Sometimes I get emails from people relating stories of narcissistic abuse. The other day I received one from a woman living in a large city in Europe, about a covert narcissist who seemed relatively harmless at first, and made all sorts of promises, seemed to be madly in love with her, but soon all kinds of red flags started to appear. She slowly began to realize how predatory he really was, taking over her life and exploiting her goodwill and generosity.
Financial abuse isn’t talked about that much, but it’s a common tactic used by narcissists in abusive relationships, and it’s a primary theme in this post. My ex exploited me in similar ways, and financial abuse was one of them. This story is long, but kept me on the edge of my seat. I asked her if I could share it here because of how well written it was.
Free Ride (Part One)
John (not his real name) contacted me via Facebook last October.
As an active member of many fan groups dedicated to music I post quite a lot of stuff every day. He added to one of the groups, saw my postings, liked them and immediately sent me a private message. As a 52 year old childless and separated woman I got a bit curious who this person might be. I said to myself, “Well, you never know…”
John sounded very intelligent, funny, witty and smart, so I decided to continue our conversation. He asked me to send him a couple of photos and provided me with a few of his. I saw a quite attractive, handsome, and sporty man of 70, but not looking a day older than 60. He was retired and divorced, living in America, and had adult kids living all over the country.
When I sent him my photos John reacted, “Exactly what I imagined…”
Soon we were chatting on Messenger for three, four, sometimes six hours on a daily basis. I started to become addicted to our chats because they were so incredibly mentally stimulating and creative.
On the fifth day John said he had fallen in love with me. I became his girlfriend Proposed to me on day six. Now I was his “lovely fianceé.” I got very suspicious and cautious. I thought, “How in hell could this guy fall in love with you knowing NOTHING about you??” We could not even meet in person, for he’s in America and I’m in Europe.
John was very smart with words. When he dropped his first L-bomb I said, “Look, I don´t like big words. You know nothing about me and I don´t know much about you.” He replied promptly, “Oh, America is such a big country! We use a lot of big words here.” He always seemed to have the perfect answer to just anything I might doubt or distrust.
In a few days he started showering me with his flattery, affection, attention. “I am here for you 24/7,” he assured me. I thought to myself, ” This guy must be making fun of you”, so I took it lightly and just played the game to see what was going to happen next.
Surprisingly enough, after a short time he made me feel there was a strong connection between us in spite of 8,300 kms of distance; he was always able to sense how I was feeling in that particular moment: sad, excited, upset, happy, depressed. Whenever I was depressed, he immediately phoned to cheer me up. I was impressed. I said to myself, “Wow… if this guy is able to sense how you feel from that huge distance, what might he be able to do if he was here with you?” It was just amazing and … magical!
Soon I was the love of his life. The reason for his life. He loved me more than life itself. He was so crazy in love with me he could not even think straight. He wanted to take care of me, my well-being and my health. He felt simply “over the moon” and blessed with me.
After several days he started being more and more pushy, so I said I loved him back, and when he proposed to me I accepted, actually still taking it all as a joke.
But then, one day I suddenly saw a long post on his Facebook page announcing to all his friends and family he had found “the one ” and “special” woman, was ready to commit to her and relocate to Europe! I could see a lot of comments made by his ex-wife, sons, stepdaughter and friends congratulating him and wishing both of us a lot of good luck. I was so perplexed my mouth almost fell on the floor. Literally. After he had posted his announcement along with a photo of me, his flattery and attention were almost endless, I could hardly come up for air.
I already knew John was divorced and homeless and living in his small car, so I got suspicious he might be just one of those losers who had nothing more to lose, but was trying to gain a lot (two months before we met on Facebook John had moved out from his ex-wife and got rid of practically all his possessions including the majority of his clothing.) He must have sensed what I was thinking because that moment he asked me, “Do you have any doubts about me?” I replied, ” Do you expect me to support you financially ?”. He said no.
I read in one of his earlier posts he did not fancy the idea of paying high amounts for rented rooms or houses, so he decided to live in his car and save up for a motor home. That made sense to me. He was receiving his regular pension, so I was not dealing with a guy with zero income after all.
Our daily chats were still great, but from time to time something strange happened. Every now and then John sounded very childish and immature, as if he was living in a childish fantasy land. Once we were role playing a scenario I was not comfortable with (it involved some graphic sex). I wanted him to stop and said, “Hey, watch out…sorry, a red flag.” He got offended, quit the conversation and went offline. I think any normal person would apologize and promise not to do it again. He did not.
