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The Fake Fiancé, or: Show a Little Faith?

I have an obsessive nature and a strong desire to turn into Jim Rockford. These personality traits don’t mesh well with my sea of largely dishonest friends. The fact that all but a small few of my friends are notoriously full of shit probably speaks more to my character than to theirs. Nonetheless, I want to trust my friends. It’s difficult when you catch them in lies; it’s even more difficult when you catch them in repeated lies, especially when they’re lying repeatedly about the same stupid things. However, I get some sick pleasure from grilling them on the lies and watching the whole fabrication spiral out of control until they either admit they are bullshit artists (but I’m better!) or run away. And by “run away,” I mean “hang up on me” or “sign off of Instant Messenger,” because many of them have a hard time lying to my face—that’s usually how I figure out they’re lying.

Such is the case with my old friend Kelly, who I’ve known since junior high, and since that time she’s been full of shit. On top of that, she’s loud and abusive, pathologically hostile and emotionally crippled. These things might make you wonder why I’d be friends with her, but if you’ve ever read this blog, you understand we’re two peas in a pod. Except for all the lying.

I accept many forms of lying. There are a lot of shades of gray to dishonesty, many purposes for deceit, and in fact quite a few acts of bullshittery can be considered morally just and ethically sound.

For instance, I recently watched the M. Night Shyamalan movie Unbreakable for the second time ever, and the ending was as shitty this time as it was the first. I watched it with my dad, who borrowed it from a friend at work. It’s this guy’s favorite movie. Ever. He’s watched it dozens of time and is so enthusiastic he lent my dad the DVD. We watched it and agreed that it was actually a pretty good movie—by far Shyamalan’s best, which maybe isn’t saying a whole lot—until that stupid ending. Even the melodramatic “You should have known because they called me Mr. Glass” monologue worked. The “twist” is the only Shyamalan twist that holds up under repeat viewings. But those stupid title cards just ruin everything. Everything. It’s like, “Bruce Willis called the cops, and Samuel L. Jackson spent the rest of his life in a nuthouse.” Did some studio executive get all freaked about its sequel possibility and add those? They come out of nowhere, they obliterate the “show, don’t tell” rule, and it’s just fucking stupid to end your movie about a superhero discovering his power with, “He pussied out and called the cops.” The fuck?

My dad and I agreed on this point, but then he did something I would have never done: he told his friend, who loves this movie, that we both hated the ending. There are really only two consequences to this unnecessary honesty: either the friend gets angry and decides you’re full of shit, or you get to watch the wounded look on his face as he realizes you’re absolutely right. Enter the white lie: “Oh shit man, I loved it—I wish they made a sequel.” Because see, then you’re subtly suggesting maybe the ending was a little off because it was clearly designed as a franchise if you ignore those title cards, but you aren’t ruining his life by dumping the cooler of icy Hatorade all over him.

Lies with purpose can be used for the powers of good. Sometimes they can be used to hurt and torment, and while that can be fun depending on the person, when the lies have no apparent reason to exist, I get frustrated. This brings us back to Kelly. She’s kind of had a habit of manufacturing boyfriends out of—well, “thin air” is an unfair assessment. Let’s say it’s like that heavy, humid air of midsummer, just before a storm, that seems to have thickness and a physical weight. Kind of cumbersome, but more accurate. These boyfriends are real people who exist on this planet, people she knows but assumes we’ll never know and never know anyone who knows them; so she’s doing what clever liars do, mixing reality with her bullshit to make it sound more convincing. She’s been doing this since junior high, when she told us this dorky guy kissed her in the playground near her church. We didn’t know him at the time; when we met him in high school and he vehemently denied it, she had the typical excuse of that era: “Of course he’d deny it—he doesn’t want anyone to know.”

Considering it happened with at least four people I knew at the time (and was the subject of at least 10 Brady Bunch episodes), I guess it’s fairly common to manufacture lies about dating at that age. It’s cool to date, but few people actually do, and the lies about needing to keep things a secret are pretty reasonable since many parents I knew of wouldn’t let their kids date until high school, and even then it was a risky proposition. So even in high school, the idea of “secret dating” was kind of reasonable, although if a person got caught lying they risked utter humiliation.

Other than the made-up kiss from junior high, I can’t recall a time when Kelly made shit up about boys. I have a foggy memory about her saying “something” happened with a friend at a dance, but hey, maybe that actually did happen. I don’t remember it well enough to know, but you better believe if I had confirmed the stench of bullshit I would remember and document it here.

