Pride & Prejudice via Pinterest
Since I am still single in my fifties, you could say that I’ve never really mastered the art of relationships. As an English teacher who loves British rock music and Jane Austen, I read voraciously. My favorite novel? Pride and Prejudice. Admittedly, I salivate over anything featuring dark, brooding Matthew MacFadyen types. I’m in love with love. That said, I can be decidedly clueless about the men I love. I tend to be loyal as a goddamn dog. I convinced myself in high school that I’d marry Elton John, even after he revealed he was gay.
My most recent relationship ended six years ago. Its demise brought me to my knees. Grief kept me in a paralytic state of navel-gazing for quite a bit longer than was even remotely good for me. I taught my college classes and that’s about it. On my days off, I stayed home and slept.
So, when Mary – my psychic energy healer – told me that I’d soon meet someone, I responded with the usual snort of doubt. My colleagues are married, not interested, or gay. The only men I ever see are the 18 and 19-year-old college students in my courses.
“Where am I going to meet someone?” I asked her, point-blank.
“Go online. Your inner kid will love that. I swear, the next time we speak, you’ll be in love.”
About six weeks later, I got an intriguing email from a man on an online dating site I’d recently joined. The message was from someone named – get this – Mathew (with one ‘T’) Darling. He had dark hair and eyes, and although he lived 700 miles away from Phoenix, in San Diego, he indicated a willingness to relocate for the right person. I spent some time reading his profile. A widower, he had two daughters. He made decent money and we shared many common interests. The one red flag? He was a conservative. I am a progressive, left-of-left sort of girl. As a result, I sat on my hands for several days, unwilling to chance a reply.
A few days later, my friend, Wendy, called from South Carolina to bitch about her Ph.D. program.
She asked me how things were.
“I got an email…from a guy.”
“Ooh. What’d he say?”
“That he liked my profile.”
“Of course, he did. Have you emailed him back?”
“Unfortunately, he’s conservative.”
“Well, babe, he obviously read your profile, so he knows you’re a lifetime member of the Hillary Clinton fan club. Write to him. What have you got to lose?”
Within hours of receipt of my email, I heard back. There was a flirtatious undertone to the message.
“I like your picture,” he said, adding, “We have so much in common.”
As I read it, bleary-eyed from 14 weeks of non-stop teaching and grading, my heart did a little jig.
I wrote back asking about his life, work, kids.
His messages were a little disjointed at times, but nothing about them seemed unusual. This back and forth went on for several days. Then he suggested that we use Yahoo Instant Messenger to “talk” live – rather than continuing to exchange emails through the dating site.
He coached me through setting it up, and then he was there. We were speaking in real time.
I did notice something odd though. He spelled his name with two T’s on his email account. I asked him about it.
“Oh, it’s a typo.”
One morning a few days later, Mathew sent me an unusually romantic message. I loved what it said. It wasn’t in his typical broken style and I wondered why it was so articulate. I felt a slight twinge in doubting it, but something compelled me to investigate. (Once an English teacher, always an English teacher.) I cut and pasted a few sentences into Google and hit enter. Immediately I got several thousand hits: Romantic Message Template. My heart fell. I struggled to explain it to myself.
In the end, I blew it off thinking, how different is that from sending a Hallmark card?
Mathew revealed that he worked as an oil engineer in Uzbekistan. (I have no idea why this didn’t seem implausible; no idea).
“I can’t wait to finish my works [sic] here so I can come home to meet you.” He initially claimed to be of Irish and German descent, but over time that morphed in British heritage, based upon his marriage. He said he grew up in Illinois and went to the University of Illinois in Carbondale.
“My daughters are excited I found you. They can’t wait to meet.”
“What are their names?”
“Leslie and Julia.”
Again, when I signed off from chatting, I had a feeling of unease. I typed Mathew’s daughters’ names into Google and got a Wikipedia listing for the famous Darlings of Great Britain: Matthew, Julia, Leslie & Peter. As I read the bios I thought, why does everyone in this man’s family have a name that seems to be straight out of a J. M. Barrie novel?
Two weeks later, Wendy flew to Phoenix for winter break. After seeing the state of my closet, she staged an intervention to prepare me to meet the mysterious Mathew Darling in person, as he had promised he’d be state-side soon.
