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Alex Smyth

Swipe Left: Dating a pathological liar left me questioning everything

Little white lies are often part of modern dating. But nothing could prepare me for the dishonesty I encountered with Cameron*.

22 Sep 2021

Welcome back to gal-dem’s monthly dating column ‘Swipe Left’, bringing you Shanice Dover’s latest musings on love, sex and relationships.

Honesty and trust are widely regarded as key components for healthy romantic relationships, but oddly, that sentiment doesn’t always seem to extend to dating. In best case scenarios, people fold a few mistruths into their Tinder profiles – proclaiming to fill their time with a bunch of hobbies they’ve actually only tried out once. Or maybe they claim to be looking for a long-term relationship, when they know full well they have no intention of seeing someone past a handful of dates. 

Oftentimes, it’s easy enough to dismiss small falsehoods and put it down to an annoying aspect of modern romance – but when you’ve had an encounter with a pathological liar, it’s a little harder to shrug off.   

I got chatting to Cameron* on a dating app and we instantly clicked. Our first date a couple of weeks later went so well that we immediately decided to spend another night together, and that’s when things took a bizarre turn. He spent most of the evening launching into monologues about being in love with me (a mere 48 hours after we met) and the next morning I found him barely conscious in my bathtub. At first, I thought he was joking, but after a while of him muttering incoherently and not responding to my pleas for him to get up, it became very clear that something was wrong. I called 999 and paramedics came to take him to the hospital. 

Seeing him like that and having absolutely no understanding of what was happening was scary, but thankfully he was in touch later that evening to say he was okay. In the days afterwards I asked what had happened and each time, his story would change slightly, but thinking he was just embarrassed, or that he didn’t want to share details of a medical condition of some form, I didn’t press him too hard for an explanation and decided to keep trying in the hopes he’d feel more comfortable discussing it a little later. 

He spent most of the evening launching into monologues about being in love with me (a mere 48 hours after we met)”

We went on one more date after that, but then there was another weird incident where he called me up at 2am and went on another tirade about how much he loved me, and then lost consciousness again – this time in the middle of the street. Similar to the first time he passed out, he gave another non-explanation,  so I ended up telling him that I thought it’d be better if we just spoke as friends. 

In the weeks that followed, he became even more vague and dismissive about even simple details, like why he had been unreachable for hours or what he’d done with his day. Just as I was pulling (or running) away, he ‘opened up’ about experiencing a horrible loss with an ex-partner who he claimed had also passed away. On a separate occasion, he claimed to have lost three friends in the space of a week, all in unrelated incidents. 

In hindsight, I can now recognise his behaviour as clear emotional manipulation and even then, I’d stop and question the legitimacy of what he was saying. But every time I doubted the deaths of people close to him, the same question would force its way into my mind – ‘Who would lie about something like this!?’ However, months later I was to be proven right, in a much worse way than I had ever imagined. 

“He claimed to have lost three friends in the space of a week, all in unrelated incidents”

I got a message on Instagram from a girl called Tia asking if I knew Cameron, and we arranged to speak on the phone immediately. Waiting for my phone to ring after giving her my number, I felt sick with anticipation but was desperate to finally know the truth about him. Tia revealed that she was his girlfriend of two years and had been with him the whole time he and I had been speaking and seeing each other. The worst part was, she had been gaslit and lied to far more than I had, and had just as many questions about his behaviour that she hoped I could help with. 

Over the course of the phone call and lengthy back and forths on WhatsApp in the days that followed, I discovered that he’d made up pretty much everything he’d told me. He hadn’t worked at the job he told me he had in over a year and he also didn’t live with the flatmate he’d been casually mentioning for over three. In truth, he lived in the flat he took me to on our first date, claiming to be flat sitting for a friend. He actually lived there with another woman who was also his girlfriend of several years. When Tia and I compared dates, we realised that he’d taken her to the flat a week after my visit, but he had told her a different story, claiming that the woman who lived there was his friend and he was just sleeping on her sofa. 

Tia and I cross-referenced everything Cameron had ever told us. Oftentimes, the lies were the same but the details different. The friend he’d lost tragically suddenly had a different name, or the family member going through huge health and financial issues switched from being his dad to an aunt. Tia had also reached out to other girls she discovered he had cheated on her with who also had similar experiences. She found out that he’d also scammed them out of money or outright stolen their bank cards or cash from their bags. 

Hearing the truth and getting confirmation that I was right not to trust Cameron was a huge relief, but also a massive wake-up call. Of course, I’m not completely naive, so I’ve always known to be wary of deceitful people, but I really couldn’t have ever imagined meeting someone who could lie so shamelessly and without any remorse or guilt about the people he was harming. 

To know that so much of it wasn’t real was infuriating and scary and made me want to swear off dating forever”

The reality of actually encountering someone like that first-hand was heavy. Each time I thought that Cameron was sharing something personal, I returned his vulnerability with my own. I was genuinely worried and hurt for him, so I dug deep to offer up any comfort I could, whether it was sharing advice or just being someone for him to talk to. To know that so much of it wasn’t real was infuriating and scary and made me want to swear off dating forever, but I refused to let this awful person disrupt my life anymore than he already had done.

Yet the whole situation made it impossible for me not to confront the fact that dishonesty can be deeply embedded in the dating game. 

Now I’m not saying that every man I meet is probably another Cameron – although it’s still pretty shitty being lied to in any capacity – but you never know when someone is telling the truth or not when you first meet them. The sad reality is far too many people are flailing around in the dating pool without the emotional intelligence of knowing how to tell the truth without being harmful

One of the clearest examples of this is when it comes to breaking things off with someone. The general consensus amongst the ​​majority of people that I’ve spoken to seems to be that a little white lie about why you don’t want to keep on seeing someone seems acceptable if it avoids hurting their feelings, right? It’s also a lot less harsh than ghosting, so you throw out some generic excuse about being too busy with work instead of braving an awkward conversation about the real reason. 

“Whether people lie for sport, or because they’re convinced it’s the kinder option, it hurts”

In that scenario, and many others like it, sprinkling in a little mistruth seems so much easier than the discomfort that being honest can sometimes present. Even with bigger, crueller deceptions, the people behind them often excuse this behaviour by convincing themselves that they’re somehow protecting the other person, or that total honesty isn’t necessary. 

However, these little lies are often so transparent that they’re not harmless at all, and simply leave the person on the other end wondering why they weren’t worthy of honesty, or filling in the gaps with more painful versions of what they think the truth could be. If I’ve learned anything from my experience with Cameron, it’s that the best defence in detecting bullshit and determining how malicious it is, is my gut instinct – and that it’s actually a pretty reliable tool that I need to employ more often. 

I’ll never know how Cameron can justify what he did, and he is probably still doing it to other women who have the misfortune of getting involved with him. I’ve always dated with the view that being upfront about who I am and what I want from a situation is the best approach, but the fact of the matter is that not everyone holds those same values. Whether people lie for sport, or because they’re convinced it’s the kinder option, it hurts.

*Names have been changed.