Self

I Terminated An Online Friendship When I Discovered An Ugly Truth

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woman shocked looking at computer

“I’m telling you the truth,” Allen* said. “You need to drop him immediately. I’m not kidding. He could get you in trouble.”

Allen was right. I needed to break off my internet friendship with Frank*.

Allen administrated a Cambodia ex-pat group I belonged to.

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He’d “got to the bottom of things,” he said.

Apparently, the bottom of things was murky.

He sent me newspaper clippings of the court hearings and the crime. I had to agree that Frank had engaged in horribly inappropriate behavior online. Enough to lose a marriage, a house, and a career.

I lived in Cambodia for years, so I belong to all the ex-pat groups and loosely follow the goings on around that country, which in ex-pat terms is small. Everyone knows everyone, including their dirty little secrets.

A lot of the people are heavy into the nightlife — drinking, and sex. The guys can be rude and crude.

A bit too much lewd chat for me. They had a private channel on the site and you had to ‘prove up’ in some way to be included. I’d been a good married woman in Cambodia. I left a spouse there who strayed far from my values.

I didn’t go to the girlie bars much — a few times with my ex — or hire gigolos, which some women did.

One woman in the ex-pat group hired female sex workers, like many of the guys, and she boasted to me that she fit in with them. She was throwing down a glove, and I wasn’t picking it up.

There’s too much to unpack there, so I’ll just let it sit. You do you, but I’m not engaging in airing my personal laundry to fit in with a pack of slobbering wolves. No, ma’am.

In the other corner was Frank. He administrated a fasting group — “not eating” for long periods of time. How did Allen get all up in Frank’s business?

Here’s how.

Frank had a sweet young girlfriend in Cambodia, a woman in her thirties

That came up later when he and I were chatting about our lives. This was after we became friends.

Oddly enough, the worlds of Frank, Allen, and I collided in a Venn diagram way. I was in the middle, one foot in intermittent fasting and one in the ex-pat community. So was Frank, but Allen sort of “owned” the ex-pat community website. He was an important and outspoken administrator.

Allen had zero interest in fasting, but he decided to make sure I knew about Frank. Why? I think mostly he didn’t like him and resented his criminality. I don’t blame him. Perhaps Allen also was trying to protect me — that I appreciate.

First, I had to go through the hard part of leaving a group I enjoyed.

I loved Frank’s online fasting group. My interest in that group was dumping weight without suffering for a long period of time, and I was fiercely committed to trying something new. Every morning, I read about fasting and watched YouTube videos.

I’ve got an obesity gene, and all my life, I’ve fought the valiant battle and stayed trim most of the time. I remember feeling sad fifteen years ago. At the time I was about 25 pounds lighter and looked pretty hot — I worked at it.

I thought, “I work so hard to stay trim, and the ‘change’ is gonna destroy my body.”

And it did. Menopause hit me like a Big Mac! Or like a big Mack truck.

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I was dogged about getting my excess weight off and I found intermittent fasting worked. When I first found Frank’s group, I was thrilled.

Frank, the administrator of the fasting group, had a sarcastic way about him I clicked with. His sense of humor was wonderful, and other administrators on the page got along well. He had a series of videos online, and his schtick was that he did water fasting. He took videos of everything he put in his mouth, and with 90-day water fasts, that wasn’t anything but water.

Interestingly, I watched him on the day before he began a fast as he ate breakfast. In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone so savagely attack bacon and eggs. He wolfed them down like they were the mortal enemy, and he was dispatching them to his gut. And that was fairly large. Still, he was a very attractive man. I liked how he came across.

Frank told us in his heartfelt videos he always struggled with obesity. He was a tall big man and I could see he was carrying forty or so extra pounds at the waist, but a lot of older men do. I applauded him for his efforts, and I was excited to see him shrinking every subsequent video.

Frank stared into the videos wearing a debonair wool hat.

I could tell he was looking at himself, examining his jawline. Stroking his short beard. Looking into his own eyes. Sometimes you can’t help but notice when content producers are looking at the computer screen as though it’s a mirror, admiring themselves: Checking out the blemishes, looking up the nose for unwelcome guests. It’s always made me roll my eyes a bit, but that’s coming from a woman who checks herself on her phone. I sure wouldn’t post it online, though.

“Being obese is hard. Going without food is hard. Choose your hard!” he would say. Then, the video ended dramatically.

The video I connected with most was one in which he asked the viewer a series of questions.

Do you know what to eat if you want to lose weight?