The next day he was not on Messenger, but instead wrote me a long email saying the thing he hated the most was “changing rules in the middle of the playing field”, described how I had “floored him” with my comment the previous night, how he must have misjudged me, wished me good luck, a great life full of joy and happiness in the future and used expressions such as “God bless you “, etc. He told me how he will hold me in his heart, love and cherish me forever. How he hates to have to say goodbye to me, but there is nothing else he could do.
I was reading this message thinking, “WTF? Is he making fun of me, trying to manipulate something, or what? It was just a GAME! We were not negotiating the best strategy for the key military operation in Iraq! Is this guy normal?” I replied explaining I had no idea about his pet peeves (because he never told me) and that I thought his reaction was completely disproportional to the situation. And suddenly I found myself on the defensive end of the conversation apologizing for hurting him! In my reply I also asked if he was sure he was normal and healthy (which I think any average person would find quite offensive, but he did not)
He admitted in his family there had been some mental issues. His mom suffered from schizophrenia, his dad was an alcoholic and his brother had some other kind of mental problem which led to his suicide at the age of 40.
This incident kept me pretty alerted, to tell the truth. All the time I had a feeling there must be something wrong with John, but I just could not put my finger on it.
John never called me his “soulmate.” He did it in a more sophisticated and sneaky way: when we were chatting online, one day he asked, “Baby, can you do one exercise with me?” I said ok.
“Fine, I am going to ask you three questions. You can only answer yes/no. No other options.”
The questions were: “Will you love me unconditionally? Will you be my soulmate? The third question was a sexual one. I thought such questions were ridiculous and weird, especially the last one. But I was amused and said yes to all of them. Now I know that was probably my first big mistake. These questions gave me the general impression of engaging in a business negotiation rather than romantic courting.
Upping the ante.
In November John changed his plans. Instead of buying a motor home he decided to relocate and move in with me. He scheduled his relocation to Europe for September 2016. His plan was to drive and move slowly all across America first for almost a year, visiting his kids, grandkids and relatives to say goodbye to them. In August he expected to reach New York, visit his two sons, sell the car, purchase his flight ticket and leave for Europe permanently. I thought, “Fine, I have one year to get to know him better and decide how to handle this strange relationship.”
In December 2015 John changed his mind again and decided he could no longer live without me. He wanted to relocate as soon as possible and rescheduled his flight for January (without even asking me if it was convenient to me or not). Instead of being happy as a kid on Christmas Day I got really scared. I thought, “Man, this is moving too fast!” I was really alarmed when John added, “I was thinking about where to find the money for my flight ticket because in January and February I will still need to pay some bills in America, and I got a brilliant idea! Who cares about paying some stupid bills! I do not intend to return to America so why should I worry about paying them? I can use the money to be with my baby in just a couple of weeks!”
This message threw me totally off balance. What kind of man just decides to neglect his financial obligations on an impulse?
When I look back I think this was a ruse. I am almost sure he had no bills to pay (he had no property, no car, no assets – so what bills might be waiting for him to pay?) What I suspect is he was trying to make me feel guilty and responsible for his arrival and spending so much money on his flight ticket (only for me of course!) so that I would feel grateful, obliged and indebted to him forever. That way I would not dare ask him to contribute anything when he arrived, or buy food or things for some time, maybe many months.In the meantime he might be putting his pension aside in a secret account for his dream motor home perhaps. Or something else. If I dared to ask him to contribute, he could always pull out his winning card and remind me of his sacrifice and thoughtful gesture: “I spent so much money in January for you only. I would expect you to appreciate it and return the favour”, or something like that.
I said nothing to dissuade him from coming. To be honest, I was still convinced he was making fun of me….Or, that it might be one of those online romance scams. The scenario fit it perfectly well (the scammer pretends to be very interested in visiting his “love” and in the very last moment something unexpected “pops up”: he has a bad accident on the way to airport, he gets mugged or robbed, etc. And then he is in a huge need of money for hospital bills and needs the victim to bail him out.).
John Moves In.
