Don’t ignore red flags
I hope my experience can serve as a warning to others. Names and details have been altered to protect privacy, but this story is real. These are based on the best of my recall. It was years ago that I met the person I will call Cindy.
Cindy is the person who made me realize that you should always listen to your gut instinct. When something or someone doesn’t feel right, listen to that. Don’t let yourself get caught like I did.
When Cindy and I met for the first time in real life (until then we had been corresponding via social media) she asked me, “How many people are on your enemies’ list?”
That was the first of many, many red flags.
I laughed, thinking she had told a joke.
A puzzled Cindy repeated her question, “How many?”
“I don’t have an enemies’ list. Why would you keep that?” I replied.
“To remember who you’re enemies are. Everyone has one, even if they don’t admit it,” Cindy explained, sounding sure I had one and was too afraid to admit to that.
“How many are on your list?” I asked in curiosity.
“27,” she answered without hesitation.
“That’s… uh… very specific number. You can’t remember everyone.”
She chuckled. “Of course I can, How could I forget them? They wronged me.”
A little feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. My instinct started to whisper: this isn’t normal.
I quickly rationalized the discomfort away, telling myself, “So she’s a little quirky. She probably doesn’t mean actual enemies. Maybe there’s more to this and I’m overreacting. How can a person this young have 27 enemies? She’s barely 21!”
We changed subjects and the conversation was funny and witty until we slammed into another red flag. Cindy suddenly leaned over the table, eyes wide and fixed on me, and asked in a very serious voice, “Will you promise not to judge me if I tell you a secret about my husband?”
Cindy was a newlywed.
“A-All right,” I said, feeling that discomfort from earlier returning. “I promise.”
“Good.” She nodded. “I hate when people judge others. People are so high-minded and preachy. What right does anyone have to judge another? There’s nothing wrong with me. They’re the weird ones.”
I was confused what she meant, but she became very animated and spoke at times like it wasn’t me she was speaking to at all. What followed was a word-vomit full of gestures and constant checks that I wasn’t judging.
“Now don’t think I’m crazy,” Cindy began, “But when my husband goes in the shower or out on a run or leaves his phone or computer alone, I go into his accounts and messages. I trust him, but I have to know who he’s been talking to and what he’s been saying. He has these friends, especially these females, who don’t get boundaries. He’s married to me. They think they can flirt with him. He doesn’t understand their flirting. He’s too nice. I have to protect him, so sometimes I write in his name and I block them. There was this female,” this word said with great disdain, “who was trying to steal him. I wrote her a nasty message as him, told her to never speak to me (as her husband) again, then blocked her everywhere. He doesn’t know. He thinks she unfriended him. The last message he got was her writing back a really angry message. I deleted the one I sent, so he thinks she was being mean to him. It was for his own good.”
Throughout this story, the discomfort in my gut turned into full-blown shock and horror. I tried desperately to rationalize, normalize, what I was hearing. I sat rigid and unable to react. When she finished, she took a few bites of her desert and, with impatience, asked, “Well, you understand, right? I was protecting him. You promised not to judge. It’s not that I don’t trust my husband, but he doesn’t know when he’s flirting.”
“Th-that’s…” I swallowed hard, trying to gather my thoughts and process this. I wanted to get up and leave at this point. I felt sickened by her story, truly sickened.
But then, she looked at me earnestly and said, “Please understand. You’re the first person I’ve shared this with. I trusted you.”
I was being caught in her web and I didn’t even realize it. Those words caused me to stay because I have a hero complex, a weakness of mine, when someone says “I trust you” or “I need your help”, I tend to do so. I hate seeing people who are hurting. I suspect Cindy recognized this trait in me right away.
“I… I guess it’s your relationship,” I finally uttered. “I’d never do that to my husband. It’s an invasion of privacy.”
“Ugh, that phrase, I hate that phrase,” she said with an eye-roll. “What is the big deal? If a person has nothing to hide, what does it matter if someone peeks at their messages? If you love each other, you’re supposed to have no secrets. You share everything. If my husband has nothing to hide, what does it matter?”
Cindy continued on for a bit ranting about how boundaries in a marriage meant the person didn’t trust you and therefore didn’t love you.
“And if he did the same to you?” I asked.
“I’d welcome it. I have nothing to hide,” she insisted. “Only guilty people try to keep secrets.”
I was confused, given her husband didn’t know any of what she had done behind his back. When I pointed that out, she shook her head and was dismissive.
“He’s not ready to understand. He’s still too old-fashion,” she said. “We’re newlyweds. One day we’ll share everything.”
The rest of conversation was relatively normal.
I returned home in a daze and I asked my husband what he would do if I went through his social media and phone messages whenever he left his electronic devices unguarded.
He replied, “Divorce. That’s an invasion of privacy. How would you feel if I did that to you?”
“Betrayed,” I replied.
I went to bed, feeling troubled. Cindy was the most charming and charismatic person I had met. The next morning I received a long email gushing about what a cool person I was and that she couldn’t wait for us to meet again. I couldn’t reconcile the two Cindys, the witty, charming one from the other one.
I thought I should put distance, but she continued to send me sweet messages and I soon forgot my earlier discomfort and fear. I was overwhelmed by her praise and worship of me. She gushed, “How lucky we are to be friends”.
And I fell into a trap that I would later regret.
This ends part one of this series. There many more stories of Cindy that I’ll share in later posts and it gets worse. Much worse.
What is the old story? If you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly raise the temperature, he won’t know he’s boiling to death.