This series of posts has focused on the importance of making sound judgments about a someone’s character prior to entering into a serious relationship with them (see also: Becoming a Better Judge of Character and Judging Character – Part Two). The following is a story of how one man, who, in his own neediness and through his own negligence, allowed himself to be blindsided.
Emma was probably one of the most beautiful women Paul had ever laid eyes on. And she was ever so charming and outgoing. Everybody seemed to like her, though no one seemed to know her all that well. Paul was so excited the first time she agreed to meet him over coffee he could hardly contain himself. But it wouldn’t be long after that first meeting that they would be dating steadily, and not too long after they began dating that Emma indicated she wouldn’t mind moving in with Paul’s at his townhouse.
Paul didn’t know a whole lot about Emma but he felt he knew enough. She was bright, charming, and so much fun to be with. She had 2 young children, but she seemed really good with them and they seemed like great kids. Besides, he liked the children and they seemed to like him, too. He didn’t know all that much about Emma’s prior relationships except that she married only once, “way too young,” and had lived with two other men who turned out to be “creeps.” She also had run up lots of debts. But she had good explanations for that: Her last boyfriend was laid off from his job twice and never did his fair share while they were together. Emma was really bearing her burdens all alone and her paycheck simply couldn’t cover all the bills and the kids’ needs.
Paul felt for Emma and her history of “bad luck.” She was estranged from her parents who “threw [her] out” when she was 18, and just never seemed to catch a break. So he didn’t mind paying off her credit cards and helping her out. He felt sorry for her, and he had to admit, it felt really good to feel so appreciated. Emma was good about showing her affection, too. She made him feel both valued and needed.
Paul was pretty much in a state of shock for days after the first time Emma failed to come home until the next morning. He had been frantic with worry about what could have happened to her. And it was insult on top of injury when it became clear how “high” she was when she eventually did show up. How could she do this to him, he wondered? And how could she just leave the kids? Just who was this woman that just days ago he thought was so wonderful?
Eventually Paul would learn that Emma’s story about being “thrown out” and abandoned by her “emotionally abusive” parents at age 18 wasn’t very accurate. In reality, her parents, were decent folks who tried to get her help in adolescence but she was always non-compliant. They even had her admitted to an inpatient facility that had an intensive program. But when she turned 18, they could no longer force the issue of treatment. They told her she could live with them if she observed reasonable rules and limits but Emma had a mind of her own. Emma’s parents didn’t abandon her. Rather, Emma did as she usually does: she bolted when faced with the prospect of having to submit herself to rules and authority.
Paul also learned that the pills Emma always had around for her “Fibromyalgia” weren’t really legitimately prescribed medicines and that she had a history of abusing multiple substances. And he eventually learned that the reason she didn’t come home was because she’d spent the night with an old boyfriend. He also found out that her two children were not from her first marriage as he was led to believe but rather the result of indiscretions during the times she lived with her prior two boyfriends. And by the time he realized he needed to end the relationship immediately and take back the duplicate bankcard he’d given her for household expenses, his account had already been cleaned out.
Eventually, Paul would learn a lot about himself, especially the things that make him vulnerable to exploitation and prone to making inadequate judgments about a person’s character. Paul always wants to see the best in people. He also tends to be too trusting and to take things at face value. And when his gut is churning – like all those times when he would ask Emma about things and her answers were so vague that he never really felt like he got a real answer – he doesn’t afford the feeling that something’s amiss enough credence. He’s also the kind of guy who’s so genuinely insecure that when an attractive woman shows him attention and interest, any good judgment he might otherwise have goes straight out the window. He’s a soft touch whose poor judgment allowed him to be taken to the cleaners. But warning signs were always there if he’d simply been a bit more objective: a failed marriage, at least two other failed relationships, estranged family, financial irresponsibility, etc. (the history of irresponsible sexual behavior could have been easily flushed out as well with just a little probing). And while it’s possible that all these things could have had a perfectly legitimate or more benign explanation, the very fact that they were present begged for Paul’s more ardent investigation. If he’d done his homework and really gotten to know the character of the person he was hooking up with, he’d have spared himself a lot of heartache and saved a lot of money as well!
Had Paul already been armed with some of the information I give in my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, he might have picked up on all the manipulation “tactics” Emma displayed from early on, especially the careful use of vagueness as a means of deceit, adept display of superficial charm and other forms of seduction, always having excuses or rationalizations for problem behaviors, and ready externalization of blame. And he might have spotted certain thinking errors, too, such as circumstantial thinking and hard-luck thinking. These things would have been a tip-off that he was dealing with someone of disturbed character. Paul knows these things now, but he didn’t know them in time to avoid being taken in by Emma. Paul also understands that in order to judge the character of others objectively and accurately, you also have to know yourself pretty well.
One thing I feel compelled to mention is that even though Emma was in treatment on several occasions, the diagnoses she was given spanned the gamut (Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Histrionic Personality traits, etc.) but never included either a Conduct Disorder diagnosis or a diagnosis of personality or character disorder. If “Emma” were male, it’s quite likely someone would have at least entertained the possibility she had a Narcissistic or Antisocial Personality Disorder. It seems that when it comes to making sound judgments about character-impaired females, professionals sometimes have as much trouble as do potential relationship partners. And the purpose of this series of articles has been to help you ask the right questions, gather the right information, and look for the telltale signs that someone’s character poses big problems for any relationship you’re considering having with them.