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Red Flags Introduction

By Donna Andersen

“It felt like magic to me,” says a woman whom we’ll call “Charlotte” about the dreamy beginning of her relationship with “Anthony.” “It happened very quickly … and I let it. He met all of my needs; it was like a fairy tale.”

Charlotte and Anthony met at the gym in an exclusive country club. Anthony told Charlotte that he had multiple university degrees, and had also worked as an underwater welding engineer. He struck Charlotte as strong and protective.

Charlotte, a single mother, was making it on her own — but all she ever wanted was a complete family. Anthony seemed like the man who could make it happen. He was charming. They shared the same values. Judging by all the calls, texts and emails she received, Anthony adored her, and the sex was extraordinary. He swept Charlotte off her feet.

They married, but after a year, the bubble burst. Everything Anthony had told Charlotte was a lie. He didn’t have all those university degrees — he hadn’t even graduated from high school. He was never a welding engineer, and he certainly didn’t almost die on a welding job, as he claimed. “He exaggerated stories to get his way; he abused and killed animals; he was a thief,” Charlotte said. Anthony cheated on her and threatened her life.

Charlotte kicked him out. The marriage cost her more than $50,000, and a massive amount of heartache.

“Allen” and “Jocelyn”

“Allen” and “Jocelyn” met on a popular Internet dating site. “Everything was fast, exciting and she made me feel as if I were the most important thing in her life,” Allen remembered. He liked Jocelyn’s spontaneity, charm, intelligence, sex appeal and caring nature. Allen was going through hard times — a separation and divorce, while caring for a sick parent. Jocelyn supported him as he dealt with his problems, and assured him of a new beginning with her.

Jocelyn asked Allen about his hopes and dreams, and promised to make them come true. She was in constant communication through phone, text and email, although she was evasive when questioned about her past. Allen had a gut feeling that something was amiss, but ignored it, chalking up his apprehensions to stress from all his other worries. He also ignored the misgivings of his family and friends, and didn’t even listen to Jocelyn’s family and friends, who thought she was phony and uncaring.

Allen and Jocelyn were together for a few years, but the honeymoon period was over after four months. By the time Allen got out of the relationship, he had lost his job and his home, he had been physically abused, and the stress had made him ill. He estimated that the relationship with Jocelyn cost him well over $100,000 — in fact, she stole money right out of his bank account.

“Barbara” and “Luis”

After her husband of 23 years passed away, “Barbara” met “Luis.” “It was wonderful,” she said. “I thought he was my forever. He was respectable, caring and loving, showing more love for me than anyone ever had. He said faith had brought us together, and we were meant to be forever.”

As with Charlotte and Allen, Barbara’s romance was a whirlwind. Luis shared her beliefs and interests, and lavished attention upon her. She, too, though, felt something wasn’t quite right. “I let it go,” she said. “I thought it was just me being paranoid.” Even when Luis admitted legal problems, he blamed them on others and claimed that he got the raw end of the deal. Barbara accepted his explanations.

Barbara and Luis married, but it didn’t last very long. Luis picked fights and left for weekends, or even weeks at a time. Then he called and begged Barbara to take him back. At first, she did. Later, however, she figured out that Luis started the arguments purposely so he could leave. He went to parties and stayed with other women — or men. Barbara caught a sexually transmitted disease from her husband. She became anxious and depressed, and thought about suicide. Luis, too, threatened suicide — although he also, Barbara said, “offered to kill a girl I caught him with if I would take him back.”

My marriage to a sociopath

The three cases that you just read are true. I have learned that they are typical of what I call love fraud.

Love fraud is the intentional exploitation of an individual through manipulating emotions in a personal relationship. The exploitative relationship is frequently romantic, but can also be between family members, friends and associates. The relationship can take place in real life, or exist only through communications media — phone calls, email, text messages, even snail mail. The people who engage in love fraud are sociopaths.

Like Charlotte and Barbara, I married a sociopath. His name was James Alwyn Montgomery, and although I met him not far from my home in the United States, he was originally from Sydney, Australia.

What I remember most about the beginning of my relationship with Montgomery is how he pursued me.