No, Kelly waited until college to start a boyfriend-manufacturing assembly line. It’s an awkward “you’re way too old for this” type of situation, but with one exception I managed to confirm that every boyfriend she had was not her actual boyfriend. See, it’s easy to fool people when you’re going to school hundreds of miles away; problems arise when you ignore the fact that the people you tell these lies to might have other friends at that school. It gets even rougher when one of your friends at this school happens to be your best friend.

That’s right, I talked to Kelly’s best friend a lot. In fact, we were all part of the same circle-jerk of friends, so most everyone I was friends with from high school was some degree of friends with Kelly. The two of them lived in the same dorm (not in the same room, though), hung out a lot, moved into a house together in their second year—so she’d have the dirt. She was the one who confirmed most of the fake boyfriends; the only two she didn’t confirm were the “real” boyfriend and this guy who was friends with her brother (and still in high school), who some of my still-in-high-school friends mentioned she was stalking. It’s hard to blame her when I essentially did the same thing with a different girl, but at least I didn’t pretend like I was dating the girl. I was merely optimistic that we’d get together when she was telling all my friends she wanted to file a restraining order. (The joke’s on her—I was 250 miles away and still able to frustrate and terrify her!)

The thing about Kelly is, I can pretty much tell when she’s lying. There’s an indescribable difference in the way she talks, her body language (like I said above, it’s rough on her to lie to my face, so if we’re out and I ask questions, she gets a little weird), her tone—things you can only pick up when you’ve known a person for more than a decade—so when she tells me things, I can always tell when she’s being completely honest, when she’s exaggerating for comic effect, and when she’s flat-out bullshitting. When she tells me things about teaching, I believe her. When she tells me thing about many of these boyfriends, I didn’t. Confirmation is nice for the sake of proof and peace of mind (not that I ever called her on it; the situation makes me a little depressed rather than angry), but I could pretty much tell just from talking to her that she was lying.

With the case of the “real” boyfriend, even though they only went out once, the whole situation was a lot more believable because of the way she talked about him—ignoring the fact that she forwarded me e-mails and text messages for my expert “guy” opinion, there was a whole different vibe with this guy. She was detailed but not too detailed, didn’t strain or evade when I asked “tough questions,” and the barely perceptible differences in speech and body movement all showed me she was telling the truth. Either she became a much better liar, up to and including manufacturing fake evidence of this guy, or it was true. I never confirmed it one way or the other, because by this time she was in grad school with nobody I knew, but I believe it was all true.

The question lingers: why all the fake boyfriends? This is something I have a hard time understanding. I’ve speculated that it roots back to her best friend, who share what I’ve inexpertly taken to calling the “hot-girl/ugly-girl” dynamic, which is not to say Kelly is ugly—just, in comparison to the utter hotness of her best friend, she can’t compete. Not even slightly. Spending her adolescence watching dorky idiots like me have their hearts broken by her best friend, all the while ignoring her, can’t be healthy. Kelly has always had somewhat of a “keep up with the Joneses” attitude; when she finds out something about one of her girlfriends, Kelly has to do the same thing only better, even if it means making up bullshit to keep up. I kept up with this theory for a long time, until I realized she wasn’t telling her girlfriends about these fake relationships; for a long time, she was only telling me and my friend Jive. Now she doesn’t seem to talk to Jive much, so she’s only telling me.

What’s up with that? The new speculation, the only possible rationale I could think of, is that she harbors long-standing crushes on both myself and Jive, and she was trying to make either one of us jealous in a rather juvenile effort for us to step up and win her blackened heart. She lives in a world where the guy always has to do the asking-out, which is not something I do. And at the time she was at the height of this fakery, Jive and I were both in relationships. Maybe that had something to do with it. It would have been awesome if she had turned us against each other in some sort of blood-soaked battle royale to get her, but that didn’t happen.

Along came a new guy, about two years ago. Going back to thing where I can tell whether or not she’s lying, when Kelly brought this guy up and told me about their initial rendezvous, I believed everything she said. When they spent a weekend in St. Louis with a bunch of her college friends, I believed everything except the part where he left a Post-It note on her forehead saying “Call me” because she was still asleep when he had to leave (it was just a little too cutesy and Cameron Crowe-esque). I believed her when she said she didn’t think things would work out because he’s an ultra-right, Bush-supporting Republican who—gasp!—isn’t Catholic, leading to a rant about how she’d never marry anybody who wasn’t Catholic (hint?!!) so what was the point of getting involved?

