Deceit And Manipulation: A Cautionary Tale For Dating

If the month of February brings to mind love, red roses and engagement rings, then maybe this story isn't for you. But if you've ever been in a bad relationship or had the date from hell, you're in good company, so read on.

Black roses aren't exactly best sellers on Valentine's Day. In fact, it's not exactly easy to find them, even in the city. But somehow, two single, successful, beautiful New York blondes exchanged the flowers and stories over drinks at a SoHo bar on Feb. 14.

For Jenn and Annamaria*, this February is much more of a black rose kind of month. Well, at least now it is. Let's rewind a bit. Up until about a month ago, these two women didn't even know each other. They were happy, hard-working and in love. They both had boyfriends of over a year, who each described as a handsome, charming and caring man. The problem? Their boyfriends just happened to be the same man, Matthew. And it turns out, they weren't alone -- during the course of their relationships, Matthew admitted to having at least five additional girls on the side. It's every woman's worst nightmare. For the past few weeks, Jenn and Annamaria have been living that nightmare together, piecing together the facts and helping each other to move on.

Jenn met Matthew in October of 2010 on a dating website. They fell in love quickly and soon, Matthew (a recent divorcee) introduced her to his two children. On paper and in person, Matthew looked great. He was a fitness expert. He owned a gym and was often profiled in fitness stories on websites and TV stations across the country.

"He told me every day he loved me, he texted me all day long," Jenn said. "We made plans for the future. Even four months into the relationship, we were making big life decisions, talking about having more kids and decorating the house. We were planning our life together."

And when Jenn's dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Matthew flew out to meet him and spend time with her family in his final days. The relationship continued to grow until just after the couple's first year anniversary in October. That's when Jenn found a used condom in his bathroom.

"I confronted him," Jenn said. "He said 'I cheated twice: Once this summer and once yesterday.' He apologized, said I was the love of his life and he would do anything to make it work. We took a little break and after a bit, we decided to try again -- but with the condition of total honesty. We were going to therapy and really working on making it work. After that, things were great -- better than they had ever been. We were planning Thanksgiving with our families, Christmas and a trip to the Bahamas for New Year's. I believe in forgiveness and wanted to live my life that way."

As the couple spent New Year's Eve on the beach, Jenn caught him sending pictures of himself on the phone. Right after midnight, he snuck away to make a phone call. He said it was to his children. Instead, it was to Annamaria.

Annamaria and Matthew met at a bar in January 2011. They quickly fell for each other. But because he had two young daughters, she understood he was being cautious and they couldn't spend all their time together.

"We started dating," Annamaria said. "We were in contact every single day, all day. His big thing was he had daughters and so I could never spend the night when they were there and he often had to break plans to be with them. I had never met the girls, because I thought he was taking it slow. Little did I know that he was actually building a life with another woman."

By winter of 2011, Annamaria and Matthew were also talking about their future and making plans for New Year's Eve. But on Christmas Eve, Annamaria got an email from Matthew, breaking their holiday plans.

"He said 'I'm so sorry, my brother invited me and my daughter down to Mexico for New Year's,'" Annamaria recalled. "He said 'my daughter is having problems and I think this would really be good for her.' Of course I was upset, but I understood. We texted through the entire vacation. He sent me pictures from the beaches of 'Mexico' and he called me right after midnight."

Jenn started getting suspicious and when the couple returned home from the Bahamas; she found his iPad was signed in and his Facebook was open. She clicked on his messages icon -- what she found took her breath away.

"That's when I found messages from five other women dating back to April," Jenn said. "They were very explicit. They were like, "when do I get to feel you again, when are we having sex?" They were continuing from when I caught him back in October to even when we got back from the Bahamas. I confronted him and he said it's not a big deal. That's when it all blew up. I said I know you cheated. And eventually he admitted it."

Jenn told him she was going to contact every single woman and tell them what they were up against. The last name on her list was Annamaria.

Meanwhile, Matthew was frantically doing damage control. He called Annamaria and sent her an email admitting to cheating and painting Jenn as an unstable ex-girlfriend who he just couldn't shake. He told Annamaria she would be contacting her. Annamaria was dumbfounded.

The email read: "She and I were having unprotected sex. I slept with two other women, protected, on two occasions over the summer. She would give you the idea that I was sleeping with everything that moved. That isn't true. I know you have no reason to believe me but it is true. I was a liar. I was wrong."

And then she got a message from Jenn, telling her everything.

Annamaria wrote back. She asked if they could meet. Their first meeting happened over drinks. They shared timelines and stories and realized that there were nights when Jenn was taking care of his kids and he would say he had to meet his guy friends, but he was actually over at Annamaria's apartment. Jenn would be working on homework and teenage girl problems with the girls; Matthew was building another relationship.

Jenn asked Annamaria if she ever noticed all the framed pictures of her or her clothes in the drawers. Annamaria responded that it was her pictures in frames and her clothes in the drawers. He had been methodically swapping their stuff before every visit.

"It makes me so sad," Annamaria said. "In my mind, he was the most honest, stable, kind person that I had ever met. To think he was a total stranger the whole time, it's hard to wrap your brain around that."

"It was really cathartic," Jenn said of the meeting. "As hard as it was to hear these things, it was good to know I wasn't alone. We had been duped together. We were going through the same thing, and we can help each other go through this."

And they have. When Annamaria can't sleep, she calls or texts Jenn. When Jenn is so mad she's about to lose it, she reaches out to Annamaria. And in the process, a friendship has developed.

"She saved my life," Annamaria said of Jenn. "Just talking to her, she is incredible."

As Valentine's Day approached, the two found themselves feeling depressed over the idea of spending it alone. Instead, they turned to each other.

"We decided to go on a date to celebrate our new lives," Jenn said.

And so this Valentine's Day kicked off the start of something new -- marked with a lone black rose to remind them of what they have been through.

The calls, texts and emails from Matthew have dropped off over the past few weeks. When I contacted him about this story, he didn't respond. Jenn and Annamaria would be completely happy if they never saw him again... but if they did, they know exactly what they'd say.

"I would tell him I am happy," Annamaria said. "And I'm fine without him. He's not ruining my life, he's only ruined his."

"I would say, look at us, we're gonna be fine, we're going to get through this," Jenn said. "We are coming together and gonna get through this together. You are a sad, lonely, pathetic man. But you know what, that's not our problem anymore. We're gonna be fine."

*This story is true. Names have been changed to protect those involved.