Every week, a chapter of my book, “Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned” (available via Amazon.com, just click on the title or book cover) will be published here on Lovefraud. To read prior chapters, please see the link at the bottom of the post.
Chapter 2: Please Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain
This probably sounds like the beginning of a love story, a second chance for two people moving on after unsuccessful first marriages. That is how I viewed it at the time, but I was wrong. I would not figure it out for twenty years, but the man to whom I was so attracted was, and is, a sociopath. Already, he was using techniques predators have used throughout time to get their victims to trust and fall in love with them, paving the way for future erosion and exploitation.
Although anyone can become the target of a sociopath, those of us who are empathetic, kind, and trusting are especially good targets, because we are less likely to understand that evil people exist aside from malevolent historical figures and violent criminals. In a sea of competitive MBA students, I was the one always wanting to help and to play nice. I tutored struggling classmates for free and ran study sessions in my areas of expertise—marketing and advertising. If someone was bullied by another student, I offered a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear. Everyone knew I was happy to lend others my notes. To a well-camouflaged sociopath like Paul, it must have been as if I was screaming, “Pick me!”
In his bestseller, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, fear, danger, and risk expert Gavin de Becker describes how “forced teaming” creates vulnerability, because it manufactures the view that “we’re in this together.” Forced teaming (acting as if two or more people are part of a team, when, in fact, they are not) produces the illusion of common goals where none really exist, weakens interpersonal barriers, and facilitates unwarranted trust.
Conmen and others who would do harm use forced teaming to get potential victims to lower their defenses. If forced teaming is effective, any self-respecting sociopath knows how to take advantage of an actual team that requires shared time, experiences, and objectives, such as the simulated business team to which Paul and I were assigned. Is it any surprise that groups such as AA report that some individuals join their organization simply to prey on vulnerable members?
Once the opportunity arises, Paul and fellow sociopaths are skilled at fabricating personal qualities and details of their past and present as well as aspirations for their future to lure potential victims by pretending to be “just like them.” Hence, as I did, those targeted by sociopaths often feel an immediate and strong attraction to the sociopath and believe they have found their soul mate. Be warned: A sense of instant compatibility and attraction may be a sign you have met your soul mate, but it may also be a sign you are being targeted by a sociopath. Damn those romantic novels and movies that make us believe an immediate spark heralds true love! Maybe it does, but maybe it is a harbinger of something far more nefarious.
The more a sociopath already knows about you (and he will gather information for this purpose, whether from you, your friends, your family, the Internet, or anywhere else he can find it), the better a sociopath can craft a personality, history, and personal goals tailored to entrap you. Before I knew who Paul really was, he used the information I had divulged so willingly and trustfully to morph into my perfect boyfriend—altruistic, athletic, grounded, and intellectually vibrant.
The best lies take root from seeds of truth. Paul had been married briefly to Jenny, and his description of his marriage and divorce were heartbreaking. Eliciting sympathy and pity is another common tactic sociopaths use to ensnare their victims—a horrible ex-spouse or ex-partner (a favorite ploy), a profound betrayal, a painful childhood, a boss who never appreciated him, or other personal hurts (e.g., always being picked last for teams in grade school). They do this because, if you feel sorry for a person and if you feel he has revealed something personal to you, you are more likely to connect with him emotionally, reveal your own personal hurts and sensitivities (which can be used to exploit and manipulate you later on), and do things for that person that you would not do if your feelings were not as strong.
According to Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, pity is a key weapon in the sociopath’s arsenal, one that is particularly effective on compassionate people who have great empathy for others. If the storyteller is a sociopath, the sad tale being spun is laced with purposeful emphases and embellishments to get you to lower your guard, to offer information that can be used against you, and to develop a strong affinity for the sociopath. Sociopaths use this tactic because it works.
While Paul’s story about Jenny’s betrayal brought me close to tears, the real story was, and is, truly heartbreaking—for Jenny, that is. Two decades later, while purging old files in preparation to downsize after my divorce from Paul, I stumbled across a file on Paul’s divorce from Jenny. That, combined with the family lore about this relationship, put their marriage into an entirely different light.
When Jenny was just eighteen years old and a freshman at Stanford University, she fell so head over heels in love with Paul (then a senior) that they got engaged. She left Stanford to follow Paul to his first job in Connecticut. Her grandfather, who was funding her Stanford education, disapproved of Jenny getting married so young and refused to continue paying for college if Jenny left Stanford to marry Paul. Poof! There went Jenny’s funding from her grandfather. Poof! There went her Stanford education! Before starting her sophomore year in a nearby, convenient university, nineteen-year-old Jenny married Paul. Both she and Paul signed for the sizeable loans she needed now to complete her education.
To pave the way for success, Paul logged long hours at work and traveled extensively for “business” (or so the story went), and so he was rarely home. Jenny had sacrificed everything for Paul but was getting almost nothing positive back, not even her new husband’s company. Now, away from her family and married, while most students her age were single, she was isolated and alone. It must have been emotionally devastating. Not that I am justifying her alleged affair, but I can understand how a young, vulnerable, lonely teenager, separated from family and friends, would turn to another human being for the warmth and companionship she expected but was not getting from her husband. When Paul discovered her alleged affair, they separated.
In Connecticut, far away from her family, who were on the west coast, Jenny was alone—a college student with no money to hire a lawyer. In many states, it is customary to split all of the marital debt and assets between both parties. Jenny’s student loans were acquired as Paul’s wife, so it was their debt, not hers alone. Yet, the documents I discovered showed that Jenny agreed to be solely responsible for all of her student debt. That was her repayment for giving up her Stanford education and family funding!
Paul walked away from the marriage with their fancy sports car (that he alone would be able to afford after the divorce), their dog, no student debt, and the beginning of a fruitful career that he would leverage into a successful application to Yale’s MBA program. Jenny left the divorce a financial and emotional wreck. I’m not sure the real story warrants a lot of sympathy for Paul. In fact, it is even possible that Paul is the one who had the affair and that Jenny left him. I know now that Paul is an adulterer and a chronic liar who accuses others of his own unsavory behavior. Either way, Paul emerged unscathed with a story of heartbreak he could leverage into attracting his next target—me.
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Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.