I know this post may be a gross generalization, but I hope that it does spark some conversation/debate because I believe the issues I am addressing are valid ones.
- How many relationships has social media wrecked?Marriages, domestic partnerships, engagements, even good friendships…
- How often do these relationships end up being torn to shreds for everyone to see online?
It is better than some soapies, I tell you! The lengths some people will go to, to make their spouses, partners, fiancés or even friends out to be bad, simply because they themselves are standing behind the door, is often laughable.
- How many “relationships” are established on social media that never actually come to fruition?
In recent weeks, I’ve seen all sides of this conundrum.
I have quite a few friends on Facebook – many of them are people from school, or people I’ve met through my Herbalife business. Some school friends I still stay in touch with via the platform, and some are still there, simply because it would be impolite to delete them. The latter’s posts seldom come up in my newsfeed anyway, so I suppose it is a case of no harm, no foul.
But then there are my IRL friends, and the platform is a good way to stay in touch with what’s going on, as time simply whizzes by, because, let’s face it, as one friend, Warren, said to me the other night during a phone call, “I wanted to call you, but got busy at work, and when I looked again, two weeks had gone by!” It is the reality of life, particularly at this time of the year when the so-called Silly Season approaches.
For the most part, my news feed is filled with the happenings of these friends, but every so often, FB decides to drop in something from someone I haven’t seen, nor heard from in easily a year. Not sure why it happens, but it does. I’ll just blame the algorithms.
Motivation for my first question is based on this instance:
A friend living across the waters, who, when I last touched base with him was happily married. I was somewhat surprised to see his profile pic having been changed from him and his partner, to him and someone else. Obviously, it could simply have been a friend (after all, one of my friends has an ancient photo of him and I as his profile pic, and we’re by far NOT a couple, nor have we even been), but my curiosity got the better of me and I did a bit of mandatory FB stalking, as one does in situations like this.
And I know some of you are rolling your eyes at me, but go ahead and deny that you’ve never done it! It appears that he and the person in his profile pic are in a relationship and have been for some time.
What happened to his partner I wonder? Did these two lovebirds meet online through mutual FB friends, or did they meet IRL? Was it simply playful, flirtatious banter between the two of them online that led to the breakup of the marriage? Or are he and his partner just in the process of getting divorced, given that my friend still has his married surname? My imagination is running amok with the possibilities.
Pertaining to the second question:
I had a very close friend last year. Note: HAD. I am not going to go into the reasons why he is past tense. While we were friends he made his still-at-the-time-soon-to-be-ex-wife out to be quite a philanderer and a bitch. Oh, and let’s not forget, a bad mother. Turns out that yes, she did have affairs, but so did he. Yes, she was a bitch, but only because of certain things that had come to light; it was a defense mechanism of sorts, I imagine. And yes, she has made mistakes as a mother, but show me one woman who has children that hasn’t, and I will show you a liar. I was not friends with her on FB at the time, so I can’t say what went down then, but I do remember one particular post that he put up, publicly apologising to her, tagging her for all her friends to see, for saying that she had had an affair (not verbatim, but you get the gist). After my friendship with him ended, she and I got talking, met IRL and guess what y’all, she is quite happy to admit her wrongdoings between four walls.
I know from her that things have been rough recently, and she has asked for advice online as to how to handle certain issues, and almost been burnt at the stake for it by various people, but not once has she lodged a personal attack on him online. In fact, her posts have often read in the lines of, “Does anyone know where I can obtain legal advice pertaining to maintenance issues?” or “Does anyone know who I can get in touch with regarding breach of contract?” Only once has she mentioned that these requests pertain to her and her ex-husband personally, but she has not tagged him for the world to see that he is shirking his responsibilities. In short, in my opinion, she has tried to remain amicable and not turn things into a social-media-circus. Sadly though, sometimes other monkeys escape their confines, and create an unnecessary circus. And yes, some of you reading this, are probably lighting your matches to burn me at the stake, because I was exactly such a monkey. Since I have distanced myself from some people, my life is filled with less drama, and more smiles. Sure, as the old adage says, “old habits die hard”, but every time I find myself being sucked into carnival of meanness and negativity, I remember this very wise Polish proverb:
The third question, is probably the most significant one, because let’s face it, in the 21st century, online dating is pretty much the norm. My cousin Ash, Welsh by birth, but raised in SA and hubby Aaron, Welsh too, resident in Wales at the time they met on FB and after a long while of online chatting, skyping and what-not, she went to Wales and they got engaged. They’re married now and living in Wales. I have heard of other successful online-dating stories, but honestly, I’m too scared to enter the realm myself.
