Last year, I was supposed to travel to New York City to see a Broadway musical with Ryan, the man I had been dating for the past month. This is the same man that I dated exclusively for six months beginning in April 2021. It would be a whirlwind trip. A romantic excursion.
Only none of it was real.
Ryan and I had broken up in November 202 because I felt that he simply didn’t have time for me. He’d cancel or change days and times of our meetings and he could never meet on the weekends due to his summer vacations, parenting schedule and work conflicts. I wanted to date someone who had ― and made ― space for me. So, I let him go. But not really. Not enough.
During the time we were broken up, I dated a few men, but I never felt a true connection with anyone. I wasn’t intimate with anyone. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, They aren’t Ryan, and it was Ryan I wanted to find my way back to. I can’t explain the draw, except to say that the connection I felt with him was the connection people talk about when they meet their person: You just know. You just feel it.
I felt it.
After yet another disastrous date, I texted Ryan.
“I’m sitting in the parking lot of this restaurant where I’m supposed to meet this man but he just canceled … and I don’t want to be in this parking lot meeting him,” I wrote. “I don’t want to meet any man. The only man I want to meet is YOU. And it’s stupid, really, that we aren’t dating anymore. Isn’t it?”
He texted back and suggested we meet for coffee. He said he’d been dating other women, of course, but hadn’t met anyone he connected with. He said, like me, he’d just been kind of going through the motions. He said he was up for trying again.
We started texting every day.
I had been working with my life coach to believe that I am worthy of good things ― that I can have the things I want. She encouraged me to ask for what I need, so in a burst of enthusiasm, I asked him if he wanted to go with me to Palm Springs. I was shocked when he said he would but he needed a few days to work it out.
After three days, he said he realized he couldn’t go to Palm Springs. Flights were too expensive, and he was locked into spending the weekend with his boss and a group of 60-year-old men. Instead, he told me that “The Music Man” was playing in New York and asked if I would go with him. I was so happy I almost started crying. In my previous marriage, I had often asked my ex to take a last-minute trip with me, but he was always too tired or said it would take too much effort. To do something wildly romantic with Ryan was amazing. The universe would give me good things! I was worthy! I only had to ask.
Ryan booked the theater tickets and I paid him for mine via Venmo. I booked the flight and the hotel. I’d cover those. He didn’t have a lot of extra money and I was happy to do it.
We talked about the trip. I felt myself falling for him again, but in a new way. A way where I felt supported and cared for. A healthy way.
I got a message on Facebook from a woman saying she wanted to know who I was. She claimed her boyfriend, Ryan, had just broken up with her. She said she saw on Venmo that I had given him money for tickets, and she looked me up. “What were the tickets for?” she asked. She said they’d been together for two years and she wanted me to tell her what was happening.
I went to her Facebook page and immediately felt sick.
“I discovered that everything he told me during our previous six months together had been a lie. All of those times he had work trips or fishing weekends with his buddies or obligations with his kids, he was actually with his girlfriend.”
As I scrolled through her photos, the double life that Ryan had been living came into clear view. When he said he was out of town with his boss, he was with his girlfriend in Nashville. And that wasn’t the only time. I discovered that everything he told me during our previous six months together had been a lie. All of those times he had work trips or fishing weekends with his buddies or obligations with his kids, he was actually with his girlfriend in Chicago for the jazz festival, kayaking up by the Pictured Rocks with her, or they’d been celebrating New Year’s together. Once he sent me pictures from a basketball game and complained it was hard to be a third wheel with his buddies and their wives. Now I was looking at a photo of him with his arm around this woman from that same day.
Not only had Ryan created intricate lies about why he couldn’t be with me, he texted me during those trips and events saying he couldn’t wait to see me. He told me how nice it was to stay connected. He said he couldn’t wait to be intimate with me. Perhaps worst of all was that he frequently used his kids as an excuse for why we couldn’t get together.
I called him and demanded to know what was going on. He confessed that during the time he originally dated me (and told me he was dating only me), he was dating six other women. Since we reconnected, he’d been dating two women other than me and his girlfriend of two years. I couldn’t believe it. He also refused to pay me back for the ticket to New York, so I lost that $600. But more than that, I lost the relationship I thought I had.
What Ryan did was more than hurtful. It’s more than just not telling the truth. He crushed my spirit, my trust, and my belief in love. But I won’t let him crush my sense of self-worth.
I’m was 48 years old and back in the dating world after two marriages and 15 years of being someone’s partner. I didn’t want to do online dating, but what are my other options? There’s no shame in wanting companionship, but at times it feels shameful. I wanted to be loved so badly that I let myself get hurt. I invited this into my life.
Of course, though, I didn’t.
I believe that online dating has created a new way for deceit and manipulation to thrive. It offers people an easy opportunity to find and prey on those who are open-hearted and trusting. These exploiters are always on the lookout for the next target and the next thrill, and the next one is only a swipe away. The ability to instantly create a new persona and however many lies to go with it lets people be whomever they want to be and do whatever they want to do. You never know if the person you’re meeting ― or falling in love with ― is who they say they are, and it’s terrifying.
I made the mistake of justifying the red flags I saw early on by saying, “Ryan can’t spend time with me because he’s so busy with work and his kids.” I tried so hard to be understanding and kind to him that I missed what was right in front of me.
I’m embarrassed. I’m humiliated. I’m heartbroken. But if my story helps even one other person take a closer look at their relationship ― gets them to investigate those red flags ― then it’s worth sharing my hurt publicly.
And though I’m even more wary of online dating than I was before, I haven’t given up. How else do you meet someone these days — especially in a world that’s been in lockdown for two years? But now I am better-equipped to see the danger signs. I ask a lot more questions. I do internet searches on prospective dates. I’m less trusting and more cautious. It’s not how I want it to be. It’s certainly not romantic. But it’s reality, and I refuse to let Ryan and what he did rob me of the chance of finding love. He’s taken enough already ― he doesn’t get that too.
So, I’m moving forward. I’m doing it a little less open-hearted, and, maybe, a little less forgivingly, and that makes me sad. This isn’t the person I wanted to be, but it’s a different world than it was 15 years ago when I was last looking for love, and this is who I am ― at least for now.
Ryan will move forward too. He’ll continue dating. Maybe he’ll take someone with him to New York. He’ll probably continue hurting people, until, maybe, enough women stand up to him and call him out on his behavior. Maybe I’m the first to call him on it. I hope I’m not the last.
Note: Names and some identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals mentioned.
Tanya Eby is a USA Today bestselling author of fiction and an award-winning audiobook narrator. She is currently shopping a memoir.