The destructive power of dishonesty

I used to spend a lot of time away from home, for work. Most of my life away.
After a year living in London, I moved back to Bristol in 2010. then a month later took a job that had me spending 5 days a week in Reading. When that contract ended,my next company had me spending most of my time in London. When I moved on, I was in a different country almost every week. I described my flat as “the most expensive walk-in wardrobe I’d ever owned”.

When I moved on again, I found a 3 month contract in London, then after that, had on offer of a 3 month contract on-site in Stockholm. I packed up my car and set off.

It can be difficult, living like this. Lonely. You’re not often in one place long enough to make good friends, and you’re not home often enough to sustain the friendships back there.

I went online on IRC a lot, to stay in touch. I hung out in #drupal-uk, catching up with regulars and old friends. When I came into work, I’d open IRC, and stay in there all day. There were some people I felt were more like good friends than acquaintances. Ru and Jamie had a private IRC channel that they’d been using since the days when they worked together for an insurance company. A long time ago they’d invited me in, and introduced me to their former colleagues, Lu, Zac, Damien. Over time, they also invited along a few other Drupalers, like me and Justine.

As it happened, when I was heading off to Stockholm, Ru was moving back to his home in Bristol, which would leave his friend Chaz looking for somewhere to stay. He introduced us, and Chaz ended up renting my flat.

Stockholm was, well, it was OK. It was too flat to put my skis to good use, and coming there to stay just for a few months had it’s challenges: the rental market was regulated and finding a short-term let was challenging (especially as a foreigner and non-Swedish speaker). I did manage to find somewhere fairly central though, and enjoyed having the chance to see a little of Stockholm.

Time, as it does, ticked on, and two months later, my manager started talking to me about renewing: would I stay another 3 months? I’d need to find another place to stay, but the project was interesting and the pay was good: sure, why not?

So 3 months turned into 6, and then another renewal, then another. I’d only intended to be away for 3 months, and it had turned into a year. I’d started feeling a desperate need to be back at home. The only people I’d met out in Stockholm were the other contractors working on the project. As I’d been renting my flat out, it had also been harder to pop back and spend time back home. So when the inevitable question of renewal came up, I turned them down. I had some savings, no urgent need to work, but an urgent need to go home, find my feet again.

That was when they offered me the chance to stay on the project, working remotely from Bristol. That was great news. I’d get to carry on working on a well-paid, interesting project. I’d get to go home. I’d get to work from the comfort of my own home-office, drinking decent coffee and playing music as loud as my neighbours would tolerate. I’d finally get to feel at home, spend time with friends, I wouldn’t need to worry about finding work or travelling all the time. I’d finally get to feel a little grounded, build a little stability for once.

Being back was a relief. It was nice to do things like go out for a beer with Ru after work, spend time with friends in real life instead of IRC. I started trying to catch up with some of the friends I’d lost touch with, during all those years of travelling and working away.

It wasn’t all that long after I was back when someone new popped up in Ru and Jamie’s private channel. Kim had worked with them all back at the insurance company, and had decided to come onto IRC to catch up with her old friends, who introduced us “newbies” who had joined the channel since.

We got chatting, and she quickly became flirty. She added me on Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, and seemed keen to spend time with me. I was flattered by the attention, and started paying attention back, and discovered that I was pretty interested. She certainly showed all signs of being pretty interested in me.

We all went out together for Christmas drinks, and ended up chatting about plans for the next year. I’d entered the Mongol Rally, and needed to choose a suitable car to take. The Adventurists’ blurb said “The engine must be no more than 1 litre…unless you decide to take a Lamborghini”. I’d been taking a look on AutoTrader, and sadly the Lambos were £60k and up, but I had spotted the occasional tired old Ferrari pop up for around £10k. People had suggested a Mustang, a Lotus, and other equally impractical choices, but the idea of taking a Ferrari on the rally did appeal to my sense of idiocy, and felt very much in a top-gear spirit. I was totally serious about the idea, but as I look back at the comments the others were making, I do wonder whether they were simply indulging me, playing along with the Walter Mitty character. Of course he’s not going to do the rally in a Ferrari, he’s just talking shit.

When we all came back onto IRC after Christmas, Kim commented about something else I’d said that evening — about unicycling — and took the piss a little about whether I really could do that. Perhaps it was just a joke, but I couldn’t shake off the thought that I’d come across as being someone who would say any old bullshit in a ridiculous attempt to impress people. On the other hand, she was still pretty flirty and chatty with me, so maybe all was not lost.

On Valentine’s Day, I sent her flowers and a card, but with no name. A bit over the top, maybe, and clichéd perhaps, but I thought she would like it. When she came into IRC, she started chatting about it straight away, how she and her colleagues were trying to figure out who this “secret admirer” was, who might have sent them.
A little while later, she came back online, saying “Mystery solved”…and explained that a coworker had sent them anonymously. That was odd, to say the least. She then sent me a message privately, saying that she had originally thought I had sent them. I was lost for words. What kind of person would see someone receive flowers, then make up a story that he’d been the person to send them? It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever experienced.

