Naive, Scammed, Abused

Warning! Really long, rambly post ahead!

I mentioned Brittani Louise Taylor in two previous posts from 2012, which was about 800 years ago in blogging and social media years. She still remains one of my favorite YouTube personas because of her unflagging optimism.

For a few years, I took a break from YouTube but recently Googled the names of all the old personas I used to watch just to get caught back up. Kind of like stalking checking in on old friends.

A lot had happened to Brittani in the time I had ceased to watch YouTube. She got engaged, got pregnant, had the baby… But then her fiance Milos mysteriously disappeared from her videos. Brittani’s YouTube audience then waited about a year for her to reveal any information about the breakup, and she finally told the whole story in her book, A Sucky Love Story, which was published in December 2018. Because she wrote a book, one would think that this had been way more noteworthy than the typical breakup.

Indeed it was.

Turns out that Milos had lied about almost everything. He was already married, not actually a doctor, faking cancer, addicted to pornography, and quite possibly part of the Serbian mafia! He even scammed Brittani out of a lot of her money because he never actually worked at all, and she feared that he would kidnap her son and take him to Serbia, and she would never see him again. Almost sounds made up, right? Possibly a ploy to gain money via book sales and YouTube views? If the latter, it’s probably justified to some degree because she’d certainly want to regain some money after getting scammed.

This post is not a review of the book per se, but a cautionary tale about a cautionary tale. Brittani stated in a video that her primary goal in writing the book was to raise awareness of abuse and try to help others who are in similar situations—a noble cause. In reading reviews of the book, I somehow stumbled across a gossip forum whose members were saying that what Brittani experienced was not really abuse because almost no physical abuse happened (aside from a bent pinky finger).

That made my blood boil. Abuse is abuse. Emotional abuse is one of the most insidious kinds because it’s not immediately obvious that it’s happening. Before you know it, you end up ensnared in the web of a person who uses you and doesn’t care at all about your happiness or needs. This person proceeds to cut you down and make your life a living hell, while you are so intimidated that finding a way out of the situation can seem nearly impossible.

The members of the gossip forum even blamed Brittani for staying with Milos for so long and accused her of staying with him because (1) he looked good and (2) he supposedly had tons of money. Kind of a low blow to lay the blame on a victim of abuse. Maybe those factors were reasons she was initially attracted to him, but no one can help the reasons they are attracted to someone. Over time, the worse the abuse gets, no amount of justification and your original reasons for starting a relationship with someone cease to matter at all.

In a past relationship, I was in an emotionally abusive situation, and that’s why I sympathize so much with Brittani’s story. You do hesitate to call what you have experienced “abuse” because you are not being physically hurt, but it is abuse all the same. You wake up one day and realize that you’re not the same as you were before, and the reason is that the person you are with—someone who supposedly loves you—has brainwashed you into believing that you are unworthy.

You do a lot of backtracking and looking into the past, trying to figure out if it was your fault for winding up in such a situation. You wonder what will happen if you try to escape. You might make a plan for such an escape, and the plan may fall through, or you may actually go through with it. When you do break free, it is like an immense weight being lifted from your shoulders, and the full realization of what happened to you—to your mind, your emotions, and your self-worth—hits you. You can have your life back again. But you blame yourself. You feel the need to tell everyone you know about what happened, just so they understand why you have been so different. You feel the need to justify your relationship with the abusive person. “I was stupid.” or “He tricked me.” or “He wasn’t who I thought he was.”

To make a long post even longer, I was “triggered” (I hate using the word, but it’s the only one that fits.) by listening to Brittani’s story, and I was “triggered” again by the gossip forum. Even if the details of a relationship and its demise are laid out in a book, you can never accurately judge a relationship unless you are one of the two people in it.

However, judging solely from what the book says, it seems to me that Brittani wanted love over all (and who doesn’t?). She was tired of working and making a life but not having anyone to share it with. She turned to the Internet to find someone because it is incredibly difficult to meet a person “organically” in real life these days, especially if you’re an introvert or are very busy. She found someone who checked all the boxes and treated her right. Everything seemed to be moving along fine… until it gradually became undeniable that she had to get out.

In the book, Brittani acknowledges that hindsight is 20/20. There are always red flags. You may dimly recognize them when they present themselves, and you’ll probably hear that little voice in the back of your head warning you, but you dismiss all the warnings because you just want to be loved, damn it. You set your sights on a person, you tell yourself that you will weather every storm, you will make whatever sacrifice you have to, and you will change yourself to become “better” or “perfect” for this person. But they will not do the same for you.