She pulled dozens of sweaters, tops, and pants from their hangers and dropped them on the floor.
“No!” she said, tossing a patterned pink cardigan aside, adding it to the growing heap of pastel turtlenecks and mom jeans. “God, No!”
By the time she was done, I had about half the clothing I’d started with.
Next, she pulled open my underwear drawer and began sorting.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Wrong. This is an ugly, stretched-out piece of crap. You will never wear it again.” She dropped it into a sack marked, “Goodwill.”
I felt like Eliza Doolittle to her tiny, spritely version of Henry Higgins.
The next morning, we headed to the mall where she encouraged me to buy new lingerie.
“Oprah wears this bra,” she said, knowingly.
I stood in the fitting room in Dillard’s as the bra salesperson felt me up, her fingers patting the tops of my girls.
I laid down my debit card and spent $140. I thought about the character, Sue Ellen, on my favorite episode of Seinfeld. When Elaine gave her a bra for her birthday, she wore it as a top. I imagined strutting into the mall to show off my Oprah bra, much to the astonishment of dozens of holiday shoppers.
After that, Wendy called Vidal Sassoon in Scottsdale and made an appointment for me to cut and color my hair.
“You need a grown woman’s hairstyle.”
“I can’t stand having my hair in my eyes.”
“Tough. Do you want to look dowdy and ridiculous, or do you want to look ‘come hither’ sexy? You decide.”
The next day we trekked to Scottsdale and I dropped $175 on a haircut and color. Admittedly, I did have a beautiful waterfall of cinnamon-colored hair afterwards. It fell across my face in a way that made me feel like Greta Garbo or Veronica Lake.
The intensity and frequency of the messages from Mathew increased. 21 days after we met online, he told me he loved me. I couldn’t sleep after our conversation. I woke up early to check my messages. An email was waiting. It expressed tenderness and total devotion. I read it through a blissful fog of joy. He got online a few minutes later and we talked for more than an hour. As we said goodbye, he said, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
I signed off and sat perfectly still. A host of emotions washed over me. Maybe the long night since my ex was finally over.
Still, like a raspberry seed stuck in my teeth, something felt off.
I copied the first three sentences of that latest message into the Google search engine. What happened next froze me in my tracks. 538,000 results. Romance Scams. I clicked through to a few pages only to discover that this was an all too common ploy to extract money, plane tickets, or property from men and women looking for love online.
“It’s a scam,” I said under my breath.
How dare he do this to me?
I felt like the stupidest woman on the face of the earth.
In tears, I went into Yahoo and immediately deleted my account. Next, I went on the dating site and emailed customer service. I gave them his profile name, telling them he was a scam artist. In turn, they emailed all their users with that information. Then, I deleted my account there, too.
Once I did that, I called my best friend, Lisa, in New Mexico. It was before 9 AM that Sunday morning.
“Hey, what’s up?” she asked, sounding tired.
“It’s a scam,” I hiccupped into the phone.
“Huh? What do you mean? What’s a scam?”
“Mathew. It was all bullshit. He was going to scam me for money.”
She hooted, knowing my financial condition.
“Well, that doesn’t mean you weren’t being real,” she said, her voice steady.
I stopped crying.
She continued, “I think this was a good thing. It got you off of Michael. It made you decide to get back to your life. He brought you back to life.”
Wendy was still sleeping on the couch. When she got up, I told her the whole story.
Hearing it, her face fell. “You’re kidding me.”
“Nope. He planned to scam me for money, but I figured it out. I’m proud of myself. I kicked his ass to the curb before he even broached the subject.”
“Did you contact him and tell him you know?”
“Hell no. Let him wonder what happened.”
As fast as he appeared, Peter Pan was gone.
I pulled my hair back and put on some makeup. I made a second pot of coffee and finished grades for my fall classes. After Wendy got out of the bathtub and got dressed, we drank coffee and ate rosemary garlic rolls slathered in butter. We laughed to the point of near hysteria, imagining my darling’s reaction in Nigeria, or Russia, or wherever-the-hell-he-was. When his next plagiarized email went out, it would bounce back to him like a karmic boomerang:
The account you are trying to reach does not exist.
Lisa was right. I was back in my body and back in my life.
In spite of everything, it felt strangely good.
For more information on avoiding romance scams: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/financial_scams/financial_scams_4554.html