We were both transplants from the same West Coast city, both snowboarders, both fans of the same football team. We were both into wine. He sells it; I often write about it. We even had people in common — mostly from the business, but also a friend or two. He mentioned this during our first phone conversation. He’s looked me up on Facebook and discovered our 13 mutual friends.
It sounded too good to be true. And it was. I know this because I used social media to research this man, and such research saved me. Thanks to Facebook there will be no broken bones, no too-tight hugs, no isolation from family and no pretending-to-be-loving strangleholds. No skinny-shaming. No fat-shaming. No forced feedings. No bruises, no bite marks, no restraining orders.
No violence. Not against me, at least.
I didn’t really want to ask my friends about him. Sometimes, you want things that seem too good to be true to just be true. So I Googled him instead. Not much appeared, just a snarky comment from someone who claimed to be his friend. But it was enough to sow a seed of doubt. I sat on it, and it wormed its way into my heart. In the days before our planned first meeting, I sent a text to some of our mutual female friends, none of whom could offer much insight on this man.
So I texted the one person he didn’t want me to talk to. Not the “close friend” he’d mentioned during a phone call, but an acquaintance he had tried to steer me away from. Soon, my phone was ringing with not the bad news that this guy was a flake, a player, or secretly married, but something worse. My source had called a woman who had dated my Bumble match, and her report was scathing. There had been domestic violence. Restraining orders, he said. Maybe even for more than one woman.
I never asked this woman’s name, and I never will. She’d had more courage than I had been able to muster after being in my own abusive relationship 20 years ago. That man had made leaving hard, but I escaped with emotional scars — and perhaps a more powerful sense of intuition. Still, when a private investigator came looking for me, leaving messages with friends as he tried to find me and wanting to know if I’d talk to him about the ex I sent to jail, I went silent. Back then, before social media, it was possible to go off the radar. I’d used that insulation, combined with the fear of being found, to avoid the investigator. But in doing so, had I put another woman at risk?
I wanted more than hearsay. I wanted proof, and I found it in spades.
Searching public records on the Internet is easy. You can find marriage records, for instance, using Netr Online. For a deeper dive, most states — including the one where I had recently lived — allow you to search state court records, too.
It was there, in the state court records, that I searched his name and unearthed the evictions. But it was the criminal acts I was after. So I drilled down to the city level, where, in the municipal court records I discovered evidence of the violent behavior my social network had alerted me to. There were the criminal records for domestic violence, complete with the guilty pleas. There, too, was the violation of a restraining order. There, in the public records, was everything I needed to walk away from this man before we met in person.
Could I have given him a chance to explain? Could I have offered him the chance to convince me that he’d been wronged? Of course. But playing the fool these days is so very risky. Instead, I walked. I managed to ghost, to quietly retreat and slip away unscathed. Thanks, in large part, to social media.