“Love Fraud”: Dating in middle age and the ol’ okey doke

I may be an ethereal middle-aged single lady, but that doesn’t mean I won’t cut you if you try to scam me out of my cash. Nobody has time for that. (Photo: Rico Feldfoss)

I love docuseries, particularly those that have just enough similarity to my reality to be interesting, but removed enough that I’m not constantly sobbing at the continued reinforcement of how society hates me. For instance, I’m fascinated with HBO’s “The Vow” and its tale of self-help group turned body-maiming sex cult NXIVM. While I relate to wanting to belong and improve oneself, and to the pull of celebrity as a longtime entertainment journalist, it’s super different than my life. Also there’s maybe one Black person in the entire group, which seems to be mostly made up of thin white women that the skeevy head guru wanted to sleep with, so I don’t imagine I would have been heavily recruited.

But I did spend the better part of this weekend catching up on another show that follows how loneliness and a need for connection can compel seemingly sensible people to make disastrous decisions. That’s Showtime’s “Love Fraud,” about how an ordinary-looking guy named Richard Scott Smith used the Internet, along with charms that are apparently hard to discern across the screen, to worm his way into the hearts and bank accounts of several women across the country. The remarkable thing seems to be that unlike the titular crapweasel of “Dirty John,” , a show that nearly ruined Eric Bana for me forever, none of Smith’s victims are rich. He seemed to take pleasure in finding middle-class ladies and taking their savings and 401ks, leaving them penniless and humiliated because he’s evil.

Some of them he married. Others, he just swindled. But what they seem to have in common is that they’re middle-aged ladies looking for love, mostly after unsatisfying relationships and break-ups. They put their hopes in the Internet to find a new start, and that new start blew up on them and stole all their stuff. As a middle-aged lady who would, too, like to find love, albeit one who’s given up the Internet because of crap like this, I relate. Highly. And I’m insulted on their behalf. How effing dare you.

I don’t believe that at this time in my life, I’d be adding some dude I just met to my bank accounts, or buying him cars and real estate in my name just until he gets paid the settlement of some accident I’ve never seen documentation of. At this point, what I’ve built financially and reputation-wise means too much to be flinging it around at some marginally-attractive guy I met at karaoke like Rick’s victims (again, they all say he has some magnetism that makes you trust him, but DOES NOT TRANSLATE. Dude looks shifty as Hell.)

This is not to blame these women for their own victimization, because ultimately the fault lies with their weasel-face victimizer. Rick’s not my Cup O’Noodles, but who’s to say there isn’t someone I’d be a little more sweet on? What I recognize in his pitch is what he was to them – another chance. Someone who claims to want love and has decided that you are that chance. That the meant-to-be you’ve lived for, that doesn’t always come for people your age, is here.

We are in a weird time, as you know. All of this happened pre-COVID, and with the added loneliness of lockdown there’s nouveau Ricks and Dirty Johns and whatnot popping up all over the place. And I’m sure they’re getting takers. My advice to would-be marks is not to fall in love, but to listen to red flags, like being told “I love you” too fast, and to not to put people you don’t know on your bank account because COME ON Y’ALL.

But my biggest piece of advice is to the scammers, because I’m so tired of people being harder on the hurt than those who hurt them. Stop telling people how not to get hurt, and focus on the evil of the people who hurt them. And yeah, Rick (SPOILER!) has his own sob story about being abused and taken advantage of, but that doesn’t absolve him of a frigging thing. To me, it was the victims’ lack of status and wealth that made him even more heinous, because he found wounded souls like himself, who didn’t have a lot, and made a point of destroying them.

Don’t destroy people. I suppose I could be more eloquent than that. But I don’t have to be.

Widows, Peter Cetera and fighting for my own honor

We were the heroes we were dreaming of. Anyone who comes after needs to do that, too.

Part of my superpower as a life-long Features writer is relating seemingly random things to each other and writing pithy, moving and meaningful pieces about them. Thus, I’m going to make a connection between hanging out with a group of widows – my people – for the weekend, relationship goals, a fictional minivan murder and Peter Cetera’s gorgeously schmaltzy 1986 masterpiece “The Glory of Love” from “The Karate Kid II.”

Yes, Daniel-San figures prominently into my current love philosophy , just not in the way I thought in 1986 when I was hanging ripped-out glossy “Bop” magazine posters of Ralph Macchio in my locker. Wonders never cease.

So, I watch an NBC show called “Good Girls” about three moms who become a criminal enterprise, and it’s dark and funny in ways that make me feel bad about laughing. That happened in last week’s episode (SPOILER!) when a truly despicable guy was accidentally run down with a minivan by the (sketchy) woman he’d blackmailed into a relationship. The whole thing was set to chorus of “The Glory of Love,” where Mr. Cetera earnestly pledges to be “a man who would fight for your honor” and “the hero that you’re dreaming of.” But everybody here is awful, nobody has any honor, and in the end, the lady becomes her own hero, in a way, by getting rid of the man she was kind of trying to love. It’s super-cynical and mean, and it made me start thinking about my own approach to love.

And no, that doesn’t include running people over with my minivan. I don’t even have a minivan. Or run people over. Y’all can put the phone down.

