There are certain things I just don't share all that easily and I guess the reason for my reluctance is pretty simple:  they’re the things that cause me to feel temporary (but still momentarily paralyzing) paroxysms of shame.  Shame, you see, is a tough one.  I can totally temper my anger and I can quietly quell my joy, but my shame comes roaring out like breath that’s been laced with fire, as though I’ve instantly been transformed into one of those mythical beasts from literature and film that have always psychologically traumatized me for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.  Shame happens, and I find myself emotionally and mentally pummeled by something I probably should have – and could have – avoided in the first place.  Very rarely will I find the strength to turn my fury on the person who caused the actual distress to infiltrate my life.  No, I am far too preoccupied with going inward so I can more effectively beat the shit out of myself until my brain and my stomach and my tear ducts become as bruised and abused as my heart.

When you’re inherently logical, there are things that should rarely happen to you – or at least that’s what the logical side of you screams when all you really want is just a fucking second of silence.  Topping the list of Should Have Been Avoidables is the possibility that you will get fooled by someone, bested even.  It’s not that you believe being logical comes with a shiny shield that enables you to ward off manipulations thrown your way like you’re a mind-reading superhero, but since all that logic never really leaves your mind – even when it’s resting, latent– you have come to rely upon it.  You hone that logic. You’re proud of it.  You know being logical is good for you and when something appears in your midst that appears less than logical, you can’t help but notice the inconsistencies. They jump out vividly; they might as well be painted in flaming fluorescent yellow,so you make sure to tally up every bit of information you can gather.  You catalogue facts.  You alphabetize incidents.  You file names and dates and details.  You ask appropriate questions to fill in blanks you’ve started to notice are maybe not the ordinary kind of blanks.  No, they’re gaping holes.  And that's when you know you should get yourself a running start so you will be able to leap over that cavernous empty space, the one you know could swallow you.  That’s when you’re sure you can still turn around and wander in the other direction until you eventually find yourself back at your home base where you’ve always managed to lull yourself into feeling at least a semblance of tranquility.

You march forward, though.  You persevere, even after everything has told you that it would befar wiser to retreat.  Maybe it’s because of an unrelenting curiosity that burns inside of you, the one that’s been there since you were a child.  Maybe you’ve managed to convince yourself this is nowreally about justice. Perhaps what’s steering you towards the metaphorical cliff is purely undiluted masochism, but you march forward anyway and you drop pieces of yourself and you do so knowing it’s very possible you will never be able to get any of those personal fragments back.

Whatever you do, you find yourself whispering aloud to the familiar image in the mirror, do not allow this to seriously impact you. These incidents collectively make up just one extended moment.  In the grand scheme of your life, none of this will matter.  Protect your sanity.  Protect your heart.  Andalways remember: hardly anything is real.

You go through days and nights and your skin looks so luminous that nobody would possibly realize you’re really dying inside.  Your voice has the same light lilt it’s always had.  The unrelenting thudding of your heart is not audible to those on the outside.  You pretend you’re okay; you know how to do that quite well.  But it’s in those precarious days of flux when you start to drop your self-protection, your usual pretenses.  It’s when the faltering really begins, when you start allowing it to happen.

It was at the very end of this last summer when a good friend of mine revealed that she now sees the world very differently than she ever has before.

“I expect people to do the wrong thing and I’m pleasantly surprised when they don’t,” she told me one late afternoon while we sat on her lawn.  I was pulling individuals blades of grass out, one by one, tracing my fingers over the almost translucent part of the root. Her kids and my puppy were running in circles around the yard.  It was our grand plan to tire them all out.  Every few minutes, Tallulah would glance over to make sure I was still there and, satisfied she could see me, she’d keep right on running, her tongue hanging out of her mouth happily.

There was a time in my life when I would have argued with my friend’s new mentality, or at least attempted to debate it.  Perhaps I would have mentioned that expecting negative outcomes might cause negative outcomes in some cosmic form of miserable synchronicity.  I probably would have told her not to allow a few terrible experiences with friends and colleagues inform on the way she sees everyone else.  True, I have never been a walking representation of an optimistic Pollyanna– I’ve been through way too much for that – but still I harbored the view that most people have good intentions.  Still I believed there must be an excellent explanation for the moments when they behavein a manner that is nothing short of despicable.

I think now that I was wrong, that I’ve been wrong for a long time.  I think now that my friend’s honed cynicism makes a great deal of sense and I shouldn’t even be distressed about stumbling to that kind of conclusion because there’s just no point infeeling that kind of emotion anymore.

