To the one who told all the lies - this is my letter to you.
Last night I rented the film version of Taylor Swift’s "The Eras Tour." I started watching it and almost immediately I started crying. I couldn’t figure out why. Sure, plenty of her music touches me to the point of tears, but why was I crying to songs like “Style”? Where was this coming from?
Then it hit me. This was about you.
The day I went to see that concert was the last day we communicated. It was the day the proverbial shit started hitting the fan and I started to find out all about the intricate web of lies you had spun to gain my trust and win my heart. Seeing the film play out made it all come rushing back. I hate that you took that experience and colored it such a dark shade of blue.
I thought I was doing fine. Other than when I first learned about who you really were, I had not cried much over you. I was mostly just angry, which turned to apathy. I thought to myself “Wow, I am really handling this well.” I silently hoped I had sidestepped the landmine filled with your betrayal and cowardice and was able to just let it go. I should have known better. There is no way through it, but through it. It is now time for me to process what happened so that in the future my heart is not tainted by your treachery, so that I can expose the cracks in my soul that will eventually be filled with gold like Japanese kintsugi. You do not get to take the beauty that the mosaic of my life is building. But I do have to allow those broken parts to be seen before they can start to mend.
It started simple enough. You were a friend I had met through social media via my online fitness community. We had a lot of the same friends, often rode our bikes to nowhere at the same time, and had been friendly for a couple of years. Last year, you started to become very flirty for a brief period in your messages to me. After being widowed eight years ago I am extremely cautious about who I allow around me, and something about our conversations just seemed a little off. I asked if you were married. You told me you were separated and that the situation was complicated. Shortly thereafter you pulled back and we stopped talking regularly. I did not think much of it at the time because there were no feelings involved and it seemed harmless.
In January of this year, you made a comment about a story I posted. I responded in kind, and from that day until the end of July, we spoke to each other either by text, phone or FaceTime almost every day from our opposite corners of the country. At the outset, I specifically asked you the status of your relationship. You reiterated that you were separated and had filed for divorce, and there was an arbitration scheduled for some time in February. From the beginning I told you that I was not interested in being anybody’s pass out of their marriage; that I would not be the scapegoat for people to blame for a divorce occurring; and that if there was any possibility that the two of you might reconcile I was not going to continue our communications. I have been down the road of being that hated woman when the vitriol of Patrick’s family was directed towards me throughout our relationship and even long after he died. You told me that your entire family knew that the two of you were getting divorced, so there was no way I would be blamed for anything. You also confirmed that you saw no possibility for reconciliation.
There was no grey area in my pointed questioning. There was no wiggle room. You had to simply lie to my face to answer as you did.
You said you were still living in your shared home's basement in spite of the divorce filing, but that you were on a waiting list for a condo. You told me that because your children had health issues and you were frequently traveling for work, you agreed to temporarily stay in the house together with whom I thought to be your soon-to-be ex-wife, and live separate lives. The arrangement seemed odd to me, but you assured me it was temporary.
I told you that I was going to choose to trust you until you gave me a reason not to. This is very different from my nature, which tends to be very skeptical, but I was hoping that by changing the way I approached this relationship there would be less jealousy or suspicion than previous relationships I had been in. In hindsight, of course, I wish I had not been so trusting. But it was not willful blindness. You were convincing. I never suspected you were lying about anything. Nobody would do what you did to a woman who was quite clearly cautiously allowing you into her life in spite of her vulnerability from past traumas. You knew I had not dated since a brief period four years earlier, which ended in a dramatic trial to win a permanent restraining order against an unhinged lunch date. Before that, it had been three and a half years since my husband died, and I had not been with anyone in that time. Your lies would have to be too elaborate, bordering on sociopathic to pull this off. So I believed you.
