I began a relationship with a girl, through correspondence on social media, for almost a month before we had a first date. Before we even met, I felt a strong bond and lots of shared values and the sort of exciting frisson that can only be felt if you find a deep emotional connection simply through words. On our first date we hit it off and talked for hours and hours, we made love that first night. I could not have been happier, and our first few months were simply wonderful and without hitch.
Then things began to unravel. She went through my phone and found a message to my previous girlfriend, which said I hoped we could remain friends. She became anxious and convinced I still had feelings for her predecessor. This anxiety never went away and I was constantly interrogated about my feelings towards my ex. Her moods would be intense and unyielding, I began to feel trapped in a situation of dark, depressing fear and mistrust. No matter what I said, she was convinced I still wanted to be with my previous girlfriend.
This anxiety continued for several months and during our arguments she attempted suicide more than once.
We tried mediation and she tried talking therapy, which she stopped after three visits. This cycle continued, until she hacked my email and Facebook accounts. She would use the content of emails to all my ex-girlfriends in arguments about why she didn’t trust me any more. I changed all my passwords.
We decided to break up because I could no longer handle her anxiety and fear. She did not take this well and found a way to hack into my accounts again. She emailed all of my friends and family with long, rambling emails about why I could not be trusted. She began threatening to hack my accounts again and would send me dozens of emails each day, making threats: to plant drugs in my apartment, call the police and so on.
She even set up a fake Tinder account and corresponded with me again, as I was trying to start over. She then wrote about how she was reading all my private messages to friends and family. One evening, I had nearly three dozen missed calls from her, followed with threats to reveal something I was hiding – I don’t know what it is to this day – unless I answered.
Thankfully, friends and family rallied round, and I have felt supported and trusted. But her behaviour had a really powerful effect on me and I began to fear another emailed threat. I felt genuinely harassed. At time of writing, I have had no contact from her for the last few days. What could I have done to avoid this situation in the first place?
It’s sensitive of you to ask what you could have done to avoid this in the first place, but it’s important to realise that your ex’s behaviour is entirely her responsibility. You didn’t cause it and it wasn’t your fault. Her behaviour was highly controlling and abusive (imagine if the gender roles were reversed. I think you’ll see more clearly how abusive this situation was). I’m glad you had friends and family who rallied.
I also spoke to a solicitor who specialises in criminal law. She advised that your ex has commited criminal offences.
What I can try and help you with is perhaps looking at relationships in general and the potential pitfalls of meeting someone online (great though it can also be) where you can create a fantasy around them before you meet, which may see you missing out on valuable cues to their personality.
I want to stress that this was not your fault – and even if you meet someone in real life things can go wrong.
I contacted psychotherapist Caroline Kendal (bacp.co.uk), who wondered “why you were writing to someone for a month before meeting them. The danger of doing this is that you create a fantasy idea of that person before meeting them – you are basically investing in a fantasy relationship.”
While this can be enormous fun – and intoxicating as you have found – it isn’t realistic, and because you lay a tracing-paper idea of your ideal partner over the person, when you do finally meet, it can take longer to see them for who they really are.
“Look at what stopped you meeting her sooner,” advises Kendal. “Next time, keep it to one or two emails, a phone call, then meet her [in a public place etc].”
I think that, if there is a next time, you will spot the signs faster and be able to act quicker.
I also spoke to Joy Merriam, a solicitor who specialises in criminal law. She advised that your ex has commited criminal offences, of harassment, against the Protection of Harrassment Act 2003 and by cyber-stalking you (section 127 of the Communications Act 2003).
If she reappears, you could go to the police (you could do that anyway but if she has now left you alone it may be best to let sleeping dogs lie).
She would probably be given a warning, and if she ignored that she would be charged and given a restraining order which, if she contravened, could see her sent to prison. So you do have legal rights.
What your ex did was not just annoying, it was criminal.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 20 February 2016.