Maybe the tides should have turned in my mind a bunch of years ago when I was promised the moon and the stars and forever by a boyfriend who regularly informed me he was so completely over his dud of an ex-girlfriend that I should have no problem that they remained friends.  I decided to accept the odd dynamic of the two of them spending time together and the even odder dynamic of the three of us shoved into a living room.  Did I notice that she glared at me openly, her eyes narrowing into slits as she checked out my outfit all the way down to my heels?  Yes, I noticed it every single time.  Was I aware that he saw those glares and seemed almost flattered by her hatred of me?  Not at first.  Are they married now?  They sure are.  Do I wish now he had married me?  Not for a fucking millisecond, but I do hope the gorgeous picture frame I sent as a wedding gift fits beautifully into the décor of the same living room where the bride once plotted my death.

I felt scammed back then. I knew I'd been lied to, so I did the normal thing after it all went down, after I’d shed a few zillion tears and ended up lightheaded and hoarse and twelve pounds thinner from shedding all that water weight out of my eyeballs:  I swore to myself I would never be lied to or manipulated again.  I created a more thorough vetting process in my mind.I replaced the batteries in my mental bullshit detector.  I’d know going forward when I was being manipulated. I promised myself I’d never get fully blindsided ever again.

This new aversion to the art of the elaborate psychological scamcouldn’t only relate to the romantic side of my life if I wanted to be truly proactive about my emotional safety.  Family members would need to be reevaluated too, especially when I realized that some of the duplicitous behavior I eventually learned scorching details about could never actually be classified in my mind as complete surprises.  See, I saw things.  I knew things.  I’d read the subtext of conversations and silences accurately, even as I prayed there had to be reasons for the very things I wouldn’t allow myself to fully understand because I knew a total awareness would lead to so much pain.  But what I never expected was the magnitude of their deceptions or their willingness to inflict such unrelenting waves of harm.  That element of surprise seemed to cancel out everything I felt I did know, everything I had ever tried to harness for control.  I guess the only reasoning I can offer for being fooled is that there are some people you just think will do everything possible to stop themselves from hurting you because the relationship you’ve cultivated is the closest thing to tangible goodness you’ve maybe ever found.  Their position of former prominence in your life only seems to make the eventual downfall feel even more profound.

What becomes clear when everything else becomes foggy is how you seem to have this capacity to forgive people who have hurt you – even intentionally – but you don’t have it in you to embrace those who have mauled the hearts and minds of those closest to you.  You mentally bury the guilty even as they continue to walk and speak.  They no longer exist to you.  Sometimes you feel the urge to reach out, to smile at them the way you have for so long in that way that weirdly still feels natural, but you never forget to remind yourself that your love was for so many years all-encompassing and the act of withholding it right now is jarring for the other person to experience.  You know your blank stares and your hardened glances leave them on edge.  You know your steadfast refusal to keep the conversation moving and the mood upbeat the way you always have serves to reinforce that nothing will ever be the same.  It’s not enough – you know they still sleep well at night – but it’s the only thing in your arsenal you can wield now that it’s been confirmed that frauds walk beside you.

It’s funny how something that feels like it has the making of a trauma can lead you to make choices you would never ordinarily even entertain, but it’s not so funny the way others choose to capitalize off your weakness.  It’s even less funny when you remind yourself that you really should have known better.  Like that time in late July when there were nine brutally hot days all in a row and you felt the sun sizzling the skin of your shoulders even when you were outsidefor only a minute.  The sunglasses you wore constantly shielded both the glares of light beaming down from the unforgiving sky and from you accepting the truth that there would be no easy way out of this one.  Everything had changed – and you could choose to accept that brutal truth now or instead wallow in the entirely denial like a cold bath made entirely of quicksand.  Part of your former declaration to yourself, though, was to deal with the truth immediately, to not allow you to even scam yourself.  You knew – you just knew – that dealing with the fallout was paramount and so you made the appropriate mental lists that you were certain would guarantee your survival:

1. Go to sleep for the rest of the day. If you stay up and feel the anxiety, you’re at some point bound to whip up a batch of rocky road fudge and you will eat every bit of that fudge and then you will have to add “LOSE 10 POUNDS” to your already-expanding To-Do List and, frankly, you know full well you do not have the strength for such an endeavor.

2. Remind yourself that line from Thunder Road – “The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free” – needs to stay in the forefront of your fucking mind.  Yes, your father had the line printed on a tee and you always thought there was something maybe quietly sexual about those words, but now you see the meaning differently.  Now you know you’ve reached the point where you must flatly refuse to give entirely of yourself when all you’re getting in return is a qualified bit of affection.