You were adamant about not telling our friends in the fitness community that we were seeing each other/talking romantically/however you want to categorize it. You said this was because this community was your “safe place” and you needed it for your mental health. You told me you did not want any of the drama that might be associated with us openly being a couple, because people would likely misunderstand your separation/pending divorce and claimed that you were trying to spare me the judgment that would come from it. You used a mutual friend's awful experience to get my buy in. Personally, I did not want to deal with any drama, and I wanted the opportunity to get to know you without the influence of anyone else’s opinions. I was okay with keeping it between us. The number of times you repeated why this was so crucial seemed a bit overkill, but I did not think much of it other than how important it was to you. So it became important to me. You also said that while the you and your wife had discussed seeing other people, if she found out that you were dating someone, she would likely make the divorce much more difficult and you were concerned about custody of your children. I certainly did not want to cause complications in the divorce being finalized, so again I agreed that while we were figuring things out it would be best to not make our relationship public.
You were a really good pretender. You made it make sense. This was not the first time you had done this.
We were in constant communication in those early months. I knew that would not be sustainable, but with you living so far away, it was all we had. We bonded over our mutual love of 90’s R&B music, sending each other a song a day that I compiled into a playlist. Eventually it was six hours long so we started delving into the 2000’s. That one ended up being four hours long. Do you realize how many days we had to do this to build up ten hours of love songs? Do you realize that while you were drawing me in like a predator does his prey, I was trusting you to be gentle with my heart?
Since having to stop working due to my chronic illness and mental health challenges, I have struggled to find security within myself and where things stand in my life. I was defined by career, by "stuff," by who I associated with - and I lost it all. It was not my fault. Nothing that has caused me to end up here was the result of something I did wrong. Nonetheless, I did not know how to explain to a potential partner that I was not working because I had become disabled, that I was living with my family and that I would soon be forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills. I thought this would immediately peg me as unlovable and undesirable. You knew this, because I told you. But you did not judge me. You told me that you admired how much I had overcome, and that I still got up every day and fought for my health and happiness. I cannot even explain the relief I felt when you expressed this. Whether you meant it or not, I do not know – but it was true, and I thought you saw me. Maybe you did. It does not matter anymore.
After a few misfires and last minute "emergencies," you finally came to visit me in California. I was so anxious waiting for that day. You described how you would run to me when you saw me, scoop me up and kiss me in a way that only what felt like ages of waiting to be together could bring. I carefully planned my outfits. I put together a welcome basket filled with all of your favorite things, including a custom workout towel with a favorite saying from your most beloved fitness instructor. In spite of my 15 years of sobriety, I bought your drink of choice, knowing it was a nearly nightly way to wind down at the end of your day. I wanted to show my appreciation for you traveling to see me, to see if this thing was the real deal or just a hyped up online romance.
While the moment you arrived was more awkward than romantic, it was to be expected after all of the anticipation and build up. It did not take long for us to warm up to each other. I will spare the details of the trip, because you know them and I do not want you to have any enjoyment by my recounting them here. After spending several days together, I felt our connection was cemented. Your text when you got back home said that what you were afraid of – that being with each other would be as amazing as you thought, and that it would be even harder to be apart – came to fruition. You talked about how you knew my living situation was difficult and you were thinking about places where we could live together. You had asked me early on whether I would be willing to move out of state, and I recognized that if things worked out one of us would have to move, and I would not expect you to move away from your children. You painted such a vivid picture of a future that I came to believe it was the path we were on. A difficult one to travel, yes – but I knew just how difficult it had been for me to connect to anyone, let alone romantically, in my years as a widow. I was willing to wait.
I thought it was real.
I invited you to join me for what is arguably the most significant event of my year, the Head to the Hill event with the National Brain Tumor Society. I travel annually to Washington DC to advocate on behalf of the brain tumor community to our legislative representatives, in memory of Patrick who died of brain cancer, and so many friends I have gained and lost along the path following his death. You had to work so you were not a part of the activities, but the fact that I had someone there with me was not lost on my many friends who were in attendance. I had never even spoken of anyone romantically since Patrick died, let alone had someone with me. After a night together, you were supposed to meet some of those loved ones once we got back from Capitol Hill. You ended up leaving during the day, saying your child was ill and you needed to hurry home. I was sad, but completely understood.