He’d posted an ad in the America Online romance section — this was back in 1996, when AOL ruled the Internet. He sounded much more intriguing than most men — a former Green Beret; a background in advertising, TV and movies; now negotiating with local movers and shakers for his next big business venture. The reason for the ad? His wife had died, and his “grieving was complete.”

Reading Montgomery’s claims now, one could wonder why anyone — specifically me — would believe them. But this was before we all knew that online profiles can be full of lies. It was before I knew that sociopaths did not necessarily look like Charles Manson, with long scraggly hair and a swastika etched into his forehead. And it was before I knew that someone who proclaimed he was so head-over-heels in love with me could be lying.

When I met Montgomery, I was 40 years old, never married. As a single girl, I’d dated a lot of men, but I’d never experienced anything like the attention this particular man lavished on me. He called many times a day. He proposed marriage within a week of meeting me in person.

Why wasn’t this a huge red flag? Since childhood, I’d heard all those fairy tales about love at first sight. In fact, I knew people who had fallen in love right away and, decades later, were still married. I’d been waiting for my chance at true romance for years. I thought my time had come.

Montgomery frequently told me how much he respected my talent, and how I would be such an asset to his business plans. We were a formidable team, he said, and he wanted me to benefit from the success that his ventures were sure to become. So, not long after he proposed, he also recommended that I invest in his businesses — he wanted to make sure that I personally profited from our efforts. An investment of $5,000 would buy me a few percentage points of ownership.

So began the money drain.

Montgomery never asked for money for himself. All requests were presented as investments in our future, needed to secure a business deal. Usually there was a crisis that had to be resolved immediately — with my cash. What I didn’t know was that he created the crises so I wouldn’t have time to think about his requests. And I also didn’t know, until after I left my husband, that much of my money was spent entertaining other women.

A year and a half after we married, I knew Montgomery was cheating on me. But by that time, my husband had ravaged my savings and maxed out my credit cards. I was in desperate financial straits, and one of his business ventures, a Titanic exhibition, looked like it was actually going to work. I decided to ignore his infidelity until I got my money back.

Unfortunately, the Titanic sank again, and all my money — $227,000 — was gone. Then I learned that Montgomery was not only cheating on me, but had a child with another woman during our marriage. Then I found out that there were multiple other women, and Montgomery took money from all of them. Then I found out that Montgomery married the mother of the child 10 days after I left him, which was the second time he committed bigamy.

My head was spinning. “What kind of person does this?” I asked my therapist.

“It sounds like he might be a sociopath,” she said.

What is a sociopath?

In this book, the word “sociopath” is used not as a formal diagnosis, but as a generic description for a social predator, someone who lives his or her life by exploiting others. In fact, “sociopath” is no longer used as an official diagnostic term. Related clinical terms are psychopath, narcissist, antisocial personality disorder, dyssocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. People with these personality disorders have one big trait in common: They routinely disregard the rights and needs of the people around them.

Sociopaths are detrimental to our physical, financial, emotional, psychological and spiritual health. The best way to deal with sociopaths is to keep them out of our lives. But this is difficult, because millions of sociopaths live freely among us. Most of them are not locked up in jail or mental institutions. They are not crazy nutcases. Rather, they often appear to be charming and charismatic, cool and confident.

In order to protect ourselves from sociopaths, we must explode three common cultural myths that frequently influence how we view others.

Myth #1 – All sociopaths (psychopaths) are deranged serial killers

Hollywood has learned that sociopaths make great villains, so horror movies, thrillers and crime shows often feature, with varying degrees of accuracy, characters who have this personality disorder.

The classic is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In this 1960 film, the antagonist, named Norman Bates, viciously kills two people, and had previously killed four others. This movie forever united the term “psycho” with the behavior of deranged multiple murders. Audiences tend to think that the “Psycho” title is short for “psychopath,” but Bates was actually psychotic, meaning he had lost touch with reality. Psychopathy is a totally different disorder. Psychopaths are not delusional; they know exactly what they are doing.

