rationalized and carefully metered thoughts and reactions. But most of us struggle to stay in that space for long. After all, it’s not comfortable to stay with uncertainty for long and so we tend towards the reassurance of consistency and predictability.

But there’s a dark side with becoming too familiar. When we lose that sense of our spouse as “other” and instead fully assimilate them into a shared “we,” our aversion to feeling desire for those we perceive as family begins to kick in. We often believe that a lack of passion for a partner comes first and then we begin to see them more as a friend or even sibling. However, frequently the shift in perceived role comes first and the lack of desire follows naturally after.

 

 

Falling in love again requires letting go.

 

Love, but not “in love” is not necessarily a death sentence for a marriage. The passion and excitement can be cultivated and nurtured and desire can be brought back from its resting place, no matter if you’re the one saying those words or the one hearing them for the first time.

 

Remember Why You Care

Recount the origin story of your relationship. What drew you to your partner? Remember the shared history and revisit the times when you felt the greatest connection or the most overwhelming desire.

 

Be Selfish

Go after what you want. Don’t be afraid to seek pleasure and enjoy it wholeheartedly when you find it. The confidence that you show when you know what you want and you go after is an aphrodisiac. Do what makes you feel desirable. Replace restraint with hunger.

 

Partake in Adventures

Try new things, both with your partner and by yourself. Break out of the mold that you have placed yourself within. Try something new. Change your mind. Allow this rush of adrenaline and dopamine to wash over your partner and your marriage.

 

See Your Spouse Through New Eyes

Try to view your partner as a new acquaintance would. Ask questions as though you don’t know the answers (perhaps you may be surprised). See their role as parent or caretaker or provider as part of them, but not all of them. Refrain from being critical and try being curious.

 

Embrace Uncertainty and Vulnerability

Speak up. Take risks. Be uncomfortable. Allow the thought that your partner may behave in ways you cannot predict. And accept that you may have thoughts and desires that you have shoved into submission. Replace “what now” with “what if” and throw out those tired and worn stories you’re telling yourself.

 

Let Go of Control (You Never Had it Anyway)

Take a step back. When you’re holding on too tightly, you don’t give the other person an opportunity to breathe. Accept that you cannot dictate the future and you cannot force attraction.

 

At the end of the day, we all want to be wanted. We want the feeling of being desired and accepted. We all want to be loved and we want to know that we are loved. And the first step to welcoming that love into your life is allowing that you cannot control it.

 

We push people away because we are afraid of letting them in and being hurt when they leave.

We grasp on to people that are not good for us because we are afraid of being alone and someone is better than no one.

Pushing and pulling are fear, not love.

Love is holding.

Loosely enough so that each person has the freedom to grow and change.

And firmly enough so that each person knows they are supported.

It is trusting the other person enough that they want to stay even if they have the ability to leave.

And trusting yourself that you will be okay if they do.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

mistaken identity

My car turned yellow while I was at work today.

As did the car next to it.

And the one next to that.

In fact, the entire parking lot looked like it had been handled by the grubby fingers of a kid after eating off-brand Cheetos.

And all because trees are not subject to public indecency laws.

My body has decided that tree pollen is as threatening as a hostile missile attack. No matter how much I try to talk my immune system out of responding at a code red threat level, I’m summarily ignored as the defenses are rallied.

My students laugh as my “sneezures” interrupt class several times an hour. My husband grumbles as I cough and wheeze in my sleep. And even my dog looks at me funny when my voice suddenly sounds like that of a seventy-year-old chain smoker.

And all because of a case of mistaken identity.

The pollen, as much as I like to curse it, isn’t really my problem.

My problem is in my reaction to the pollen.

My misery is rooted in my body’s inability to distinguish between a perceived threat and an actual one.

Geez, that sure sounds familiar.

My brain has been known to have the same problem.

When I think back on the times my mind has perceived a threat in my now-marriage, I can recognize that it was assuming a full-on attack and preparing for assault when the reality was as harmless as some yellow dust on the windshield.

A case of mistaken identity.

And my problem wasn’t really what my husband did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say.

It was in my (over)reaction to the situation because of a misidentification.

One of the possible approaches to treat allergies is to submit to a series of shots where you’re repeatedly exposed to a small amount of the offending substance. The science isn’t fully known, but it’s suspected that the process helps to “teach” the body that the allergen doesn’t actually mean any harm and there’s no reason to prepare for battle when its presence is detected. The shots often work, although relief frequently takes longer than expected.

That’s sounding familiar again.

Over the past few years, I have had many opportunities to face small iterations of my fears of abandonment and betrayal. At first, my reactions were extreme. But over time (and yes, far more time than I expected), I learned that often what I perceived as a threat was closer to the level of a messy irritant. 