I have heard of more than a few cases where women have been charmed by online suitors, who, by chance, simply stumble onto their profiles and decide that these women are their dreams epitomised. My friend Caryn, saw a post from a friend of hers from school telling everyone how she had been taken for a ride by a guy she’d met online. “One minute you’re in love and the next, you’re reporting that person to the police and the Revenue Service.” Don’t think it can’t happen to you, because if you’ve ever had that butterflies-in-your-tummy feeling, you know you don’t always think rationally. Simple fact – infatuation messes with your head.
A friend of mine, Theresa, fell into this very trap. Before I published this entry, I sent it to Theresa, asking her permission to share her story. She has agreed, despite her embarrassment about what has happened, to allow it, hoping that her story will save someone else from being led down the same garden path.
A man, who calls himself Morgan Smith, (using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org) allegedly a South African citizen, residing in Manchester, employed as an engineer for well-known American oil company, Esso, befriended her on FB. He proceeded to tell her how he had been widowed five years ago and that all he did was work and that his daughter, who was in France, would be marrying soon, and he would be alone. Plausible enough, not so?
As time progressed, photographs were exchanged, although, as far as I know, he only ever sent her three (I must actually ask when I see her again). Stunning shots as you can see from the two I have from her (which I’ve tweaked, just a touch, as you will see)…
As you can see, he came across as a man with style and enough mystery to keep the embers a-glow. I still got excited when I saw the photo of him in the bow-tie, because the Dr Who fangirl in me gushed that, “Bow ties are cool” and I explained the reference in detail. What struck not quite a few of Theresa’s friends, myself included, was that he was not keen to chat on a platform, like Whatsapp where she would have his number, or Skype, where they would actually be able to see one another. He would call her from a UK number, but if she wanted to call back, the number would inevitably not be available…
Things started getting weirder when he asked if he could send her machinery because he had to get the stuff back to SA and had no-one this side to receive it. She happily handed over her address and not too soon after was contacted by someone posing as a Customs official stating that there was Customs VAT (Value Added Tax) payable. The amount was in excess of R12000.
She was savvy enough to contact me, given that I deal with Customs situations on a daily basis and have various contacts in the industry. She forwarded me the invoice and the company Worldwide Express was one I’d not heard of. And, seeing as I’m not omniscient of every company registered to conduct business cross-borders, I did some Googling. I came up with nothing, except a few incidents where women had gone through something similar in Malaysia and the UK. It smelled fishy, so I forwarded it to another contact of mine, employed by a global leader in the field of International Trade and he too came up empty. Further scrutiny of the documents gave some clue that something was amiss:
There was no UCR (Unique Consignment Reference) on the invoice
The parcel would be RETURNED to the sender if monies were not paid in three days – this, readers is not true. Customs will place your goods in a bonded warehouse where it will incur storage costs.
The invoice was subject to the Customs and EXERCISE Act.
There was no exporter’s code on the document.
The VAT amount was a perfect round amount of R10000 + VAT, for a parcel of 120 Kg. Two points to note here – Customs hardly ever works on perfectly round amounts like that, and a parcel of 120 Kg would incur a lot more duties anyway.
The goods shipped were listed, amongst others, as “gadgets”. Would “spare parts”, “mechanical devices” not have been more suitable?
I’m hoping that by highlighting these few errors, other unsuspecting women may be saved the ordeal my dear friend has had to deal with. I raised my concerns with my friend and told her that if I was in her shoes, I wouldn’t pay over any money. She didn’t. Miraculously, an alternative arrangement was made. No harm, no foul…
The online flirtation continued and soon that four-letter word that messes up every woman’s brain, love was mentioned. The phrase that turns us euphoric I love you followed soon after. She had taken the bait. Hook, line and sinker.
At this point, I was slightly skeptical, but she was happy, and up until then, nothing more had happened to make me any more suspicious.
