Socially engineered pain
April 6, 2011 11:19 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with the loss of what turned out to be something you never had? Social engineering relationship question

I found out that an evolving intimate written relationship - call it a penpal - was a social engineering game. I was the "real player" between two teams, one whose goal was to make me leave and one whose goal was to evoke enough emotion to make me stay. I am in a foreign country and had already left four months ago due to the harassment but I returned for what I was led to believe was a community and a relationship. I found out a couple of days when I had the opportunity to directly meet with the person I assumed I was in contact with and he had no knowledge of the ongoing communication ostensibly from his side.

The last couple of days have been spent in cleaning up and getting them to stop the game. Today, I'm finally hit with the hurting. They snatched away an emotional relationship I had built together "with someone" who had written me sensitive and nuanced sharings of their thoughts and view on life. "Someone" I came to like and respect over time. Now there is no "someone" - how to make sense of this? Its not even a simple break up where you know why you are grieving and what your loss is. Now, I am at a loss with how to cope. I don't even know whom I have lost anymore.

The internet has become a funny place these days I tell myself that at least its not a video of me gone viral :)

Where are the limits to lulz? I keep thinking about that teenager who committed suicide because some woman pretended to be her online boyfriend. So I know these things can happen, nowadays, at random. Luckily I am not there and much older.

Any advice welcome - this is neither a conventional breakup nor a traditional loss.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, manipulating and hurting others for the lulz is never ok. Of course it wasn't ok for them to do this to you. Feel the anger and hurt and other emotions that you are entitled to, and then move on to the awesome people in the world that wouldn't treat other humans as pawns. You're not like that, and there are many other great people out there like you.
posted by ldthomps at 11:29 AM on April 6, 2011

I'm really trying to understand this situation, but I just can't. Do you mind following up with a mod, telling us what happened in more concrete terms and using fake real names (Joe, Lisa, etc.)? I can't even parse how many people are involved here and what you mean by social engineering game. Did you leave a job because of harrassment? Did this happen at work? Cleaning mean that metaphorically? Sorry, maybe somebody else can parse this better than I can.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:30 AM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

Wow, I am so sorry for what someone has put you through. This is a loss of trust, and you just have to take time to get through it. You were betrayed and it will take time to trust again. As you get closer to folks in the future, you may want to share with them what happened, as it may affect your trusting others for awhile. Know that most peole are kind and honest. You are a victim of someone else's being evil, maybe you can use this to help others, like you mentioned in your post.
posted by jennstra at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2011

First of all, my sympathies - what a bunch of enormous assholes to play with someone's life like that.

I think that something like this is so big, so extreme, so ludicrously not-the-norm that the only thing you can do is treat it like the fantastic story it is. Give thanks for finding out relatively soon that it wasn't real, and make this into your bar story - the "You would not BELIEVE" anecdote that rates a free drink from sheer amazement whenever you tell it.

As others have said, feel your pain, but don't let it eat you up. Treat this as a ridiculous adventure, your one time at band camp, your crazy spring break when you and Jenny did that thing in Tijuana and got arrested and OMG it was embarrassing but weren't those just some crazy times? Let the jerks who did this be the butt of the joke, as they should, not you.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:34 AM on April 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think you just sort of have to pick yourself up and live along day by day into the future until you have time to get reassured that while some people are assholes, they aren't all assholes. If I'm understanding the situation, someone did something bizarre and borderline sociopathic to you -- people who do things like that are in the vast minority compared to decent people who wouldn't dream of doing something like that. That's not going to make it hurt less, I know, but maybe it would help to put it in perspective to think about it that way.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:34 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not going to be any comfort, but a real person can hurt just this much and be just about this fake. Think of it as a dalliance with a pathological liar, with the benefit of you having a much better story to tell than, "Met a guy; he was a liar". (On preview, what L'Estrange Fruit said.)
posted by fleacircus at 11:41 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, what an astonishingly awful thing to happen.

I think part of what will help you is just coming here and having us affirm that we represent the non-evil non-crazy majority and that you have our every sympathy. So sorry this has happened.

Try to spend as much time as possible with people you know are on your side. The best way to recover from an attack by mean people of every kind is to seek out good people.
posted by tel3path at 11:44 AM on April 6, 2011

I agree with L'Estrange Fruit -- it's effed up, but if you look at it as an experience from which you can take an amazingly bizarre "Can you believe it?" story, it might help you get over it. In the retelling, you gain a type of control over the situation that those assholes can't take from you. Create a narrative in which you are the hero(ine?) and it just might help you get through this.

Also, take solace in the fact that most people aren't sociopaths who manufacture fake relationships just to mess up a person's head. It's unlikely you'll experience something quite like this again, so take it as the (hopefully) unique situation it is and try not to let it affect your ability to trust people in the future.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:52 AM on April 6, 2011

Like iamkimiam, I have read your story several times and cannot understand what happened. You started a penpal-like relationship with (two different people? the same person?) and what you thought was genuine correspondence was actually 'teams' of people (that did not know this was an experiment?) trying to manipulate you a certain way.

So one of the 'teams' harassed you and you left the country for four months but lured back by the other teams' niceness. Then you met up with the person you thought you were speaking with and it turns out they didn't know you existed. How did you find out about this experiment?