3. Stop judging yourself for wanting to believe most people are decent, but also stop fucking expecting every person you meet to be fucking decent!  Learn when to let a theory die already.

4. That instinctual thing you’ve got inside of you that punches you hard in the mental solar plexus whenever something you see or hear doesn’t appear fully authentic?  That thing exists for a reason and you’d probably know that it’s an offshoot of evolution and necessary for the survival of a species had you ever actually gone to Science class when you were in high school.

So you list these proclamations and you nod at how much sense they make and you know they will undoubtedly better your life – or at least protect you to some degree – and then you remind yourself again that these are rules you legitimately need to commit to memory.  And that’s precisely why what comes next is so humiliating.

You know how there are times when everything and everyone around you appears so blissfully content that it’s almost like you all collectively just swallowed the midday sun in one solid gulp and nothing surrounds you but light and radiance and positivity?  Yeah, that’s not what’s been going on in my intimate circle recently.  Much of the present pain surrounding me isn’t actually mine, but I’ve always known one of my greatest flaws is that I feel too much and I can’t help but internalize that which is going on all around me.  I try to keep away. I announce my boundaries and I make them sparklingly clear.  Still, I can feel the pain seep in and I know – I just fucking know – I need to release it until I can finally feel as clear as a person who was in much worse shape than me and therefore turned to Scientology for guidance.  Me?  I did not turn to Scientology – that would be crazy.  Instead, I hopped online and began to research people who could clear my energy because somehow the insane person who lives in the back part of my brain, the one I try not to feed or even acknowledge, convinced me that someone I have never met can take the pain away.

An online shopping pro, I know how to suss out the real sites from the ones that will steal your credit card information.  I know to read reviews before I purchase something as benign as an extra-firm pillow – which, by the way, was still way too firm and caused me to feel like I was sleeping upright.  Ergo, when searching for a spellcaster to remove the darkness from my life by using an arsenal of crystals and cauldrons and unproven prayer, I found it wise to look around before I settled on just anybody.  I started digging and I kept digging.  I’ve never spent that long researching anything in my entire life.  I got my Master’s degree by doing less research than I did poring over the cracks and crevices of the Internet, running on the sputtering fumes of hope that soon life would be better all because of the machinations of something I’d never be able to explain.  Not a single part of me even entertained telling a single person that I was doing this, not even the people whose pain I was hoping to alleviate through some twists and turns of magic.  Yes, I’d managed to convince myself to be open to something inherently illogical, but it’s not like I didn’t feel completely ashamed for being desperate enough to convince myself that I was making a good choice.

Turns out there are a ton of spellcasters advertising their services online.  They swear they can lift negative energy and bestow riches upon you and even reunite you with the first guy who ever felt you up when you stood behind the bunk at sleepaway camp when you were twelve.  As I wasn’t looking to be reunited with someone who sadly felt a whole lot of nothing when he stuck his hand up my shirt all those many years ago, I concentrated purely on the energy thing and I started clicking and reading.  Here’s what I found out fast:

1. Psychics and spellcasters who advertise online have very weird – and, clearly, very fake – names.  Most of them sound like names you’d hear in the movie Hocus Pocus or names you’d see on the birth certificate of your very first Cabbage Patch Kid.  (RIP, Carlin Ozzy.)

2. The services these spellcasters offer are far too broad for something you know deep down is very specific.

3. The “testimonial” section on many of these sites is what should really clue you in.  The comments are nothing but amazingly effusive and rhapsodize on and on about the many ways this person saved their entire existence singlehandedly. As someone who would love to believe otherwise but fully understands the notion that the only one who can save you is you, this is the part that really causes the cynicism to take hold.

4. Spellcasters who are available 24 hours a day can’t possibly be any good because actual professionals are savvy enough to carve out some time for sleep.

5. When the online reviews you subsequently visit include scores of reviews posted on the same day, walk away fast.  Logic dictates that there’s no way one alleged spellcaster solved so many crises in a single day and caused so many people to flood the internet with tales of gratitude and grandeur.

Every site I checked out was followed by the action of googling the person’s name.  Every single name I entered caused me to be met with an absolute avalanche of well-described negativity.  There were stories – oh, were there stories!  Of people being filtered out of thousands and thousands of dollars.  I read a long tale about someone who sent a spellcaster a Rolex because she swore she needed it to make the other person’s life even vaguely livable. There were incidents recounted about spellcasters threatening to strike customers down with cancer if the flood of cash stopped flooding in.