That was that. Or was it? Within a few months, Kelly announced she and this guy were still together (after not mentioning him for weeks), and then I started to see a new side of Kelly. Gone was the morally confused “let’s drink and smoke weed but no sex before marriage” girl I had grown up with; in her stead, somebody who was spending all her time at her new boyfriend’s apartment—so much time, in fact, that he was trying to convince her to move in with him. This really wouldn’t surprise me, since the transition from “this sex thing is dirty and not for me” to “oh wait, it’s kind of awesome” happened to pretty much everyone after high school. It took her a little longer, so was this a sign of her first real long-term relationship?

Maybe, but I had my suspicions. Fortunately, I…just couldn’t give a fuck at the time. She was happy, or said she was, so I was content to be happy for her. I wasn’t quite believing the relationship was as perfect as she acted, but that’s not uncommon with most people I know; the only one who is consistently honest is Lucy (often too honest—when I’m hearing the intimate details of a vagina I am not interested in plundering, I start rooting through my desk for leftover painkillers). I also wasn’t sure I believed how “conflicted” Kelly was over whether or not to take the plunge; the source of the conflict, she said, were her uptight Catholic grandparents. Much as she enjoys denying it, I know she’s the only uptight Catholic in her family (at least when it comes to stuff like “living in sin”). I’m still not sure how that happened.

The whole thing grew steadily less believable around the time she announced her engagement. I’m not saying she needs my approval or anything, but it struck me as bizarre that I’d never even met him, despite us having been out a dozen or so times since they started “dating.” Any time I brought up meeting him, or of chillaxin’ in their apartment, she’d get evasive and say something noncommittal like, “He’s really busy, but maybe next time.” Wanting to believe in the honesty, or at least the positive nature of her lies, I thought maybe he was the jealous type and wouldn’t like her gallivanting about town with somebody as cool and latently homosexual as me. Suddenly she was engaged, though, and I felt my willingness to suspend disbelief near its end. Who, exactly, was this guy? When were they getting married? Why did she always seem so full of shit when she talked about him?

The engagement itself supposedly happened in a way that creates a “romantic for people who aren’t interested in romance” vibe; he proposed last Christmas Eve, seemingly at random, without much fuss (or a ring), just a whim-like thing. “You look lovely in the light of the tree—let’s get married!” It’s not that it’s impossible to believe; it just seems more like something Aaron Sorkin would write than something that would happen in reality. It could have happened, and I was prepared to believe it—until the practicalities of an impending wedding (or, at the very least, of repeatedly putting off the wedding date) never crept into her life. No complaints about his uselessness in planning. No complaints about coming up with themes or color schemes. No bitching about costs (though that, at least, could be explained if her parents decided to pay; considering her parents’ cheapness, though, you’d think there’d be bitching about them insisting they keep costs down). Not even references to negate all the potential complications with something like, “We want a simple ceremony with just a few friends and family members.”

And then, out of nowhere…they bought a house. A struggling teacher who barely found a full-time position for this fall—and doesn’t exactly have tenure—and a guy trying to hustle through DeVry grad school bought a $250-$350,000 house? Unless they benefited from the subprime mortgage clusterfuck, this was the lie that broke the camel’s back. All the little bits and pieces of bullshit I had collected over the past year and a half came flooding back, and I became obsessed with proving the lie, to the extent I considered tailing her from her school to see where she was living and who (if anyone) she was living with. I checked the public home-sale records, but they updated very slowly. I didn’t find out until July that their house, supposedly bought in mid-May, doesn’t exist. From the time period she gave me, nothing was sold in either of their names, nor any “corporate” purchases or anything from parents. Unless one of them has wealthy relatives with Latin or Indian names, she was full of shit.

I still felt uncomfortable using this lack of information as my “smoking gun”—it’s too easy to prove wrong, and besides, what if they did like a “rent-to-own” thing that I’m not sure would register as a “sale” at first? I didn’t really believe any of that because when I asked pointed questions (“When are you moving?” “How are you settling in?” “Should I send you a link telling how to match duvet covers to curtains?”) she entered evasion mode. I needed to dig up more dirt. I used all the Google-/Myspace-/Facebook-stalking methods at my disposal to dig up dirt on her or her future husband but found very little worthwhile information…

…until Sunday. You see, it had been a month since I’d heard from Kelly, so I punched her name into Google and found…a court docket from Phoenix, listing her name as someone who faced an arraingment the day after Labor Day. I decided it was a coincidence, but it seemed suspicious that somebody with the exact same first and middle name, coupled with her long Polish last name (spelled in exactly the same way), would exist. It weirded me out, especially when combined with the lack of communication from her, but what am I supposed to do? Ask her what she did in Phoenix and why? Like everything else, I decided to just let it go, assuming it was just an unlikely coincidence or maybe a relative for whom she was named.