Soon there was talk of him returning to South Africa. She was ecstatic and as her friend, so was I. She booked a weekend away for the two of them at a Lodge and asked me to go shopping with her for a few, not-too-risqué-items. It was soon after this that the wheels began to fall off the bus.
I don’t remember if he called her, or IM’ed, but he was “at Immigration” when he was detained because his passport had expired. Now, again, I’m not all-knowing here, but after countless episodes of Border Patrol I’ve learned that if you don’t have valid papers to be in a foreign country, you pretty much get your ass hauled onto the next plane out. But again, not being 100% sure, I gave the situation the benefit of the doubt.
Eventually that was sorted out and he was able to return to the airport to come home to SA, and they could flit off into the sunset together, because he had come onto FB “to find a wife” and Theresa was her, and “her children were his children and his children were hers.” ChildREN? Up until then he only told her of a daughter…
Next snag! While everything was now “in order” with his passport, he was now being detained again. This time because his employer had failed to pay tax over to The Crown. Once this was finally “sorted”, penalties due to late payment became payable. Imagine my surprise when he suddenly mentioned an aunt in Australia who would help with a portion of the money, and a friend who’d help with another bit. We not talking small change here, we are talking Pounds Sterling. Big bucks.
The excuses continued for quite a few more days, which resulted in her either losing the payment to the lodge, or making alternative arrangements. I ended up going with her and I was extremely grateful for the break, given that I too was taking strain at the time. We had a good time, but I could see that while she was enjoying it, I was not the person she really wanted to be there with. It was meant to be a romantic getaway, not a girl’s weekend. Nevertheless though, she soldiered on bravely, despite the obvious disappointment.
Anyhow, the days turned to months – with the excuses going from the sublime to the ridiculous. If he hadn’t “missed his plane” (countless times), he’d “been kicked out of his lodging” and “ended up having to sleep at the airport”. He kept telling her earnestly that he had to get back to SA to cash his salary cheque or it would expire. Really? A cheque? What era is he living in that people still get back by cheque? And that by a global oil company? My dad worked in the oil industry for some 40 years and for at least the last fifteen, if not more, he got his salary paid directly into his account by wire transfer from either the UK or the USA, depending with whom he was employed at the time.
As time passed, it became apparent to Theresa that she may be being duped and she gave him an earful. Not soon after, she suffered a depressive episode and had to go into treatment for three weeks. I feel that it is important to clarify here that Theresa has suffered with bipolar disorder for a long time and is being treated for it. This incident just exacerbated the magnitude of her episode.
I went to visit her in the clinic and she told me that she still heard from him daily, but that she was not replying. It was a fib. Here, during a very vulnerable time for her mentally, this charlatan took advantage of her generous heart, and her finances.
About three weeks ago, after her discharge from the hospital, I went to visit her and did something so out of character, I had a crisis of conscience for days afterwards. I went through her phone while she was asleep and found messages confirming that he had asked her for money, appealing to her humanity and she had, as he’d expected, opened her purse.
Not sure what to do with the information, I spoke to a close psychologist friend, who gave me sound advice. He told me to share the information with her therapist, which I did. The therapist let me know what he had told her that he had concrete evidence of payouts to this man, but that he hadn’t divulged my identity to her. She’s a bright woman – she drew her own conclusions and was livid at me, which I fully expected, and understood.
We spoke by IM on Wednesday and I gave her my heartfelt opinion and told her that she needs to forget about him. She let me know later that evening that she’d sent him one final Hangouts message and blocked him. I was proud of her, because I know that while she never met him, she did feel something for him.
We saw each other this past Saturday and we spoke about this situation briefly – she told me that she was hopping mad at me for my invasion of her privacy, but that she too was very grateful. I told her that I would have done exactly the same thing if I had to do it over. She even showed me a mail from him, received Saturday morning, about how “stressed he was” – I imagine it is because he’d been blocked on Hangouts and the penny had finally dropped (no pun intended) that the well on her side had dried up. She asked me to block mails from him too. Done! So…all’s well that ends well. Well, almost all…
A lot of healing has to take place on her side, and as part of that healing, she has allowed me to share this story with all of you, to prevent other woman falling victim to something similar. I have reported him to the authorities, so I hope he gets caught. The sad reality though, is that he is most likely one of thousands, if not millions, of con men who are living a royal life on another woman’s dime.