I, like millions of others, read the Humans of New York saga of Bobby Love, a convict who escaped prison, changed his name and led a double life for decades before his family found out. While people the world over were getting all the feels over what on the surface appears to be a story of redemption and “happily ever after”, I have a different take seen through the lens of an overcomer of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome (NAS) as the result of a marriage with an emotionally abusive ex-husband.
The story consisted of 11 segments that were rolled out one at a time every hour over the course of 11 hours and had readers on the edge of their seats and unable to focus on little else. The story, expertly narrated by Bobby to HONY’s reporter Brandon, was undeniably captivating.
Capable of attracting and holding interest; charming.
That is indeed how I’d describe the story…and the storyteller. Bobby, the ex-CONvict, dressed both himself up (I read a number of comments praising his stylish appearance) and his story, and had us all captivated…and CONned.
CON or conman, comes from “confidence man”. One who gains the trust, or “confidence”, of his victims in order to manipulate, steal from or otherwise predate upon them. Bobby explained from the beginning of the story that he’d been stealing from and manipulating people and situations most of his life, and as Maya Angelou famously said, “when someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”
My alarm bells were going off very early in the series. I’m not going so far as to call him a narcissist, however, there are several narcissistic traits present:
Entitlement – his feeling that he shouldn’t have to serve out his time in prison for his crimes
Pathological liar – lies effortlessly with no qualms. His entire existence is a lie.
Charming – the calling card of most narcissists. You get so caught up in their world that you lose sight of reason and common sense. This helps to explain how captivated everyone was with his story.
Grandiose – the story itself, everything he claims he did – bank robbery, prison escape, fraudulently obtaining documents and GETTING AWAY WITH IT for so long.
He’s a liar (by commission and omission). He’s a fraud. And he’s gotten away with it his whole life.
Blinded By Love
In addition to being captivated by Bobby’s charm, readers were hooked by the “love story”. The story begins with Bobby’s wife, Cheryl, recounting when the day she discovered who Bobby Love really was.
Because of an inability to let go of the Disney, fairytale, “happily ever after” mindset, people have closed their eyes to the fact that Bobby willfully deceived Cheryl for 40 years.
This so-called happy ending was gained fraudulently. Bobby says he was attracted to Cheryl because she was innocent, which was another red flag for me because predators often seek out the innocent and naïve. Why didn’t he tell her the truth and give her the choice in the beginning? Bobby also said that if Cheryl knew the truth she would insist that he be accountable, and yet another red flag: narcissists never want to be held accountable.
I also saw a number of red flags in Cheryl’s account of events.
“There was a piece missing. All these years I loved my husband..but something was missing. First, he never liked to be in photographs. And he always thought people were watching him. But I just thought it was vanity. I kept saying: ‘C’mon, Bobby. You aren’t that exclusive.’ But then there was the deeper stuff. We had some beautiful lovemaking. But other than that, there wasn’t much affection. Not many hugs. Not much cuddling. Not much communication. I could only get so close and he’d shut down. Sometimes, when we were arguing, I’d be pouring myself out to him. And he’d just sit there with a scowl on his face. I thought it was me. I kept thinking: ‘Maybe he doesn’t want to be here.’ But Bobby was a provider. He was always working two or three jobs. He’d cook, and do laundry, and spend time with the kids. I thought to myself: ‘Everyone is different. People have different upbringings. This might be how Bobby shows love.’ But it was hard. It wore me down. I cried so many tears about it. I remember during Christmas of 2014, I was on my knees in church, saying: ‘Lord, please, I can’t do this anymore.’ I begged God to change my husband’s heart. I’d reached the end of my rope. That was a few weeks before everything went down.“
As someone who is intimately acquainted with NAS, much of what Cheryl said was painfully familiar and could have been taken from my tear-stained journals: “there wasn’t much affection. Not many hugs. Not much cuddling. Not much communication…I thought it was me…People have different upbringings. This might be how [he] shows love…I cried so many tears about it…I begged God to change my husband’s heart.”
Bobby’s assertion that people were watching him was his way of giving Cheryl a hint that something was awry. Much like my ex-husband and what I called his keen sense of gaydar. He could always spot gay men, who were always, coincidentally, attracted to him. Though I don’t have any concrete proof, I have quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that points to his homosexual activity.
Marriage is For Better Or For Worse
For those arguing for better or worse, my counter is to stop taking bits of wedding vows to justify despicable and dishonorable activity by married people. Wedding vows admonish those who are marrying to enter into the union soberly and understanding the seriousness of it. Not knowing that the person you’re marrying is a fugitive and living under an assumed identity prevents soberly from entering a union with someone. It’s absolutely foolish to consider a whole fabricated life “worse”.
Regarding the argument that she forgave him, I understand and advocate for forgiveness. It is what the Bible commands that we do. However, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation, especially if there’s no repentance by the offending party. Victims of domestic abuse routinely “forgive” their abusers, often bailing them out of jail, dropping charges, etc. That Cheryl forgave Bobby is not evidence of a happy, healthy marriage.
I would also mention that after 40 years with someone there is a strong emotional bond, and if the relationship is abusive there is often a trauma bond. Cheryl’s admission that there was great sex, but little affection and meaningful communication and lots of tears throughout the years are indicative of a toxic relationship and trauma bonding.
The point of this was not to necessarily argue that Cheryl and Bobby should divorce. I’m just calling attention to ALL the red flags, and how our desire to believe in the idea of a fairytale causes us to lose all common sense and let our defenses down.
The Bible warns us that charm is deceitful (Psalms 31:30) and that we should guard our hearts (Proverbs 24:3). If we follow that advice in every area of life – even an area as seemingly frivolous as HONY – it will sharpen our discernment, and hopefully prevent us from being ensnared.