For the next several months, we continued to talk every day. You were very deliberate about discussing the future. You said you hoped that our relationship would progress to “walking down the aisle.” You told me that I needed to have “thick skin” to deal with your family because their humor was to be very tough on each other. I asked you what about me having over a decade of experience as a successful litigation attorney in a "good old boy’s club" profession indicated that I was thin skinned, and you conceded my point. Since I had not worked during the time we were friends or romantically involved, you really had not seen any side of me other than one that was supportive, understanding, and extremely patient. I mention patience because after that trip, you must have indicated you were going to fly me out to either your work trips or to your city at least a dozen times, but it never happened. You told me you were going on a trip at the end of May and wanted me to join you, and then at the last minute said that you needed to cancel the trip and stay home to help your mom with her brother/your uncle, who was dying of inoperable cancer. You indicated that you were under great financial strain because you were footing much of your uncle’s medical bills.
In June, I began to express that I was not satisfied with the lack of in-person communication as well as the fact that you had cut back talking on the phone and FaceTime, and were mostly talking to me via text message. I informed you many times that I simply could not maintain a connection over text. You told me that this was just a temporary situation because you were so overwhelmed with the circumstances in your life, including work stress, your uncle’s cancer, and also your step-father’s cancer which you feared would take his life not long after your uncle because he was becoming so frail.
You knew that a woman widowed by cancer would give you leeway to care for family members with cancer.
You went on a trip out of the country with some friends, I thought. After you returned, our conversations continued to be mostly by text and increasingly surface level. I asked you then – and numerous times before – if perhaps this was just not the right timing and you did not have the emotional bandwidth for a relationship. You just kept saying your feelings had not changed, it would not be like this forever, and despite the numerous opportunities where I offered you an “out” of the relationship, you continued to express your desire to move forward together.
Why did you not take the exit ramp? You had to know that you were in far too deep to ever dig out of if you did, in fact, want to be with me, and I would never be able to trust you. Your secrets could have stayed yours. But you were greedy, and callous, and wanted to bleed me dry before you decided you were finished with me.
One day we had a conversation over the phone in which you raised your voice at me and were nearly yelling. I told you early on that yelling and not fighting fair was a deal breaker for me so I ended the call and said that we could speak when we were both more grounded. I refused (and continue to refuse) to ever accept that type of emotional manipulation or abuse. It seemed to me that this may have been when you realized that I was not going to just fawn over you and never have my basic needs met, nor allow you to treat me with disrespect. Perhaps your shiny new toy lost its luster because I became real; I have no idea. But after that call, for the first time we did not speak for a few days. This continued on and off for a brief time but when we spoke, you continued to reassure me that “we were fine” and all of your difficult life circumstances were taking everything in your energy to get through each day. You did not consider my circumstances. I noticed.
The last day we spoke before you inexplicably went dark after over seven months was the day of The Eras Tour. You told me you were sorry you had not been in touch, but that the family was gathered at the hospital because they were going to “pull the plug” on your uncle that day or in the days to come. You again assured me that there was no issue between us. I sent you a picture from the concert. After that, I heard nothing from you. I did not yet know I would never hear from you again.
Before the concert, I told my best friend from law school that had traveled across the country and I had not seen in years about you. The facts of your alleged divorce/separation/living situation did not sit right with her. She was concerned I might have been lied to and asked me whether I had looked into your background. I told her I had not because I was trusting you and taking you at your word.
The next week, I spoke with my friend and said that I was done trying to make a relationship work when you were not putting in any effort. She told me that her worries had led her to do some digging, and asked if I wanted to know what she found. Pit in my stomach, I said yes. That is when I learned that there was no divorce registered in the county you live in. I discovered many other things, and I was in shock by the number of lies. We came across your wife’s Facebook page and saw a photo from March of this year that seemed to have been taken during the time you and I were planning your trip to California. The photo looked very much like a picture of a happy family, and not a couple embroiled in a prolonged divorce process. I was horrified. She had also found family members’ Facebook pages and seen that on that last day we spoke, when you were supposed to be at the hospital with your uncle, your mom and step-father – who you said was deathly ill – were on a cruise, by all accounts in good health and spirits. I felt sick.