Do you know what you should avoid eating?

Do you struggle with meal planning?

Here’s what you should eat! (long pregnant pause)

Eat nothing!

He swore by long fasts and shared much information about them. I immediately bought in.

It wasn’t starving. It was fasting!

It wasn’t obsessive. It was planned!

It wasn’t disordered eating. Fast, then feast!

When Frank asked me to be an administrator for his fasting group, I was so honored.

We got along well, and I liked him and the other admins he chose.

We began chatting in the admin group chat channels, and he told me all about his other life in Cambodia.

He’d met a beautiful young woman and was engaged to her. Sure, he did tell me some pretty icky details about their relationship. I’m pretty open-minded, but it surprised me when he described taking her virginity in detail.

No one needs the gory details.

When the administrator from the Cambodia group came to me, I wasn’t terribly surprised.

I’d started taking a step back from Frank because had asked me if I’d still get to own my home, should I go through a divorce.

What? Why? Huh?

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I have a husband I can’t imagine ever divorcing.

I have lots of male friends, lots. I wasn’t hitting on Frank. Not at all.

I came to learn that Frank’s wife had given him the boot. He was living in a tiny basement apartment.

Red flags were waving, flapping, and vibrating.

Was Frank considering ditching his girlfriend — thirty years younger than me — for me, an old lady happily married? No! But why would he have asked what my spoils would be, from a divorce?

It got weird fast. I couldn’t even — in my mind’s very wildest eye — imagine such a scenario — and I have a great imagination.

Then the other shoe dropped.

The administrator of the Cambodia site told me that Frank, my fasting buddy, and shady character was interested in young women.

Very interested. Very young.

“I don’t believe it,” I said.

The guys in the Cambodia ex-pat site could be cruel to each other. Frank had warned me not to let them know we were friends and I felt loyal to him.

I also felt loyal to my new, wonderful fasting lifestyle, and the videos and fasting page were motivating me. I felt good and was excited.

Now I was conflicted. Could I ignore this information about Frank? Could I turn my face away and ignore it?

Could I, essentially, betray my personal values and remain involved with the fasting site?

Allen was adamant he has information I needed to see.

“You need to trust me. I wouldn’t lie,” he said. “Look, I’m going to send you a link to a website with a story about him. By the way, he’s not using his real name with you. It’s just part of his name.”

Allen didn’t want to dox — the act of publicly providing personally identifiable information about an individual or organization, usually via the Internet — Frank but felt he needed to. In the Cambodia site, the accusations and arguments with Frank were off the charts. There weren’t really any secrets now.

It got ugly fast. Frank was flailing about, making up stories, giving excuses, but going under fast. He was under constant attack now. I felt horrible, realizing the accusations were true.

Allen sent a link to a court case about Frank, and I began doing my own reading and research. I saw how he’d fabricated a fake name, using his middle name. Then, I found him on social media and looked at more of his photos online, with his adult children.

I was heartbroken.

His teaching credentials had been taken away because of inappropriate materials on his computer.

I was devastated and sick.

But I knew what I had to do. As much as I loved that fasting site, and all of the amazing people on it, and all the support — I had to leave. In my value system, there are a few things that are never, ever okay. One is anything to do with the abuse of children. I am staunchly anti-abuse. I was so angry and heartbroken.

When Frank was flailing around making up excuses, one was that “just looking” wasn’t a crime, but it is. It’s a horrible crime. And the courts agree!

I went to my husband. I had already told him about Frank, and some of his odd conversations online. My husband had advised me to turn up the cold water, which I had.

When I told my husband about what I’d learned from the admin of the Cambodia site, he agreed that I needed to quit the fasting site run by Frank.

A woman administrator in there and I had a long chat about what I had discovered. I felt I should let her know, and she thanked me. With not much warning or explanation, I quit and left.

I’ve never looked back.

The takeaway is that you never really know people. Sometimes, however, you have the opportunity to listen to a tale that sheds light. You have to walk the walk. Don’t ignore your values. Ever.

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According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 have experienced sexual abuse from an adult. Girls are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse; the organization reports that 82% of all victims under 18 are female, and those who do suffer from assault and abuse are more likely to also develop mental health issues like depression, PTSD, and drug abuse.

Deb Groves Harman is the author of Love and Loss in Cambodia: A Memoir. She has had creative nonfiction published in Miracle Monocle, The Nasiona, The Write Launch, Two Sisters, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, and NYMBM.

*Names changed.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.