I couldn’t believe anyone could possibly be so foolish as to allow such nonsense into her life. Then, the very next morning, I woke up and the sky was grey and the humidity pressed down on my lungs even though my air conditioning was on at full blast and I checked my phone and saw a text from someone I was very worried about and I decided then and there to ignore every bit of logic – every bit of solid intuition – and I picked up the phone and actually dialed the number of a spellcaster.  She was the only one I’d been unable to find negative reviews about, but I was very aware that many of her gloriously positive reviews were posted on the same day.  Logic whispered she'd posted them herself, that she must have, but I kept that forward march going and it was fueled entirely by the voice inside of me that was saying I needed to be open instead of the chorus shouting that I needed to be careful.

I left a generic message on her voicemail about wanting some information about cleansing some negative energy and she called back within minutes.  I took note of certain things, filing them away like I always do:

• She spoke very quickly and sounded rehearsed.

• She told me she worked with celebrities as though that would matter greatly.

• She explained that her work would be done the moment she received my money and that I’d see the effect of her magic in three days’ time.

• She told me the prices on her website were wrong and the entire process would cost $550.

All of it – the entire conversation – was fucking bizarre and I knew I was being scammed.  Still, I couldn’t help going just a little bit further.  I wish I could explain why I needed to keep trudging down this potentially dangerous road where con artists tried to scam naïve people out of expensive timepieces through an amalgam of guilt and threats, but I really don’t fully understand the mentality I had right then.  I guess a bit of me was curious about what would happen and maybe a part of me felt the magnitude of her lies deserved some retribution, even if it was just me dragging this process out and causing her to think I’d acquiesce and give her personal information, like the exact date of my birth or an address.  And speaking of my address, I often use PayPal when interacting with certain merchants online that I don’t trust the way I do Nordstrom – who I’d allow to raise my puppy should something terrible happen to me – and I do that because I know I should keep certain information secure.  While speaking to this woman about how she could singlehandedly revamp my karma in less than a week, I was told that she did not accept PayPal (as was indicated on her website) and that the way I’d have to pay her would be fairly complicated.  I’d need to go to a Walmart, text her once I arrived there, and, upon receiving my text, she’d give me all the information I would need to send her a direct money order.

I think it was fury that motivated what I did next.  I think I looked at this woman as a walking manifestation of deception who encompassed all of the attributes I’d grown to resent in the people in my own life who’d struck out selfishly and left aftershocks of pain in their wake.  I wanted someone to finally realize that I couldn’t be fooled by his or herobvious lies, so I waited ten minutes and texted her to say I’d arrived at Walmart while I was instead stretched out comfortably on my couch.  Instructions arrived immediately.  I was to use a certain kind of money order.  I was not to put her phone number on that money order. I needed to call her the second that money was sent.  Oh, and I had to make the money order out to a woman with a different name than the one she claimed was her own name.

“Who is it that I’m sending this money to?” I asked sweetly.

“My assistant,” she answered with both a huff and an air of incredulity that I think was meant to make the caller question herself instead of the liar on the phone.

Then she texted the name of who I was to make the money order out to and it was different than what she’d said on the phone.  The last name was the same, but the first name was different.  I actually smiled as I called her back.

“What name should I make the money order out to?” I inquired.

She told me the name she’d originally stated during our last phone call, the one that was completely different than the name in the text.

“But the text you sent indicates I’m to send the money to this other name,” I said – and then I read her the mistake.

“Oh, sweetie,” she said – and she was cool as could be.  “I gave you the wrong name.  I’m so sorry, hon.”

“You don’t know the name of your own assistant?” I asked innocently.

There was no response.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” I replied easily.  “I’ll send you the money right now.”

“Great!” she said.  “I’ll be in touch to let you know how amazing things will be from this point forward for you!”

“Hon,” I replied – and I could hear the venom dripping off my own tongue – “I can’t wait for you to fix me.”

Then I hung up the phone and Googled the name she’d told me by accident and legions of complaints and arrest records popped up on my screen.  A text came through from her:  Did you send the money yet? I didn’t respond.  Ten minutes later, another one came through:  Hon?  Did it all work out with the money order?  I didn’t write back.  Finally, after an hour during which I hope she planned what she’d do with my money and the new Cartier bangle she'd probablydecide to have me send her one day so I didn’t end up with tuberculosis, I texted her back:  Sorry.  Chose someone else to make my life complete.  And then I entered her into my contact list as “Scam” and blocked her forever.