But it did encourage me to continue the stalker quest. After the suspicious home sale, I looked up her supposed boyfriend on MySpace. I found a page for him that hadn’t been logged into for over a year. It stated he was single, despite the fact that this would have been after they were dating. Then again, there were no friends but Tom, so maybe that was just the default option. But when I looked up the name on Sunday—I found him, along with some suspicious differences between what he says and what Kelly says about him.

  1. He says he still lives in Orland Park (where the apartment they supposedly shared was), not Flossmoor (where Kelly claims they bought their house). This is despite the fact that this page did not exist until after they would have moved. Oh, and for those unfamiliar with the local geography, this towns are not nearly close enough to be interchangeable.
  2. Despite what I said above above him deciding to buy a house while he’s still going through grad school, I didn’t hear that from Kelly; she has claimed on more than one occasion that he finished grad school before she did, even though his MySpace page says he started it after she was finished and is still attending.
  3. It says he is in the IT field, which makes me wonder why Kelly still comes to me for computer troubleshooting advice (especially when I’m so out of touch, technology-wise, that I haven’t had a clue what the fuck I’m talking about in five years).
  4. He doesn’t have many friends, but the overwhelming majority of the ones he does have are hot chicks (real ones, too, not the fake porn-spam ones). To top that off, the only indication of personality on his sparse profile is that he’d like to meet Danica McKellar. This tells quite a different story than the girl who claims to have this guy on one of those dog-training choke-chains.

Smoking gun? Yeah, not quite. I talked it over with Lucy, who has been keeping up with (and in many ways perpetuating) my obsession, and while she’s believed ever since the house incident that Kelly is full of shit, she didn’t suggest I present this profile as my smoking-gun because it’s pretty easy to poke holes into:

  1. Two points: first, maybe she only lied about the house, and everything else is true (or at least, if confronted she might admit the house lie but not the others). Second, she has made several big deals about the uptight-ness of their parents, especially his “downstate hick” parents. True or not, here’s an easy bluff: since his sister is a MySpace friend, he needs to keep the house a secret. Home ownership is a pretty big lie to maintain (what if they decide to come for a visit?), which makes you wonder why they’d buy a house if they needed to lie about it until after they’re married, but hey, it’s plausible as a lie.
  2. For as long as I’ve known her, Kelly has seen level of education as a status symbol. I remember getting really pissed at her when she suggested one of my friends was an idiot because the friend’s parents didn’t go to college. She also, in a lot of ways, has a confusing 1950s mentality about relationships, so it’s plausible to me that she’d consider having more education than her future husband an embarrassing secret that must be kept hidden, like how my grandma is five years older than my grandpa but insists she’s five years younger even though everyone knows the truth.
  3. It’s unlikely but possible that Kelly, concerned about us drifting apart, comes to me with bullshit computer questions because she’s afraid at some point we won’t have anything else to talk about. Also, since he’s an IT guy for the army she might think it makes him look like a pussy that he’s defending our country by keeping computers running at a VA hospital in Illinois. (Not saying I agree, but considering her obsession with classical masculinity, I could see her trying to hide this. Besides, Lucy was the one who came up with that sub-point.)
  4. Lastly, while it’s hard to believe his only friends in high school were hot women, it’s pretty easy to believe that Kelly exaggerates the tightness of the leash she has him on. She can’t control who he befriends on MySpace, or who he ogles in “men’s magazines,” no matter how much she wants us to believe she can.

Most of these points are kind of flimsy to me, but Lucy’s point stands—if I present this “evidence,” it’s easy to come up with bullshit defenses off the top of your head. It’s harder to show someone a smoking gun when they can make a good case that there’s no powder residue and a still-burning cigarette in the room. Feel free to applaud the absolute worst metaphor I’ve ever concocted.

“Fine,” I said to Lucy. “The next time I talk to her, I’ll ask specific questions about what’s going on with her beau.”

“Yeah,” she said, “and ask about the wedding date.”

Oh yeah, that. It’s been almost a year since the engagement and, to my knowledge, they’ve bought a house but not set a date. If any of it is true, it’s still weird.

Turns out, I talked to Kelly last night. It’s weird, because somehow I ended up even more suspicious, even though in theory the conversation should have allayed my fears.

It started simply enough, with her complaining she wasn’t feeling well. I prepared myself for the “unceremonious breakup” section of her fake relationships; in the past, she usually breaks off contact completely for a month or two (maybe fearing I’m too close to the source of the bullshit trail I’ve been following), then reappears miraculously over a breakup that happened in her absence from my life.