I find that it is pretty much useless to tell someone to watch for warning signs and red flags because a person may recognize them as such but dismiss them anyway. (“But I love him!” or “He will change someday.”) Escape strategies are probably the better thing to teach teenage girls or anyone who is in a new relationship. Always Google a person and do whatever you can to find out if they are who they say they are. Do a background check and don’t feel guilty about doing it. You’re looking out for your own safety. Internet dating is not to blame.* You can just as easily meet a creep in real life.

By her own account, Brittani was naive and didn’t have a great track record with relationships in the past. Her naive, bubbly, sweet personality portrayed an innocence that was very easily taken advantage of. It is sad that innocence, a good quality, is almost a negative quality in the dating world. You don’t want to be too innocent, but you don’t want to assume the worst of a person either. It is a fine line to tread.

The bottom line… learn how to escape from a relationship with a toxic person. Once you have a plan, enact it as soon as possible. Do. Not. Feel. Guilty. For. Getting. Out.

Turning back to the content of the book itself, I found it to be an easy read (because of the writing style, not the subject matter). Brittani’s sunshiny persona is obvious throughout the book and even on the front cover. The members of the gossip forum had issues with that, too (“How can an abuse victim be so happy?), and all I can say about that is… it is probably just her schtick as a YouTube personality. If she were to write a dark, dismal tale, it wouldn’t fit with the rest of her content, so she attempted to find humor in the situation. And once you are out of such a situation, you actually can see the humor, if there was any there at all. It certainly doesn’t mean that abuse is a laughing matter, just that a tale can be told from any number of perspectives. If Brittani wanted to cast it in a darker light, she definitely could have.

*But I may be biased toward the good side of Internet dating because if not for the Internet, I would never have met my husband. I mean, come on… how are two socially awkward nerds supposed to meet in real life?

Brief Book Reviews

Sadly, I haven’t written in a long time. That includes this blog, my stories, and even my poor neglected paper journal. The only things I’ve written of any substance in the past few months have been grocery lists and emails related to work. However, I did read a bunch of books:

  1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A sci-fi/dystopian/literary novel that I got from a book sale because I had heard good things about it. The entire time I was reading, the images in my head were in black and white or in muted shades of gray. The book was adapted into a movie, too, but I’m not sure I want to see the movie if it’s as depressing as the book. It almost reminded me of The Giver but without the sense of hope conveyed at the end of that book. I would call Never Let Me Go a warning to society: let’s not let technology get so far that it calls into question the intrinsic worth of human beings. (Oh, wait! We’re already there!)
  2. Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor by Allen Hunt. Super short, super easy-to-read memoir about a man’s journey to the Catholic Church. I like these stories because they remind me of how grateful I should be to have my faith, and how much I take it for granted because I grew up with it and didn’t discover it later in life, as the author did.
  3. A People Adrift by Peter Steinfels. A Catholic journalist’s sociological commentary on the state of the Church circa 2003 (i.e., right after the sexual abuse scandal came to light). Unfortunately, the same negative trends in the Church as a whole seem to be persisting with no real end in sight. I liked reading the book because it wasn’t nonstop statistics, and the author did propose some solutions that seemed viable. However, he did have a slightly more liberal take on the faith that I didn’t always agree with.
  4.  Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. A memoir by a woman who grew up in a tough Christian household and was sent to a hellish Christian military-style “school” for discipline after she was found “fornicating” with her boyfriend (among other infractions). Honestly, I think the problem with the author’s upbringing was not fundamentalist Christianity itself but the fact that her parents, especially her mother, were totally uninvolved (and even neglectful) and seemed to care only about putting on the faces of good, charitable Christian neighbors. The book was also a commentary on race relations, as the author’s adopted brother was black and she was white.
  5. The Outsider by Stephen King. Ah, Stephen King. I love your books, but your politics and your Twitter page sicken me. Anyway, feelings about the author aside, The Outsider is probably one of the better books King has published recently. It’s not a sequel to Mr. Mercedes et al., but one of the characters does make a cameo appearance, and it is always a pleasure to read about her. The book will scare the crap out of you and leave you questioning the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural.
  6. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. I checked this book out of the library only because it takes place in the early 1990s and it mentions the Smashing Pumpkins. Normally, it’s not the kind of thing I would read because (1) every other word is the f-word (with the c-word thrown in every now and then), (2) way too many graphic descriptions of sex, and (3) I got the feeling the author was trying to push an agenda. Aside from that, this is a hilarious coming-of-age story, and the author writes very well. Her descriptions of what it’s like to be a teenage girl are spot on.