I didn’t alert the authorities, though maybe I should have.  I didn’t post a negative review online, though certainly I could have.  I didn’t want or need retribution for something so ridiculous, something I never should have become involved with in the first place.  What I wanted instead was to congratulate myself for spotting the signs of a fraud, but right after those congratulations were made, I berated myself mercilessly for about a week for even considering that something so idiotic could be a viable solution to something so real.

“You’re on the cusp of something wonderful,” my closest friend in the entire world proclaimed to me one Sunday morning about a month ago. “You know how I feel about putting what you want out into the universe.  Good things are going to come back to you.”

“I swear,” I responded flatly, “If you build me a vision board with my hopes and dreams cut out of magazines, I will never ever speak to you again.  And I will start rumors that your tits are fake.”

And to that she laughed because she knows me well enough to understand that the flatness in my voice is a defense mechanism and she and I both know that her tits are real – and they’re spectacular.

I tried, though, to look only at the positive, to feel only the precious vibrations of opportunity.  I knew a relationship I’d been in for a while wasn’t right anymore and I had the brand new feeling of letting something and someone go with nothing but good wishes and fantastically sweaty memories and there was no residual longing there whatsoever.  I was ready for someone new, and though I hate first dates more than an agoraphobic who’s also got claustrophobia and is beckoned to leave the house to meet a stranger in a small basement bar, I agreed to go out with some guy for drinks.  Six minutes in, I knew I needed an escape.  I texted my best friend under the table and told her to get me out of there in exactly forty minutes.  Thirty-seven crawling minutes later, my phone vibrated in my hand and I acted like I was getting some shockingly bad news, wished him well, and high-tailed it from that table.  I’m sure he wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t the guy for me and his fingernails looked filthy and it was clear immediately that I’d never let him lay a paw on me anyway so it was really best to call it off before it even started.  Driving away from the scene, I threw open all of the windows of my car and I blasted The Promised Land as I literally drove through the darkness on the edge of town until I reached my house and finally began to feel safe again.  And before I went inside and peeled off my little date dress and threw on some sweatpants and a tank top, I looked up into the sky and instead of shaking my head with cynical derision, I decided to go another way.

“Come on, Universe,” I said softly.  “I’m ready.”

The very next day I started talking to a guy who immediately made me think that knowing him might lead to something really special, like a fantasy island kind of world with cotton candy clouds and willow trees made out of cascading Kit Kat bars.  He was charming.  He was silly.  He was educated and he had himself some swagger.  He was handsome – very – but handsome in a way I wasn’t typically drawn to because he was loaded down with muscles.  He didn’t look dirty or like he could play guitar, but his eyes looked warm and alive.  The part of me that needs to be punished or killed was probably most drawn in by the way his smile sort of looked like a smirk.  I like a challenge and he appeared challenging.  He texted constantly.  And despite my almost chronic inability to get googly-eyed, I became smitten.

But logistics – work, vacations, conflicting schedules – kept getting in the way of whatever was meant to happen next.  Our communication was entirely through text.  At first I found that a fucking relief because there have really only been two people in the history of my existence who I enjoyed speaking to on the phone, but after a while I found it more and more perplexing that this person who was speaking to me about a future didn’t seem to need or want to hear my voice.  At some point early on I asked for his last name and he shot it back immediately.  While I never – and I mean never – check out the social media of the people I’m actually dating, I will always verify and peruse the existence of a guy I might meet for the first time. It’s a safety thing and I won’t apologize for it. I knew this guy’s name, birthday, and where he was from – he told me all of that information – and so I entered it into Google and sat back and waited for his Instagram and his Twitter and his LinkedIn to pop up so I could look at it all once and satisfy myself that this guy was real and not a felon and I could finally allow myself to be really excited for whatever might be coming next, especially since a huge part of me believed he was a present with a twelve-pack the Universe was bestowing unto me to make up for all the shit that had come before.

I pressed the return button on my keyboard. And there were no results.  None.

You’d think I’d be angry, but at first I was just confused.  As though a fraudulent spellcaster hadn’t just tried to con me – as though I hadn’t just watched stunned as once-strong relationships imploded before my very eyes because of nothing but flagrant deceptions – I still figured there had to be some explanation for not being able to find a single piece of evidence that a guy who texted me hourly actually existed.  I racked my brain for answers I had yet to consider.  And I told nobody because I already felt the pressings of inner shame engulf me for buying into someone I might soon enter in the contact list on my phone as “Scam 2.”