What I mean is that like a lot of little girls, I grew up loved the idea of a man being willing to fight for me, to selflessly face dragons and wars and evil karate guys to save me, and to keep me safe. I used to and still do wear that Peter Cetera song OUT in the car. Back in the day, I was imagining the handsome man who was going to lay it all on the line for me. Decades later I married my late husband Scott, who was that man, but with a twist. Scott was not a cute young karate guy – he was a chunky middle-aged guy who fought most of his battles with sharply worded emails and calls to people’s managers. But I have no doubt he would have taken off his rings and thrown down for me if necessary. He had my back, in all things, and the thing that seemed most heroic about him is that he knew that I would fight for him, too.

Which is to say he was the hero that I’d been dreaming of, and I was his hero, too. He saw me not as a helpless damsel who needed someone to save him, but as his partner in a mutual, lifelong love story in which we always saved each other.

Then Scott died, and I couldn’t save his life – a thing I’ve had to forgive myself for, because I don’t have time to wallow when the kingdom still needs saving, the rent needs to be paid and this child still needs raising. I thought about that during my annual visit to Camp Widow, a weekend conference of bereaved partners where we try to make sense of the love and life we’ve lost and find the tools to start cobbling together a future that isn’t remotely what we wanted. We’ve all been broken, and are at varying stages of bleeding and scabbing over and slowly healing. These people are my heroes, particularly the ones just months into this awful journey, who somehow cut through the shock, put on shoes and came to a widow convention. That’s miraculous. What I’ve done, I think, is to honor the hero Scott was by making good on his belief in me and getting it done. I am my own hero.

This has extended to what I’m looking for in my next partner. I still want someone who is willing to fight for me. Not for my honor – I can do that. I’ve done that. What I need is a man who’ll fight for my budget by not freeloading, who’ll fight for my mental health by not gaslighting me or dismissing me when it makes him feel better about himself. I need a man who will fight for my career by standing by me and supporting me rather than belittling it because it’s not about him. I need a man who’s impressive enough as an adult, as a father to his own kids and a potential father to mine, to make me look up to him, and to trust him to have my back. I want a man who fights for me and my self-esteem by making me a priority in his life, not a placeholder to make him feel better until something better comes along.

In short, I need a man whose ego doesn’t require someone who needs saving, who sees me as a symbol of his own strength. I can’t do that for you, and you can’t do that for me. I want a partner, not a knight who sees me as a conquest. I fought with Scott, I’ve fought without him and now I need another partner who’ll toss me a sword (or give me space to kick, if we’re going back to our “Karate Kid” theme) and be willing to fight alongside me.

We’re saving each other. That’s the kind of glory I’d love.

The five stages of losing my phone. Obviously I survived.

Me and the person who likely lost my phone. Probably.

So a few days ago, in the middle of a day I’ll spare you the grosser details of and just boil down to “gross kid stuff,” I realized I’d misplaced my cell phone. And yes I’m that person that walks around the house with it. I realize I have a problem. That is not what we’re talking about right now.

What we are talking about is my reaction to that problem, which persisted for more than 24 hours until I found said phone, dustier but still with a 24 percent battery charge, behind my bed after my 4-year-old son hinted that he may have been playing with it on my bed while watching “Muffin Babies,” which is actually “Muppet Babies” but he can’t read and doesn’t know what a Muppet is. (He is a fan of muffins, however.)

I knew that not having my phone on me would be a thing. It just turned out to be a different thing. Here’s my journey.

  1. Panic. Obviously.

2. What’s happening? Who can live without knowing what I think about everything right this second?

 

3. Confusion that I am the world have survived without knowing what I think about everything right this minute.

 

4. Acceptance that I am a better driver, listener, co-worker, mother and friend when I pay more attention and don’t have distractions. Sorry phone.

 

5. PHONE!! I FOUND YOU!!! WHO’S BEEN TEXTING ME??? WORLD I’M ALIIIIIIVE!!!

I might have some work to do.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Lesliegraystreeter.com! It’s my blog, y’all!

This is a random photo of an otter statue we took at the Little Rock Zoo last year. They look so important, like they’re standing up to say something, and it’s for you to figure out. Like, “I’m an otter, man!”

I’ve been blogging for a while, either for my day job at the Palm Beach Post, or the Sweet Midlife With Lynne and Leslie, a blog I write with my sister that neither one of us really update enough. Sometimes, blogging seems easy- here’s what in my brain and hey everybody look at me.

And sometimes it seems dumb, like why should anyone who’s not me or the therapist I don’t currently have care about what’s in my brain? What makes me so special?

That’s something I’m still trying to figure out.

So here’s what I’m thinking about right now: I’m a 47-year-old woman, who 8 years ago married this cute guy she’d met in high school, resolved to make the next 50 years we would have together so good that we wouldn’t mind having missed the previous 20 together.

We got 5.

Rather than shake my tiny fist at God and dissolve into a puddle of regret and baked goods, I focused on things I can control, like writing, being a good mother and hopefully being healthy enough that I stay alive for the next 50 or so years. I’m gonna be hella old. But with the space-aged polymers and such, I’ll hopefully look good. Good-ish. With some filters and stuff.