This is portrayed in the 1991 film, The Silence of the Lambs. The villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. Early in the movie, the prison doctor describes him: “Oh, he’s a monster. A pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive.” Hannibal Lecter is highly intelligent, sophisticated, charming when he wants to be, calm, calculating and utterly ruthless. These traits have come to be associated with diabolical killers in the movies, and the traits often do describe the psychopathic personality. In the real world, most serial killers probably are cold-blooded psychopaths, and sometimes delusional as well.

The problem is that because of this heavily reinforced image in pop culture, people think all psychopaths/sociopaths are serial killers. In the news media, the terms “psychopath” and “sociopath,” if they are used at all, are applied mostly to people who commit murder.

The truth is, most psychopaths never kill anyone. And even among those who kill, the number that are serial killers is miniscule.

But it’s almost impossible to overcome the ubiquitous influence of Hollywood. Today, many of us have the preconceived idea that “psychopath” and “sociopath” equal “serial killer.” So when we see exploitative behavior from our partners, it’s difficult for us to recognize that they may be sociopaths. After all, they haven’t murdered anyone. The Hollywood image prevents us from realizing that our husbands, wives or dating partners may have serious personality disorders.

Myth #2 – There’s good in everyone

In the United States, from the time we are small children, we are bombarded with messages about fairness, equal opportunity, giving people a chance, and tolerance. In school, we learn about the Declaration of Independence and its most famous line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (with the understanding that “men” now includes “women”). In church, we’re told that “we’re all God’s children.”

Most of us have been taught to believe that there’s good in everyone, and advice abounds on how to find it: When people do things that hurt us, don’t react right away, but consider the reasons for their actions. Remember that everyone can have a bad day. Sometimes people aren’t wrong, they’re just different.

All of this is true, correct and appropriate — except when we’re dealing with sociopaths.

It’s difficult for most of us to comprehend just how different these serial exploiters are from the rest of humanity. In fact, sociopaths are literally missing the qualities and abilities that make us truly human. They do not feel empathy for others — not their fellow citizens, not their family members, not even their own children. Sociopaths have no conscience. They usually know, on an intellectual level, the difference between right and wrong, but they have no emotional investment in doing what is right, and weak to nonexistent internal prohibitions against doing what is wrong.

When we see bad behavior in someone, especially a romantic partner, we look for reasons that we can comprehend—perhaps the person had a difficult childhood or an abusive first marriage. Because we want to uphold our own values of fairness and charity, we are blind to the truth: Sociopaths exploit us because they want to.

If you go looking for good in a sociopath, you won’t find it. Underneath a charming, caring, attentive façade, these people are thoroughly rotten.

Myth #3 – Everyone wants to be loved

Ever since human beings invented poetry, storytelling, music and art, the favorite subject of our creativity has been love: The joy of finding love. The frustration of loving from afar. The unbearable pain of losing love.

People long for love. Love completes us; love makes life worth living. We know this instinctively, but researchers have evidence that, as social beings, love is vitally important to us. For example, when psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his famous hierarchy of needs, it included the need for belonging, love and affection.

Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation suggests that people move through stages of growth — as basic needs are met, we move up to more intangible needs. The concept is often explained using the visual aid of a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs, such as air, water, food and shelter. The next step up is the need for safety and security. The third level is the need for love and belonging, including friendship, intimacy and family. At the top of the pyramid are esteem and self-actualization. According to Maslow, love is right in the middle of human motivation.

Plenty of other scientific research has documented the importance of love to human health. Love helps us cope with stress. Happily married people have lower blood pressure and recover from injuries faster. Being in love even helps us resist the common cold.

Since love is so good for us, everyone must want love. Right?

Wrong. Sociopaths do not care about love, which Maslow stated in his paper. “The so-called ‘psychopathic personality’ is another example of permanent loss of the love needs,” he wrote. In fact, the core of this personality disorder is an inability to love.

This makes sense, of course. Sociopaths do not feel empathy and do not form emotional bonds with other people. How can they possibly feel love?

