Mr. Wonderful may not be so wonderful after all.
“The greatest crimes do not arise from a want of feeling for others, but from an over-sensibility for ourselves and an over-indulgence to our own desires.” —Edmund Burke
Beware of Mr. Wonderful. Really? But isn’t that the very thing that all women are looking for? A man who moves us, charms us, connects with us. Someone who is perfectly romantic, funny, rich, charming, friendly, outgoing, ambitious, says all the right things. Someone who loves kids and animals, pays attention to us, doesn’t take us for granted. It's what all girls want.
Remember the saying, “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is?” Not that there aren’t Mr. Wonderfuls out there in the world. I think there are. But they are categorically not perfect. Perfect isn’t a particularly realistic expectation. So when you find yourself with a “perfect” man, raise a mental Red Flag and make sure your eyes are wide open. Consider that you need to learn more about him. Maybe there is a side to him that you haven’t seen yet. Or maybe you haven’t been willing to see it.
Too often, the very qualities that we look for in a man are especially true of a man who may be at best, dishonest, at worst, breaking the law. And by the time the truth about his character begins to unfold, we are already so deeply hooked and committed that even an otherwise educated, smart and savvy woman would turn a blind eye.
Most women don’t set out looking to fall in love with someone who breaks the law. But we are susceptible because we yearn for that perfect relationship on some level. So we find ways to rationalize behavior in a man that might otherwise have raised an eyebrow. Because if we really look at the Red Flags for what they are, we lose the hope we had for building the perfect life with the perfect person.
What is a criminal?
For most of us, “criminal” conjures up images of violence and drugs. Gang bangers and drug dealers. Street crimes. Bank robberies. Murders. The stuff you see on TV. But there are other, less violent crimes that are just as devastating. These are often referred to as white-collar crimes. Think Bernie Madoff. Ken Lay, of Enron. These guys represent the very top of the white-collar food chain, but there are plenty just like them walking among us, creating havoc in less public ways. People like this get away with what they do for so long because they have some very compelling qualities. And the lesser-known guys are likely just as convincing and charismatic as the big boys.
Their crimes are often described as victimless. But there is rarely a crime that is truly victimless. Ask the hundreds of families who lost their life savings to the two I already mentioned. And think about their own families. Imagine the devastation of being outcast or ruined—financially, socially, emotionally—all because of your affiliation with “that guy.” Bernie Madoff’s son, Mark, committed suicide two years after his father’s arrest, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves in the wake. The damage trickles down.
In psychology, we use the term “psychopath” to describe these folks. More commonly, they are referred to as “sociopaths,” but both terms refer to the same personality type. They are likely to appear to embody all the wonderful qualities every girl dreams about. They draw people in with that outgoing and friendly charm, but it is eventually revealed to be quite superficial. Among other qualities, they tend to be very cunning and manipulative. They are often pathological liars with little capacity for love, empathy, or warmth. They are not likely to feel shame or guilt, and they tend to have a complete lack of remorse. They can be entitled, grandiose, paranoid, secretive and contemptuous of those who question their intentions. Alone, these personality features don’t make anyone a criminal. But often someone who is a criminal of this type will exhibit these features.
Does this sound like anyone you know?
What are the warning signs?
The real question is: “what are the Red Flags that you might prefer to ignore?”
It starts with a strange feeling somewhere deep in your gut. It’s almost palpable. You are a smart woman with great intuition. Something isn’t right. You’re not getting the whole story. But he answers every question with an almost satisfying, though vague, response. And because you need to believe in him, and in the future you imagine for the two of you, you accept it. “He must know more about this than I do. He’s really smart. He is doing what’s best for us.”
And that’s often the message. “Just trust me and I’ll take you to the moon.” He knows best. He’s going to make your dreams come true. Somehow, you—the shrewd, intelligent, talented, independent woman you’ve always been—have bought into the notion that he knows more than you do. You are made to feel that you couldn’t possibly understand the intricate details of what he’s doing. And you need to believe in him or what kind of partner would you be? He has got it all under control. And that makes you feel safe.
That nagging “something doesn’t feel right” eventually becomes outright lies that further complicate things. At first you question him, but you always get the same vague, semi-plausible responses. Then you start doubting yourself. “Maybe I’m misreading this. Maybe I’m overreacting.” But the nagging feeling persists.
Finally, he turns it on you. He tells you “you’re crazy” or “what’s the matter with you.” He is absolutely indignant that you would accuse him of being less than completely trustworthy. So he turns it around so that something must be wrong with you.
And you start to believe him.
But the biggest warning sign of all? Your friends and family are all warning you about him. Often from the very beginning. At first, you jump to his defense, declaring his wonderful qualities—how happy he makes you. They continue to warn you, and gradually, ever so slowly, you pull away from those you care for. Now you are isolated from people who have known you, loved you and cared about you for years. You’ve concluded that they’re just jealous. Or they’re negative. Or they just don’t understand.
See how that happened?
What are the consequences of turning a blind eye?
Standing too close this Mr. Wonderful can be devastating. It’s life-altering any way you look at it. Once they are found out, and this is almost (though not always) inevitable, you have created a life that is about to crumble. At best, you end up with a broken heart, a wounded pride, and some pieces to pick up. At worst, the consequences can be devastating.
If you have intertwined yourself financially with this person, your own finances are likely to be in disarray (if you’re lucky) or in ruin.
If there are children in the relationship (whether this is “dad” or someone they have come to admire), this will potentially impact them in any number of ways, from feeling abandoned to complete disillusionment. It will impact their internalized messages about relationships and trust. It will impact their relationship with you, as the person who allowed this destructive force into their lives. In the extremist category, if they have developed an idealized attachment to this person, your kids could very likely to go into their own denial (which you have modeled for them), and that could potentially lead them into similar, anti-social behavior as they get older.
But most importantly, if you have embedded yourself legally or through your behavior into any aspect of his criminality (knowingly, or not) you may be held legally liable. Once you sign your name to a legal form (think of joint business and personal contracts), the courts do not care if you were vulnerable, if you were in love, if you had no idea what he was doing. Ignorance may be an excuse with your therapist, but the courts won’t care and are likely to have no mercy. If he is held responsible, you will likely be held responsible. If he is going to prison, then you could very well end up in prison as well.
Mr. Wonderful is looking a whole lot less wonderful now!
If I realize that I am involved with a criminal, what does that say about me?
It says that you’re human and you put your trust in a less-than-trustworthy person. It says you have been, for whatever reason, vulnerable. It says that the hope for “what could be” overwhelmed your better judgment.
From a psychological view, there could be a number of things about your world-view or your life experience that put you at risk. But the key is to go back to the beginning. Raise the Red Flag at that very first sign, that very first feeling that something is off. Then be vigilant. Raise another Red Flag for any warning sign that follows. One Red Flag may only represent your own default protection measures. But consider any additional Red Flags, however pink you choose to view them, as actual warnings that it is probably time to reexamine the relationship without the rose-colored glasses of perfection.
The point is not what it says about you that you may be involved with a criminal. The real point lies in what you do once you realize it. One way or another, it’s time to take action. If you have any doubts at all—even if you’re still inclined to believe he’s a good guy with good intentions—know that the risks are just too high to sit back and wait.
- First, run it by someone you respect and trust. Someone you know has your best interests in mind.
- Second, get (your own) legal advice immediately.
- Third, consider that it is time to seek professional counseling, if only to sort through your ambivalence.
Don’t let Mr. Wonderful make you a victim.