Regardless, it sounds like you enjoyed having a penpal. There are many programs (in the U.S. at least) that match volunteers with inmates who are incarcerated and appreciate the friendship. Could you find something like that in your area?
posted by amicamentis at 11:52 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Internet is certainly breeding grounds for bullies and sociopaths that would normally not engage in such behavior offline. However, a bad prank is still a bad prank, online or offline. "Mean girls" have been playing with innocent emotions even without the Internet.

A loss is still a loss, with it originating from the Internet or not. I'm sorry you had to go through that. In life you'll deal with terrible things and sometimes at the expense of you. I'm glad you are able to keep it within perspective and realize that the harm could have been much greater. It still doesn't take away from the fact you were still harmed.

It'll sting for a while, but the best you can do is to realize that you are better than that. Pick yourself up and brush off. Engage in healthy activities, your usual hobbies (or find new ones!), move on. There will be wonderful people in life that won't use you as part of their malicious emotional games. And soon, when you are among good company and/or times, you will hardly remember the bad times, as only if they were a minor blip in your life.
posted by xtine at 12:01 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing the request for more info.

From your OP, my guess is that you began an online correspondence with someone from a message board or dating/companion website that was, in actuality, a bait and switch set up between two people who used you as a social experiment to see who could ultimately have more power over you by taking turns posing as this penpal to develop (and eventually end) a relationship with you. This correspondence evolved into something more personal and even got to a point where you were willing to visit this penpal, only to discover that you had been tricked by these impostors.

Is this correct?
posted by patronuscharms at 12:24 PM on April 6, 2011

What everyone else said, plus:

You have to forgive yourself for falling for this nonsense. It was a betrayal, and whenever one is betrayed, one has to deal with the inevitable "I should have knowns" and "I must be naïve/stupid/a natural target/some type of loser" memes.

No, you couldn't have known. No, you don't have a target painted on your chest, forehead, back or left little toe. No, they haven't "won" anything. But you did lose something: a bit of trust in human nature and a to-you real friendship. You know what? Grieve for that to-you real friendship. See if you can think of them as having moved on, moved away. Your emotions were and are real, just feel them. And let them pass. And then try and move on, yourself. Hopefully the feelings you sent this imaginary person's way will at some point in the future be sent the way of a trustworthy individual.

You're gonna be okay.
posted by likeso at 12:26 PM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've actually had a few experiences that are somewhat similar (though totally unrelated), basically oriented around limited-audience humiliation. I've learned that this kind of experience teaches (at least) two things: how big of jerks people can be, and what can be faked. It hurts now, and it sucks, but this is how you develop standards.

Now you'll know that people can say x,y, and z, which used to convince you that you were good/better friends than before they said them, but since this can be faked you don't have to hang friendships upon it anymore.

Now you know that people can be assholes and how to protect yourself a little more, to have boundaries. Not everything can be taken at face value, so you can hear/read what people say and not attach so much significance to it.

Flattery is commonly used in sales, but it's not because the salesperson really loves your jacket.
posted by rhizome at 1:18 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I understand your original post and I am so sorry that this happened to you. There are awful people in this world, and that's a sad fact. My story is different than yours, but I know that the loss is very real. I understand your pain completely. When my "friend" from the internet turned out to be fictional, I felt as though he'd died. I went through the range of emotions that one goes through with the death of a friend, and I think that's probably what you'll go through as well because the person you talked to and formed a relationship with was real to you, even if they were not real to anyone else. As you said, there was a "someone" now there is no "someone." That person you knew is gone and will never return. For me, that was the easiest way to deal with it. YMMV
posted by patheral at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you turn your experience into art? Short story or journalism? Finding a way to make this experience grist for your mill is often a good way to process the emotions, share the story and maybe even make the experience profitable (not necessarily in $$). It's your story, you get to tell it whenever and to whomever you choose.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2011

The internet has become a funny place these days I tell myself that at least its not a video of me gone viral :)

You seem to have a pretty positive attitude. It's lovely that you're telling yourself this instead of how mean, awful and nasty those people are (which is true) and how much of a victim you are..

Am sure with that attitude you'll get over this soon. All the best!
posted by roshni at 10:15 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I understand the post and am sorry this happened to you. It's awful that they manipulated you cruelly, but jerks will be jerks.

Just like many romantic relationships, a lot of what was good in that "relationship" was you -- your capacity to care about someone and the way you feel and act when you're feeling caring, the positive attributes you projected onto this person, the positive elements of yourself that this creation brought you in touch with. May you find some amount of solace in realizing that much of what made you happy about that relationship was actually you and still is, and in reconnecting compassionately with yourself during this sad time.
posted by salvia at 11:43 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd like to point out that people who are spending time doing this stuff are not spending time forming real relationships. That they're capable of doing this stuff suggests they're doing it because they're incapable of forming real relationships. I would suggest that whatever relationships they appear to be in IRL only look real. I am in no way using hyperbole here. Some people just don't value intimacy the way most of us do, but they still form seemingly intimate relationships in which they act out a role while seeking real emotional intimacy from their friends/accomplices, or not at all. Kind of like being undercover.

These people are often very driven by envy, and although they would never admit or comprehend it, the particular people who tricked you are probably puzzled and envious at how rewarding emotional intimacy is to others. Envious people want to take what others have so they can have it for themselves (specifically, at the other's expense). Since they can't literally take intimacy away from you, they can at least pull stunts like this one, and then at the end of it, hopefully you too will view intimacy as a charade, just like they do. Right? Right???

Well, no. Wrong. Even duh. They just don't get it!

People like this have to amuse themselves somehow, so oh, well. You've got better things to do.
posted by tel3path at 2:53 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

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