On the day of his scheduled arrival I went to the airport and was waiting in the arrival lounge. And when he suddenly turned up, I got incredibly emotional. I ran up to him, hugged and kissed him saying, ” So you did come! I can´t believe my eyes!” But his reaction was strange. He acted indifferent, only kissed me lightly saying, “Hi, baby” and immediately made his way to the exit. I could see a stupid smile on his face and felt something was…off. I would expect the man who was so CRAZY in love with me to be a lot more emotional and enthusiastic, to hug and kiss “the love of his life” more passionately … but that did not happen.
We were travelling to my place by bus and all the way he was chatting up the people around us and flirting with the women who happened to be sitting close enough. I was now something like a live accessory. Strange. In my flat the situation was similar. So talkative and funny on Messenger, but here he was and he was barely talking to me.
His reaction when I let him in my flat was ridiculous. He looked round the room, saw my collection of dog statues ( I have been breeding and showing dogs for 30 years and many breeders and dogs owners have been supplying me with such gifts) and said to no one in particular but within earshot of me, “Uh-huh …obsessive compulsive disorder.” Next he came up to the cupboard where I have plenty of cups, medals and rosettes from dog shows and started studying them very thoroughly. When I began to show him things in my flat as I expected he would be interested in everything in his new home, he could hardly keep attention on anything and he seemed unfocused and distracted, not noticing what I was telling him anymore. He seemed to be impatient and want to move onto the next thing, and then the next.
For the first three days after his arrival, there weren’t any problems. I went to work and left John alone and when I returned I saw he had bought some groceries, cooked lunch, taken the dogs out and fed them, he had even done some cleaning and fixed broken shelves and things which my ex-husband had not been able to repair for ages. He seemed to be very proud of himself. And I was really impressed. On day four he probably came to a conclusion he had made a great first impression and that was enough, I was not deserving any more, so he stopped doing things . Perhaps I was not giving him the attention he had expected to get.
In a couple more days he started criticising:
My flat: cold, too small, sub-standard. He said he had seen many bad apartments in America, but none of those places were as bad as this one. He did not understand how I could not afford a better place and had to live within my means or even below them so that I could save some money for rainy days. But he knew exactly how big my flat was ahead of time and what it looked like because I had described it and shown him pictures. When he saw the pictures, he had promised to help me renovate and upgrade it. Now he just said, “Well…okay, it can be renovated, sure, but it will still remain a very small space.” Just one of the very, very many promises he made and never kept.
The city: ugly, boring, all buildings look the same. He could not understand why foreign tourists loved it, blah, blah. He could not live in such a sub-standard country, this is not a home to him. We live here like it’s the XIX century. Prices are too high. “How come you earn so little money and have such high prices and you do nothing about it?” he complained. He had champagne tastes on a beer budget.
My lifestyle: music ” consumes” me. When we were still chatting on Messenger I asked him openly, “Are you ready to accept my lifestyle – taking part in dog shows, going to see concerts of guitar bands in various countries, car meetings, etc.?” He said yes. And now I got blamed for this all because he had left America and everything he loved behind, including his family and friends just for me, but I was not willing to “make any changes in my lifestyle.”
In bed I was too quiet. He wanted me to be loud and talk dirty to him. He made it clear he must be my # 1 prority, as he had only come here for me (this was repeated several times) and all his time, his devotion and his money were mine now. Anything else – my job, dogs, interests, passions, friends were not to be as important to me as him. Instead of earning my trust, love and respect, he was demanding and enforcing them.
Soon he was getting offended by everything. He did not cook anymore. I took the dogs for their walks. He either went with me or not, depending on his mood and whether or not my behavior merited his company. He was becoming moody and easily hurt by little things. I began to walk on eggshells, never sure what might set him off. Everything he did was “my way or the highway,” no compromises allowed. I was even afraid of expressing my wishes or dreams. He was now my boss making all decisions and I was a subordinate who had to listen and obey.
On day six he gave me the cold shoulder and spent the whole evening pretending to watch TV in a language he didn’t even understand just to keep from talking to me. I ignored him right back. Because the silent treatment failed to work, the next day John tried out another tactic. When I came back from work I found him lying on the sofa. He announced very proudly he had not taken the dogs out or fed them. I shrugged my shoulders and said I would do it, no problem. But I was thinking about the fact that I had looked forward to getting an equal partner and a helping hand, but instead I got a moody, capricious, angry teenager.