And now that I fall victim to mistaken identity far less often, I have found relief.

As long as I avoid the procreating trees.

funny-Spring-allergy-tree-nature-cartoon-vert.jpg

 

 

 

Walking the Narrow Line Between Seeking to Understand and Making Excuses

The Netflix series Mindhunters takes a fascinating look at the early days of the FBI’s research into profiling serial killers. At that time, the overall viewpoint of the bureau was to expend all of their resources on catching these killers after they had committed their crimes. Once they were apprehended and restrained, they were to be ignored, dismissed as aberrations.

Yet the investigators at the heart of this series had a different perspective. Instead of waiting until multiple murders had been committed, they wondered if, by interviewing convicted serial killers and analyzing data, they could instead gain some insight into the conditions that lead people to become monsters.

The powers-that-be were horrified. Why would any attention be paid towards these men? Why would any empathy (even feigned in attempt to gain trust) be extended?

Yet, often behind the brass’s backs, in dark and desolate barred rooms, these men-turned-monsters revealed their stories to the investigators. Watching these scenes unfold, I was filled with alternating revulsion as they described their crimes (and the motivations behind their actions) and compassion as their own abuse and trauma was revealed.

What they did was horrific. And in most cases, what they had endured was horrific. The latter certainly doesn’t excuse the former. Yet it does help to provide some understanding, some context, of how those men could do those things. And that understanding can help to both provide some healing for those impacted and also recognize and sometimes intervene when someone seems to be following a similar pathway.

We all have a tendency to ascribe our failures to external (and often malleable) causes and assign other’s shortcomings to their own internal character flaws. In fact, this propensity is so common, it has even been assigned a name: the fundamental attribution error. In normal life, this can be seen by a student justifying their failing grade by blaming the pencil that kept breaking or because they believe the teacher has it out for them. While at the same time, they may attribute their friend’s poor grade to their lack of preparation and inherent laziness.

(Interestingly, this trends the opposite way with positive outcomes – while you chalk your promotion up to your abilities and performance, your coworker’s promotion may be described as “lucky.”)

Of course, the reality is somewhere in between. We are all a product of our internal selves and our external environment. We are both nature and nurture. Our own actions are born both from within our character and from what we face in the world beyond. And the same is true for those around us, even those that behave in incomprehensible and reprehensible ways.

In our long weeks of convalescence at our home, we have been devouring the Marvel universe shows on Netflix (Daredevil and the like). I’m not always a fan of comic-based entertainment; much of it feels too simplistic and filled with one-dimensional characters. Yet these series are different. The heroes have their demons and the villains have their virtues. No one is all-good or all-bad, just variations on shading between.

And the longer I’ve lived and the more honest I’ve been with myself, I think that’s generally the way things are. And I believe that we can make ourselves better by accepting the responsibility for our own choices and we can make the world better by striving to understand why others make the decisions they do. Not in an effort to excuse them from the consequences, but in an attempt to see the connections and possibly be able to recognize trouble before it becomes destruction.

And this is where I am now when it comes to those that have affairs.

It certainly hasn’t always been this way. When I first learned of my ex’s betrayals, I was livid. Enraged. I blamed him for putting me in that mess and all of my energy was directed towards that end. His pitiful excuses made for his behavior (I can just hear his voice whining to the police, “But I just wanted to be happy.”) only served to feed my ire. After all, he had acted without concern for me. Why should I have any concern for him?

This anger filled me for years. By extension, it carried over to anyone that admitted to ever stepping out on their relationships. Just as foretold by the fundamental attribution error, I ascribed all of their actions to the cold calculations of a malignant soul.

All that anger never altered what he had done. All that condemnation never altered the actions of any cheaters I encountered. All that blame never made me feel any better.

And then, ever so slowly, as my personal pain began to fade, I began to listen.

Not only to those who had experienced betrayal. But also to those who had perpetrated it upon their partners.

I found that some of my anger had been replaced by curiosity – Why are some people compelled to cheat? How do they rationalize the pain that this causes their partners? Are they running towards attention or running away from pain? How do they view their marriages, their spouses? Do they feel guilt or regret? Would they make the same choices again? (If you haven’t read or listened to Esther Perel, she has amazing insights into infidelity. Highly recommend!)

And often their explanations rang flat, mere excuses for selfish behavior. Yet, I also uncovered important information about the pressures we put on marriage, the isolation of mental illness, the anxiety around conflict and the fear of being alone.

And it is only by listening that we can begin to gain some understanding.

Not to excuse. (No matter the reasons, cheating is both a selfish act and a coward’s way out.)

But to gain perspective and insight. (Even in those cases when we can never grasp the why or the how behind the actions.)

So that hopefully we can recognize it before it’s too late and maybe even stop it from occurring in the first place.