They don’t, although they are excellent actors and can convincingly pretend to be loving, if it suits their purpose. They understand the cause-and-effect relationship — if sociopaths say, “I love you,” people who hear those words give them what they want. It may be sex, money, a place to live, business opportunities, entertainment — whatever. For sociopaths, the expression of love is nothing more than a tool, a means to an end.

Sociopaths, you see, have their own hierarchy of needs. They want power, control and sex, and they’ll do anything to get what they want.

Lovefraud.com: teaching people to recognize and recover from sociopaths

My ex-husband told me that he loved me soon after we met, and throughout our relationship. He was convincing, and he got what he wanted — access to my money, credit and business connections.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that James Montgomery’s big plans weren’t working, and my finances were rapidly deteriorating. When I complained and demanded changes, Montgomery promised that the problems were temporary. He begged me to believe in him. He cried at the thought of losing me.

It was all manipulation so he could continue to bleed me.

When I left him, and learned that he had a diagnosable personality disorder, I was astounded. I was a college graduate with degrees in journalism and psychology, yet I was clueless! If I didn’t know what a sociopath was, I reasoned, other people didn’t know either. The public needed to know that human predators lived among us. So I created a website, Lovefraud.com, to teach people how to recognize and recover from sociopaths.

Lovefraud launched in July 2005. Six years later, we were attracting over 50,000 unique visitors a month, and more than 2,800 people had contacted me to tell me of their own betrayals by sociopaths. In their anguished stories, I kept hearing the same patterns of behavior, over and over. It seemed that sociopaths — both male and female — operated out of the same playbook.

I realized that people needed to know the warning signs of sociopathic behavior.

Although I had plenty of anecdotal information about how sociopaths targeted romantic partners, I also wanted standardized, formal data. To gather it, Lovefraud conducted two Internet surveys of our readers.

The first took place from February 12 through March 3, 2010. It was inspired by the American Psychiatric Association’s request for public comment on its new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the bible that mental health professionals use in diagnosing and treating patients. In the draft of the fifth edition posted on the Internet, the description of antisocial personality disorder had changed significantly from previous editions of the manual. Some of the changes matched the experiences of Lovefraud readers, and some didn’t.

Working with my Lovefraud colleague, Dr. Liane Leedom, a psychiatrist who was also conned into marriage by a sociopath, I developed a survey, called the Lovefraud DSM-5 Survey, to ask our readers about the sociopaths in their lives. We received a total of 1,378 responses from all over the world, with 1,188 completing the entire survey. Eighty percent were filled out by people who had been married to, or in romantic relationships with, individuals who they came to believe were sociopaths. The rest of the surveys were completed by parents, children, and other relatives or associates of sociopaths.

The second survey, called the Lovefraud Romantic Partner Survey, was designed specifically to gather more information on how sociopaths behaved in romantic situations. It was available on the Internet from February 15 through April 18, 2011. A total of 1,352 people responded from around the globe, with 1,053 of them completing the entire survey. Data quoted in this book are from all the surveys, both complete and incomplete.

Dr. Leedom had also collected data in 2007 for her contributions to a book about women in relationships with psychopaths. For this effort, the women described their experiences and also agreed to participate in personality evaluations. Dr. Leedom made her research available to me to use in this book.

Red Flags of Love Fraud is a compendium of all this information. I summarize the data from the Lovefraud surveys — they show clear patterns of manipulation exhibited by people who are probably sociopaths. I include verbatim quotes from survey respondents — the comments are chilling. I also summarize the experiences of some survey respondents. When I tell their stories, I give the survey respondents, and their romantic partners, fictitious first names, which appear in quotation marks. Although the stories are real, I don’t know who provided them, because all survey data were collected anonymously.

In the Epilogue, I also reprint one of the thousands of emails that I have received, in which Lovefraud readers tell their stories in their own words. This letter paints a clear and scary picture of how sociopaths draw people into romantic relationships, and then exploit them.

My goal is to show you how sociopaths behave in the real world, when they’re targeting real victims. Read this information. Think about your involvements. If you ever see these behavior patterns in someone who claims to be your “soul mate,” run as fast as you can.

Red Flags of Love Fraud is now available in the Lovefraud Shop and on Amazon.com. You can order a printed book or e-book.