My suspicions started mutating and they needed to be addressed.  I texted and asked directly why there was not even the faintest footprint of his life online?  I even wrote that I felt badly for asking the question since it sucks to feel like you’re being accused of something when you’ve done nothing wrong, but guilty feelings or not, I wasn’t about to wade into a situation that didn’t make sense.  His response was swift and initially comforting.  He wasn’t mad at all that I’d looked online for him!  He does that, too!  In fact, he’d done a search for me on Google and found absolutely nothing!  And he’d given up his social media when he started his business.

Okay.  First of all, I have two fucking books and a blog and I come up if you Google me.  Second of all, what kind of modern business doesn’t have a listing or even some random mention on the Internet?  Third of all, there’s no way a guy this cute living in New York City wasn’t documenting his every move and his every tumbler of scotch on Tumblr.  Not a bit of it was believable and it was then that I stopped mentally picking out what I’d wear on our fourth date.  (By the way, it would have been this slinky jersey dress that looks amazing with a pair of peep-toe slingbacks and a killer clutch.)

He kept texting, though – and somehow, for some reason, I kept responding.  There has to be some factor I haven’t considered that can explain these inconsistencies, I kept thinking to myself during the daylight hours.  But the second my head hit the pillow at night, I’d mumble aloud, “None of this is real.”  I think I’m just more honest with myself at night.  The interactions he and I had started becoming sporadically contentious and I know it was because I doubted he was who he claimed to be and he either knew he was lying to me and was pissed off I’d figured out some of the truth or he hadn’t done anything wrong and felt like someone was accusing him of doing something awful.  Still, I kept writing back, engaging.  Maybe part of it was due to boredom and certainly part of it was because I’d so liked the man he’d initially presented himself to be and, yes, all of this was weird as could be, but I’ve always sort of accepted that my path would not be the conventional one so the fact that a convoluted mess might actually lead meto my soulmate made a little bit of sense.  But having that kind of belief system didn’t mean I would stop my sleuthing.

Technology, man – it’s really something.  Plop a photo into an image reverse system and whammo:  results come your way.  At first I got nothing, but finally one photo came back with some information and a name that was different than the one I’d been told.  I questioned him again and was all but verbally annihilated with projected fury.  I was told I shouldn’t be surprised that he gave me a false last name and that he wouldn’t reveal his real name until we actually met face to face.  He said things like, “Shame on you,” for doing any investigating and told me it was pathetic that I “couldn’t leave well enough alone.”  Then he texted me the next day to tell me he loved me.

Not a piece of me believes anymore that he was in any way the man he claimed to be.  I don’t believe he lives in Manhattan and I don’t believe he owns a business.  I don’t even think he has a dog.  I’m not sure if the pictures he sent were of himself or if they were stolen from an Instagram account I eventually located with his face on it, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone would spend so much time and energy attempting to fool someone into caring about them.  He made absolutely no attempts to get money from me or snag my online passwords.  He didn’t sweetly request that I send him a Rolex.  He just lavished attention and them pulled it away until I felt like I was either suffering from emotional whiplash or being driven insane by a monster with motives I’ll never understand.

“You’re actually scaring me,” I finally texted him after he told me again that he would not budge on revealing his real last name until our first date.  By that point, I wasn’t even sure I knew his real first name but I knew for sure there would never be any date. I knew he'd keep string me along. I knew I was smart enough not to meet this person face to face.

“Oh my goodness, Nell,” he wrote back.  Then he went on to say that he didn’t want to scare me and he would leave me alone and it had been a real pleasure getting to know such an amazing woman for a short time.

And then, like he’d never existed in the first place, he was gone.

I didn’t feel proud afterward like I did after confirming the fraudulence of the spellcaster.  I also didn’t feel destroyed like I did after finding out about the liars sitting at my family dinner table.  This time – with this particular guy – I just felt sad.  I also felt a rippling sense of fury, but it wasn’t for him.  The fury was for me because I’d convinced myself to ignore signs and to rationalize the actions of another human being when I’ve already learned the pain of that lesson.  I suppose I could be angry with him, but I don’t see the point.  It was my temporary weakness that let him in, my willingness to believe that what people say must include more than a smattering of the truth, and terrible as it is to have to adopt a brand new mindset as a full-fledged grownup, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to make a change once and for all.  Besides, maybe making that change will be the very thing that finally encourages the Universe to stop fucking with me. And if it’s finally good to me, I swear I’ll buy it a Rolex.

Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York.  She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on in paperback and for your Kindle.