He told me his name was Justin and that he was a teacher at a private school on the East Coast.
In my first attempt at vlogging, I shared a poem I wrote on my YouTube channel. Unexpectedly, Justin left a comment on my video, asking if we could connect. I said, "Sure," and I gave him my public e-mail address. We started chatting via Hangouts.
I confessed I was having a hard time, and that my life was a complete mess, since I was trying for the billionth time to leave my controlling and manipulative ex. "I'm always here to talk about anything," he said, as he reassured me his support was unwavering. It felt so nice to have a caring man in my corner, but I admitted I was skeptical.
He promised to "never ever" break my heart, and assured me I could come to him 24/7 for anything, no matter what. He even wrote me a poem that he said was inspired by how he felt about me. Flattered, I responded, "Are you courting me right now? Because that's what this feels like."
"If courting you is okay, yes, that's what I'm doing."
"Of course. Our relationship is going to be at your pace."
Grateful for a place to speak freely and at my pace, I opened up. I told him everything, from what was happening in my current situation to how my childhood traumas had formed me. I told him how worried I was about my children's emotional wellbeing and how upset I was at the roadblocks I kept facing in my attempt to make a clean break from my ex.
He was so supportive and encouraging, I felt immense relief to see his messages to me. He made me laugh when all I wanted was to cry, and he never shied away from me like other men would when I told him about all the horrible things I was going through and had already been through. His empathy and compassion felt so sweet, not anything like what I was used to. His respect for my work and words was a stark contrast to how my ex spoke about my writing and my ideas. Talking to Justin was such a welcome relief from the constant gaslighting and emotional manipulation from my ex that I found myself thinking about him constantly.
Amid all the turbulence in my delayed flight from an emotional prison, I messaged Justin nearly every day. I sent him long, rambling texts that had garnered me criticism and scorn from other men. They didn't bother him. "Even if I don't answer, I read everything," he said, as he encouraged me to let out whatever I needed to release. I felt free to speak my mind with him in a way I've never felt with anyone else, but I still worried he would tire of my neediness. When I apologized for sending him so many messages, he said, "The messages are fine always. It's always okay."
"How are you so amazing?" I asked him. "I just try to be a good person," he replied. As I relaxed into the safety Justin provided me, I began to feel an inkling of love growing in me.
There was just one little hiccup.
There were details he let slip that didn't fit the narrative he was telling me. He claimed to be 35, but couldn't talk to me about any of the music of my (supposedly our) generation. He talked about growing up in New York City, a place I've visited over half a dozen times, yet he didn't engage me in conversation about any of the landmarks there, like someone who lived nearby might have done. When I asked him about his childhood and family, he was vague and didn't give much detail. I was sure he was lying to me about who he was, and when I confronted him about it, he dodged my questions about his life and his identity.
I asked him directly, "Why don't you have an Internet trail?" He cleverly shot back, "I'm just an internet hitchhiker," which brought to mind a visual of a galactic traveler who dusted his tracks as he moved through the world like a ghost. I was still smitten, but now I was also annoyed and mistrustful.
One night, as I stood at the stove cooking dinner at my ex's house, where I was still trapped, I told Justin my ex was jealous because he had a series of dreams where I was seeing someone else, and he didn't want me talking to anybody. Justin asked me a question, and when Nate looked over my shoulder and saw our messages, his jealousy flared. He was angry and said I was disrespecting him by talking to other men, even though he and I hadn't been a couple in months.
Nate kicked me out of the house, and I left with nothing. I didn't know what to do, so I continued to lean on Justin when I needed a rock, and he provided a stable boulder that I felt protected me from the turbulence of my life while I gathered the strength to press on despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Still, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to know him, to see him as the real person he was behind the pseudonym he used with me that he insisted wasn't a pseudonym.
Afraid that this was all a farce orchestrated by my ex, I demanded to know who Justin really was, but he never told me. Disappointed to find myself in the company of yet another liar, I blocked him, even though it pained me to do so. I changed my mind in a tequila-induced moment of weakness and unblocked him late one night when I thought it was early morning in his time zone. "This is probably a terrible time to tell you I started developing feelings for you, but I did." Silence.
I sent him a few more messages, including one that said, "You broke your promise. You are breaking my heart." To know that I had trusted a complete stranger with some of the most intimate details of my life and that I had, yet again, developed feelings for somebody who ultimately betrayed me crushed me, especially because I was in such a vulnerable emotional state.
Justin blocked me, and I haven't heard from him since. I have tried to move on and set my sights on finding my own way out of the dark. I still read through his messages when I feel blue. There was just something about him that felt different, special. There was something there that felt real, something that felt healing and comfortable.
I've gone on a few dates since then, but I haven't quite found a good match. Regardless of who he really is, he showed me something important. He showed me the kind of relationship I want, because the safety and security of his acceptance made me feel the way I've always wanted to feel in a relationship with a man.
Maybe next time, I can find someone like him who won't lie to me.