Later that evening, still wondering what to do, I settled on sending Kim a message, and quoted some of the message on the card. She replied “How did you know what the message on the card said”? The best I could come up with was “Well, it is the sort of thing I would do for someone I really liked”. I thought the answer was pretty obvious at this point.

The next day I sent another message, telling her that it was me who had sent the flowers, and that I hadn’t dreamed for a minute that someone else would try to pretend they’d sent them. She didn’t seem to believe me, because she replied asking for more details about exactly what I’d sent. I can’t imagine how on earth I could have known what the message said, if I hadn’t been the person to send it, but I answered her anyway. It was another 10 hours before she replied though, and finally accepted that I had been telling the truth.

Kim stopped coming onto IRC after that, and aside from a few messages, we didn’t really talk until her birthday party a month later. She apologised for doubting me, we chatted about other things and caught up, and I began to think we could at least be friends.

A couple weeks later, she sent me a message, inviting me to join her, Ru and Lu for lunch, celebrating Ru’s birthday a little early, because she would be away travelling on his birthday. We all met up and sat down to eat, and as we got chatting, I got to share the news that I had finally sorted my rally transport, showing them the photo of the Ferrari I’d bought just the evening before, and would get to collect the following week after its service. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but the wide-eyed response suggested that maybe they hadn’t believed I was entirely serious when we’d been chatting about it all those months before.

A few days later, Kim came onto IRC for the first time in months, to wish Ru happy birthday. She then sent me a private message, asking me about the car, “What number did you say it was again? I’ve forgotten”, then chatted for the next 30 minutes, until she ran out of phone signal, but signed off with “See you soon”.

A few days later, I sent her a quick message, asking how her holiday had been. She read it, but didn’t reply. Not that day, not that evening, not the next day. This I found odd and confusing. Why would someone be so warm and chatty, sign off with “See you soon”, then ignore you only a few days later? It was nearly a week later when she finally replied.

In the meantime, my shiny new car had it’s share of issues, when firstly the service centre was too busy to fit it in that week, and then they’d found some things that needed repairing…Ru and Lu had started joking on IRC that the seller had run off with my deposit and I would never see the car. In the meantime, I had a trip to a conference in Japan, so I arranged to collect the car when I got back, two weeks later.

I flew into Heathrow, caught a bus to Poole, picked up the car, and drove it home. I didn’t post about it on Facebook, didn’t really say anything about it, because I didn’t want to make a big song and dance out of it. Just taking it on the rally would be enough fun.

On the Thursday, I thought I’d try one last time to get in touch with Kim, and see if I could understand what was happening. I sent her a message asking if she had any plans over Easter, suggested a gig I was going to that weekend and asked whether she fancied a hike in the Brecons. She read the message straight away. No reply. No reply on Friday either. Come Saturday, I’d decided to go to see Ru, show him the messages, see if he had any insight to why she would be so chatty and flirty one minute, then abruptly ignore me the next. It was also a good excuse to show off my new shiny toy. We took the car for a spin and chatted about the rally, but I didn’t get the chance to show him the messages or talk about was going on, because he had plans that afternoon and had to dash off.

It all became academic a little while later, when shortly after Ru posted some pictures of the Ferrari on Facebook, Kim replied: yes, she did fancy a walk, perhaps we can arrange something with Ru, Sian and their dogs?

I’d noticed that the last time Kim had replied to me, after ignoring the message for nearly a week, was shortly after the garage’s webpage — the link I’d sent to Kim in response to her asking which car I’d bought — had finally been updated to say “Deposit taken”. Then this reply, shortly after evidence of the car surfaces on Facebook. Once might be coincidence, but twice seemed to offer an obvious explanation: all this time, she’d thought I’d been making all these bullshit boasts, perhaps in a lame and ridiculous attempt to impress her, and she’d finally realised I’d been honest all along. And it wouldn’t have been the first time she’d needed to see evidence to believe something I’d told her.

I was mostly OK with this. I can understand how that doubt might have come about, I was just relieved that it was over, that we could be friends, or perhaps more, without any lingering distrust.

The next morning, I drove to Kim’s, and we set off to Castle Coombe where we met up with the others. A nice walk, a decent pub lunch, it was turning into a good day.
On the way back, I was driving a little “enthusiastically” when Kim asked me to slow down, before saying “I don’t know whether to hit you or………” and perhaps it was just my wishful thinking that wanted the words she was thinking when she tailed off to be “kiss you”.

I dropped Kim off at her place, headed home, thinking that now this question of distrust and honesty is out of the way, maybe something will change. After all, she was still acting flirty and interested in me.

On the Wednesday evening, I messaged her and asked if she fancied meeting for lunch the next day. She read it straight away. No reply. It wasn’t until nearly lunchtime the next day that she messaged back “Sorry, forgot to reply…Thursdays are my team’s pub lunch day”. I guess she just didn’t want to see me, because her team’s pub lunch hadn’t got in the way when Kim I had gone for lunch together on a Thursday back in February.

On a hunch, I took a look at the garage’s webpage. The words “Deposit taken” had been removed. Not replaced with “Sold”, just gone. If you looked at the page, you would easily believe the Ferrari was for sale again. It wasn’t unless you browsed the rest of the site, that you might find a little ‘Sold’ icon on a different listing page. Did Kim think I had cooked this whole thing up, maybe rented the car, or taken it for a “test drive”, in some elaborate scheme to impress her?