Kelly shook things up a bit this time, perhaps realizing that an engagement and home-ownership make it harder to walk away from this fake relationship. But it was just…so weird. She started off telling me that she and her fiancé went to the beach for his birthday and stayed at a hotel in the city, and while she was there she hit her head on an awkwardly placed hand-rail in the shower, which required stitches and, when she started complaining of the worst headaches she’s ever had, she ended up having a CT scan.

I tried to play coy in an attempt to potentially shake up the situation and catch her in a lie. “Why’d you stay in a hotel? Did you go to the Indiana Dunes or something?” I marveled at my handiwork. I’m imagining this type of thing happens in other cities, but what the fuck do I know? I’ve lived in many major cities, but I’ve never really noticed this same phenomenon. If I’m wrong, here’s the deal: it’s pretty common for suburbanites from the Chicagoland area to go and stay “in the city” for a romantic weekend or a vacation or something, because most of them neither have the time nor the inclination to go into the city unless they absolutely have to. I knew all this but feigned ignorance to subtly prod more details out of her.

“Oh no,” she said. “We went to North Avenue Beach, had dinner reservations at [some restaurant whose name I’ve already forgotten] and booked a room at the Drake. Of course, we ended up spending around four hours at Northwestern Memorial and didn’t get to dinner until 9:45. After that, we went to a jazz club.”

Maybe this is because one of the rare occasions where I’ve taken interest in things she says and does (Jesus, that sounds so mean—guilty!), but she doesn’t usually gush forth with such specific, unasked-for details. The first clause of the first sentence would have sufficed, and yet, here I am knowing all her evening plans including the trip to the emergency room and the specific hospital she went to. I could pick apart minor details like if it was a crowded restaurant in the Loop on a Saturday night and they missed their reservation, there’s no way they could just show up and get a table, or that if I banged my head so hard it required stitches and complained of headaches for the next two days, the last thing I’d want to do is listen to brass instruments.

Making the conversation even more bizarre, she decided to go and get some rest, then signed online a few minutes later. She said she was on her laptop but didn’t think she’d be able to get on the wireless network her fiancé set up without a password (which she didn’t have), but he apparently didn’t secure it. This is the first reference she’s ever made, in the entire course of this relationship, to him having any interest in or knowledge of technology. Then, about four seconds later, she started talking about how great The Wonder Years is—raving about this long-finished show while she watched one of the nightly reruns on a local independent station. It seemed like weird timing to me that the day after I find the guy’s profile, she’s making sudden allusions to it. Maybe it was a coincidence?

For some reason that I can only assume was accidental (if she is toying with me somehow, I have to give her far more credit than I do), she initiated a “Direct IM” session, which flashed her IP address. Of all the things she could have flashed, this would have been near the bottom of my list, but it did give me some valuable information. I punched it into a geolocation service:

ORLAND PARK, IL

H…uh.

I’m not prepared to suggest she was still living with her parents. Living in an apartment, alone, maybe, but this took me by surprise. Still, could this be a coincidence? When we found the original MySpace profile, the one that hadn’t been logged into for ages, Lucy suggested Kelly made it herself. The timing of the last login matched the approximate time Kelly announced they were “still together.” But this new profile—could this be fake, too, but with a little more effort put into it? It’s sparse, but if Kelly has decided to go the route of “retconning” to add some new quirks to her fake future husband, an equally fake MySpace profile would go a long way… The only reason I find it hard to believe, other than the insanity, is that she doesn’t even have her own MySpace profile. Unless she’s just that good

At the very least, I know she was lying about the house purchase. I’m not sure what to make of the rest of it. Unless she’s a mega-stalker, putting even my best work to shame, I can’t accept this as a coincidence. Would she really end up living in the same town as this guy, when there are places cheaper and closer (to her school) to live, for any other reason than that she’s dating him?

The past dishonesty prepared me for the worst, but now I don’t even know what to think. Lucy suggested the next time I talk to her, I really grill Kelly hard about the wedding plans. I can’t think of another strategy, but when I’ve made the effort in the past she usually just changes the subject. Where in the past that would have led me to assume she’s bullshitting me, now I can’t help wondering if maybe there’s a little more to it. Upset because he won’t commit to a date? Angry because maybe they settled on a date but he won’t help with the arrangements? I had a lot of circumstantial evidence that could just as easily point to honesty, if I’d just look at it that way. Then again, if she didn’t have such a lengthy history of big, pointless lies (including the house!), I’d take it all at face value.

If anybody has any advice on how to deal with this situation (even if it’s just “shut up, she’s not even lying, you retard”), I’m all ears.

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