True to my word, I had never told any of my fitness community friends about you. Finally, as the wall of lies surrounding your true self were crumbing, I told a friend who knew I had been seeing someone that it was you. Her immediate reaction was that I needed to speak to another one of our very close friends because she knew that last year you had a relationship with her as well. I then spoke to our friend directly and asked if she had been seeing you, and she informed me she had. I do not know the details of your relationship but I do know that it was not casual and you had been to visit her several times last year. We were both shocked and devastated, especially when realizing you had been playing us both and telling us the same lies. We also determined that the day after you and I last spoke, you began contacting her much more frequently than you had in the preceding months.
Had you simply taken one of the many outs I offered you, I probably would never have found anything out, nor would my friend. But you did not. Considering you were carrying on two relationships simultaneously with women you knew were good friends with each other, I of course suspected that we were not the first people you had done this to. The story was shared with some of our friends and I began to hear more stories about your inappropriate behavior with other women. I left you a voicemail letting you know I knew what you were doing, who you were doing it with, and that you were done. Caught. I felt the knife twisting in my back as I said those final words to you.
I did not know what to do, so I sat with it until it became clear that I was not motivated by revenge. What I knew was that you were putting the physical and emotional health of all of us at risk with your lies. That is not something that I could stomach sitting on without letting your wife know. I felt terrible thinking about the times you must have said you were traveling for work, leaving your wife at home with your children, when in fact you were traveling to see other women. So I wrote her a letter, detailing much of what is shared here, but without any unnecessary insight into my own feelings and pain. I knew she would have plenty of her own.
After a clandestine arrangement to make sure that the letter reached your wife without you intercepting it, she sent me a return e-mail the same day. She confirmed you had never been separated and no one ever filed for divorce. She gave me some insight into some of the things I was questioning. I responded and told her that I was so sorry that you had lied, manipulated, and caused so much wreckage and destruction and that if she ever needed anything from me, I would make myself available.
I thought that would be the end of it. But when I found out that you continued to lie – even in conversations with people where you were purportedly “coming clean” – about the nature and extent of our involvement, even though I could (and did) back up everything I said, I knew you remained dangerous to any woman who might be kind enough to respond to your outreach. In fact, you were recognized for your use of social media to foster connections in our community. I could not stand that you were held in esteem by the community that you were using to target vulnerable women. I support other women, and I could not stay quiet in the event others were in the dark like I was. Who were trusting. Who did not expect someone could be so deceptive, so horribly hurtful. And I am sure you are not the only one who has done this.
So here we are. After thousands of words that I write to chronicle my experience, to process my feelings and to memorialize it as the destructive mess that it was, I still cannot convey the harm you have caused. You made me, without my consent, party to an affair that I explicitly refused to be a part of from our first conversations. You took my agency to choose away from me by withholding the truth. You ripped the carefully placed stitches I had worked so hard to sew in my ability to trust and let someone in. Your name does not deserve to be spoken in the same breath as Patrick’s, but you were the worst thing to happen to me since he died. YOU had a choice, one that you did not give me in return. What you did was dark and diabolically cruel.
But you do not get to win in my story.
I will take the valuable lessons I learned from your duplicity and begin the process of turning them into the gold that will mold my broken pieces back together. Those stitches are already being re-sewn. I feel sorry for you, that you are so small that you have to tell big lies to feel relevant. I am grateful to be free of you, untethered in every respect, untainted by your artifice. My past trauma has shown me that I can and will move forward as I leave you far in my rearview mirror. I do not need you, or anyone else, to be whole. I will do the work to be my own hero.
As Taylor herself wrote, “karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend, karma's a relaxing thought – aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?”
Lisa O'Leary is a lawyer, cat mom, widow, sports enthusiast, advocate for the unheard, truth seeker, soul searcher, meditator, and consciousness practitioner who is actively engaged in quieting down the mind to allow the song to play. Her years living with chronic pain and illness, as well as her mental health challenges, make her a formidable opponent to anyone or anything who seek to destroy her pursuit of truth and light.