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The Internet Made Romantic Betrayal Even More Devastating

5 minute read
Battle is a certified clinical sexologist and sex and dating coach, educator, and speaker. She is the author of This is Supposed to Be Fun: How to Find Joy in Hooking Up, Settling Down, and Everything in Between

The viral series “Who TF Did I Marry?” set the internet on fire recently when TikTok user Tareasa “Reesa Teesa” Johnson revealed what happened when she married a man who turned out to be nothing like what he presented himself to be. The 50-part series details the lies her ex-husband, who she calls “Legion,” told her over the course of their year and a half pandemic relationship.

Johnson and Legion met online, and she recalled matching with him on Facebook Dating and Hinge. Each of his profiles had a different name, which was perhaps the very first lie in their relationship. What Johnson shares is at times staggering, but she was able to confirm that not only was she duped, she was also one of a string of Legion’s victims. And with so many ways to create an entirely fabricated persona online and perpetuate the lie throughout a relationship, it’s clear we’ve entered a new era of romantic betrayal with even higher emotional stakes.

Read More: Reesa Teesa Is a Born Storyteller

Online dating has long been a place of cautionary tales when it comes to romantic betrayal and scams. There are so many personal stories and documentaries sharing how people gave false information on dating sites to lure in unsuspecting, hopeful targets. I’ve worked with clients who have experienced scamming and fraud through dating apps, and it's shocking to hear what they went through. These experiences have unfortunately become a new normal, with dating apps scrambling to identify and remove fake accounts, improve account blocking features, and add user verification procedures. But perhaps more pressing, these types of elaborate scams can have long-lasting effects on not just someone’s financial wellness, but also their mental health.

Anyone who has suffered romantic betrayal knows how painful and life-altering it can be. In the aftermath of their love saga, Johnson reflected on the “United Nations of red flags” Legion showed along the way. She blames herself for not paying closer attention, but she’s not alone. We’re all vulnerable when we start getting to know someone. Many people ignore or minimize questionable behaviors in the beginning of relationships that may come to haunt them later on. People are more likely to overlook annoying habits, ignore story inconsistencies, or not ask enough questions to maintain positive perceptions of prospective partners. What makes this new type of romantic betrayal so devastating is that after opening yourself up on dating apps, when you finally meet someone you think you can trust with your heart (who doesn’t ghost you or seem to care about superficial things), your world is upended by their deception—which makes you question both your relationships—and yourself.

Romantic betrayal has grown so much since online communication became the norm in dating, and everything from online affairs to romantic scams have been on the rise. Research on the psychological effects of certain types of digital romantic scams show that the effects of this type of betrayal range from embarrassment and shame to stress and suicidal ideation. Johnson has admitted that she experienced severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of the systematic and persistent lies that Legion told. And the intensity and consistency of those lies was aided by Legion’s use of technology.

It would have been hard to obscure the fact that Legion was never really talking to his brother every morning, had they only had a landline, for instance. It would have also been difficult to convince Johnson of his alleged financial wealth without falsified bank documents and images stolen from the internet. And it would be near impossible for him to engage in multiple illicit affairs with other women at the same time without his smartphone allowing him to spin his lies over multiple dating sites. Taken together, all of this adds up to betrayal on a scale unparalleled in the past. It would make sense that the emotional impact of this on victims would be larger as well, leaving people unable to trust online dating or people in general. 

One piece of advice Johnson offers to hopeful daters is “trust, but verify.” That means going into dating with an open mind and heart, while not letting things slide. If you’re dating someone who seems too good to be true, it may be hard to come down to earth and think that they might not be as good as they present themselves to be. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, do a reverse Google image search, or some social media sleuthing to help verify someone. It’s worth it to do some interrogation now rather than getting into a relationship with someone who doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

In this age of digital dating, there are so many ways to mislead someone, which means there's an increased risk of running into people who are taking advantage of technologies that were meant to connect us. It’s important that the technologies we use catch up and build more secure environments for people to find love. But until they do, it’s good to remember that this doesn’t mean you can’t trust anyone. It means that daters have to be more realistic when assessing their matches and more proactive in making sure that the person they’re falling for is real.

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