My favorite out of these? Probably Jesus Land because it was one of those books that has you marveling at the fact that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Little Ways and Simple Lives

CAUTION: Spoiler alert!

I am a huge fan of Rod Dreher’s column on The American Conservative, and I’ve read a couple of his other books, so when I saw The Little Way of Ruthie Leming at a used book sale, I grabbed it with glee. The book didn’t disappoint. In short, it’s a memoir about Rod’s younger sister Ruthie, who passed away at age 40 from an aggressive form of cancer. Ruthie wasn’t wealthy or famous or “worthy” to be the subject of a memoir in the way that celebrities are, but she indeed seemed to live a saintly life, and the definition of sainthood was what Rod came to grips with throughout the book.

Rod lived a vastly different life from that of his sister; he escaped the small Louisiana town of their childhood in favor of a journalist’s worldly life in the big city. Ruthie, on the other hand, was content to remain in the little town, marry her high school sweetheart, and become a teacher. In a sense, it was like the city mouse/country mouse story from childhood and made readers ponder the question: Is it better to have a “big life” or a “small life”? The answer is honestly either one, just as long as you live according to moral standards.*

As I read the book, I found myself relating to both Rod and Ruthie. On his blog, Rod echoes a lot of my own views on various subjects, but he often comes across as pretentious and privileged. Ruthie enjoyed the simple things in life, as I do, but she didn’t seem to value learning and books in the same way Rod does. The difference between the two siblings reminded me a lot of the division where I live. On one hand, you have the simple Southern people who have lived in North Carolina their entire lives. They tend to enjoy the typical Southern life, which is slow-paced and involves close ties between family and friends. North Carolina natives tend to be good, honest, “salt-of-the-earth” people, but they also can be ignorant or intolerant of anything that goes against their way of life or beliefs. This was how Rod described Ruthie and other Louisiana natives in the memoir—as quite close-minded—but of course, that’s not their fault. That’s how they have been raised and they’re satisfied that way. They are content with what they have and don’t see any reason to broaden their horizons.

The other part of North Carolina is taken over by “Yankees” who recently moved from New York and other Northern states. If you ask the native North Carolinians, the Yankees have totally destroyed North Carolina’s culture with their high-class, fast-paced ways. They’re forcing new roads and highways and homes to be built, which is ruining the environment, and they’re in favor of upscale stores like Whole Foods and niche boutiques that are causing the prices of everything else to go up. Houses are going for outrageously high prices, and who can afford them but the Yankees? Many of the Yankees work in the Research Triangle Park area and tend to be highly educated and current on the latest technologies. Because they’re not native, many of their family members live elsewhere. Thus, family may not seem like it’s as much of a priority to them as it is for the native North Carolinians (but I’m sure it probably is).

I did come from New York, but that was in the mid-1990s when I was a little kid, so I find it hard to relate to the newest wave of “Yankees” who have arrived in my state. I love the native North Carolinians I know, and they do tend to have a better and more fulfilling lifestyle in that they value what is truly important: family and friends. But I, like Rod, tend to get impatient with them because they don’t seem to value education and “book smarts” in the same way that I do. They are very set in their ways. However, I’m constantly aware that my impatience with them may make me come off as pretentious and high-falutin.

Ruthie Leming’s “little way” (i.e., doing small things with great love, also espoused by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta) is a simple faith that anyone can live by. From what I gathered from reading the memoir, Rod is still coming to terms with this “little way” and how to reconcile it with a world that seems focused on the things that don’t ultimately matter. Like Rod, I have issues with trying to follow the “little way” and reconciling it with what I know (from education and being a native New Yorker) and what I value (from my parents, my religion, and the aspects of the Southern life I admire).

The book can be read for the enjoyable and inspiring (although obviously very sad) story, or for a more in-depth study of culture and faith if you’re the kind of person who, like the author (and me), tends to overanalyze everything.

*What is “morally acceptable” and what is a “good person” are extremely subjective these days. I personally believe in objective morality, but many do not, and that’s a topic for another post.