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Do You Believe?

An old – and pretty much former – friend recently posted a reminiscence online, half bemoaning and half bitching about a dearly-departed bastard.  Her view was the dearly-departed.  Mine was the bastard part.  Poolie knows the history of said dearly-departed bastard.  He went by the online name of Michael.

Former friend was taken in by the man’s carefully-cultured online persona.  Fair enough: most people online are very much who they claim to be.  I’m not Snow White or Sleeping beauty.  I’m a grandmother, married, harried and ugly as sin.  I have warts on my personality.  Heck, I have warts on my warts.  I don’t pretend otherwise.  Having met several online friends in real life, I can say all are very much like their writings suggest.  Poolie is as smart, funny acerbic and thoughtful as her posts indicate.  Ditto for some of the others I’ve encountered, good bad or otherwise.  Those whose blogs are spent bragging are braggadocios in real life.  Those who are cold and calculating online are cold and calculating in real life.  The only difference in real life, if any, is in degrees of behavior and personality.

Michael was the exception to the rule.  Oh, I have no doubt he was indeed very charming in real life; you can’t fake that degree of slime slickness.  Unfortunately that’s about all I believed to be sincere about him.  I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times and he played his little games with me too.  He tried flirting with me.  I think I literally yawned and told him to go back to his playpen and play with his other toys, I was busy.  I befriended him, talked to him, and patted him on the head like I would a twelve-year-old with a crush.  It was all about the game with him and having been down that line before, I never once considered sitting down at that table.

Former friend (I’m not sure quite how to categorize her, more about that later) fell for the whole story.  All of it.  She had plenty of warnings and cautions from the rest of us, who told her the fabrications were muddy and overblown as a river in flood stage.  She wouldn’t listen, insisting she was in love with the man and he with her, and that she knew for a fact he was being honest with her.  Never mind that their conversations were all phone sex and nothing to address the all-too-real issues in her life.  He made promises he broke, time after time, the most singly important one to meet her in person.  That alone sent up a red flag to me, but said friend?  She bought the flimsy excuses he made for his transgressions.

To be fair, early into my Internet career I’d encountered and dealt with the phenomenon known as Munchausen by Internet.  As social connections proliferate across the world-wide web, so does this aberration.  It’s become so widespread it’s being classified as a mental disorder, similar to the original Munchausen disease where a patient fakes an illness to the point of potentially dangerous treatments for their non-illness.  In gist,  Munchausen by Internet is a scenario where a member joins a social site, whether forum or blog community or whatever – anywhere there’s a potential for interaction with others – and initially starts posting what sounds like very legitimate life/health concerns.  The symptoms escalate with the progression of the disease, or the life situations escalate.  The writer is intelligent and educated on their  pseudo-problem.  If illness, the symptoms are really a reflection of that problem, and so on.

Trouble is that the whole thing is a big ball of hooey.  There’s no cancer, no flesh-eating disease, whatever.  But there’s bucket loads of sympathy, by God, and the Munchausen-driven writer is sucking it in like a Big Gulp with double straws.

In stage 2, problem A is exacerbated by problems B, C, D and Xerxes.  Then we throw in problems 5,7,9 and 57,482.  Finally the mishmash becomes so extreme that all but the most gullible realize they’re being had in a big way.

Such was the case with Michael.

Unfortunately said friend fell under the category of “most gullible”.  She didn’t believe anyone who tried to tell her the truth; she was, after all, in love with this tender, gentle, and entirely bogus character invented by Michael.   Michael himself was a real person – and that’s about all that was real in the whole angst-rotted package.  She couldn’t see that.

Michael really did pass away a while back – the flesh-and-blood Michael.  Who knows where the bogus one went on his merry-go-round?  Former friend found a free database and was able to look up some particulars.  Surprise, surprise!  Michael’s wife who died of cancer?  The “cancer” was a divorce six years after their marriage, with no mention of her subsequent demise.  His son who likewise died of cancer during the flurry of sympathy-suck?  Son existed, no cancer, no demise.  Gee – never saw that one coming either.  (I’ll refrain from rolling my eyes, at least for the moment.)

Not sure what former friend wanted from me.  I tend to live in no-nonsense terms.  I talked to her, and listened to her brag about her multiple sexual conquests.  Never knew if she was grossly exaggerating the numbers; I hope for her sake she was.  The numbers she cited didn’t impress me as I suppose she intended.  To me they didn’t say she was hot, they said she had a serious psychological issue.  She made a significant paycheck and looked down her nose at me and made numerous snide comments about my size and my income, and she likewise disparaged the people I still like and talk with online.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, she invited herself to come along with me to one of Poolie’s plays.  I was overjoyed for the chance to meet Poolie (for the first time at that juncture) and to see her work.  I loved the weekend, just felt guilty I couldn’t do more to alleviate Poolie’s frantic weekend.  Poolie was so gracious, and so exhausted.

Former friend pretty much barged in on Poolie and turned what should have been Poolie’s day into a “me me me” moment for former friend.  She took a plane in and rode the rest of the way with me.  Had I known, I would’ve disinvited her then and there, but I didn’t know until Poolie told me years later.  I had always assumed Poolie invited her.

I apologize, Poolie.  I truly didn’t know at the time.

Former friend periodically contacts me now.  No real overtures of friendship, just asking me to repay a favor.  I will repay her – long story – but that will be that.  Her life is her own and I wish her well.

The whole hoary mess reminds me that Shakespeare had it right when he said, “To thine own self be true.”  Don’t waste your energy inventing a persona.  Everybody will see through it sooner or later.

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