Not long after all this, Kim went away for a road-trip holiday in America. Whilst she was away, I got a message from Chaz after he saw me driving the Ferrari, suggesting we catch up for lunch later that week — and bring the toy. On the way to our lunch spot, he mentioned that he’d been to my garage and wondered why the Ferrari hadn’t been in my parking space, where was I keeping it? Later he brushed it off that as he’d been passing on his way to somewhere else, he’d just had a look in, but if anyone had been doubting me, this might well have been the evidence to convince them they were right.

Before Kim had left for her roadtrip, she’d suggested we all catch up at some point when she was back. Except she’d got back, weeks had passed, and no messages, nothing. I’d reached the point where I was experiencing so much confusion and uncertainty, that nothing had made any sense, so I poured it all out in a message to Kim: that the things she’d said back in January made me worry that I’d caused her to start doubting me, how that distrust appeared when she challenged me about the flowers I’d sent, and that after ignoring me for so long, then suddenly replying when Ru posted a picture of the car, it made me worry that she thought I was lying about the car. I said I was willing to give any proof she needed — the invoice, the V5, bank statements, whatever, to prove I hadn’t lied.

She ignored that message, and another one a few days later. It was nearly a week on, when I gave up. I sent Kim a message, apologising for getting things so wrong, saying how confusing all this was for me. I assumed that for whatever reason, she didn’t want to know me, but couldn’t actually say that. I removed her from Facebook, Twitter and the rest, thinking that was probably what she wanted, but felt too awkward to do that. Shortly after she replied, saying that she always intended to reply to the message but was still considering what to say, that I was overthinking things, and it had never occurred to her to defriend me. I didn’t respond because I hoped she might finish off her reply, help me understand all these strange things: why she would be so chatty one minute then ignore me the next, why after ignoring me for days, would she suddenly reply after Ru posted a picture of the Ferrari? If I was so wrong in what I thought, what could possibly explain all this?

I was pretty miserable at this point. I had stopped going onto IRC. I had stopped going out and doing things. Nothing made sense and everything hurt. Was it at all possible that I was right, but despite all the evidence, Kim still didn’t believe me?

A few days later, Ru messaged me and suggested we meet for a beer. When we met, I asked if this was about Kim. He said no, he just thought it had been a while since we caught up. He did say though that he had seen Kim recently, and he’d clearly talked about it with her. He said that maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought, that I should talk with her and sort things out. Talk with her? That’s what I’d been trying to do all this time. I still tried though, I sent Kim a message, saying that Ru had suggested we talk. I suggested meeting after work some time. Kim ignored the message.

A couple days before the rally launch date, Kim started messaging back, short messages explaining she just didn’t know what to say. She went on to say “Let’s all catch up over a beer when you’re back from the rally, and everything will be OK. Water under the bridge?” I said sure, and she sent a friend request to follow me on Facebook again.

At the rally launch, the Ferrari naturally got a fair share of attention, and the prestigious award of “Car least likely to make it” (they were right). The Adventurists started a regular column about it, following the Ferrari on their blog.

Kim started following the Adventurists on Facebook and on Twitter. She was clearly keen to follow everything I was up to on my trip. Sadly the 15,000 mile round trip came to an early end a few weeks later when the car broke down in Georgia. Engines tend to do that when they try to run without oil. The repair garage was earnest in their “Sure, can fix, no problem”, but the “just another few days” kept coming, and after 3 weeks there was still more work to do on the car, so I left it with them and headed home.

Shortly after I got back, Chaz sent me an invite to his birthday celebrations: a cycle ride from Bath to Bristol, with an array of pub stops along the way. Later that evening, he asked me whether things were OK between Kim and I, because he’d invited her along too, and she hadn’t replied, which was unlike her. What could I say? I had no idea.

A couple of days later, I decided to try to reach out to Kim, see if there was any way to understand what was going on. I sent her a short innocuous message with a link to a rum festival I’d noticed coming up: “Saw this earlier, thought it might be up your street”.

She read it. No reply. Until a couple hours later.

“Welcome home! Where’s the car?”

No “How are you”, or “How was your trip”, the most pressing thing on Kim’s mind was “Where’s the car?” I replied that I’d left it in Georgia as the garage seemed like they were doing OK with it. We chatted briefly, and she mentioned that we should all catch up sometime. I replied, “Sure, how about this Friday?” but Kim didn’t reply.

We’d been exchanging these messages on Facebook, and she had Facebook’s location mapping switched on. When she sent that message, “Welcome home! Where’s the car?” she had sent that message from the road outside my flat, driving away. The last person to ask me where’s the car was Chaz, when he’d been to my garage to look for the Ferrari, and found that it wasn’t there. Now Kim reads my message, ignores it for hours, then suddenly decides to reply whilst she’s outside my house, driving away, and the first thing on her mind is “Where’s the car?” It’s entirely possible that I’ve been completely mistaken in all of this, but if that’s true, then boy have there been a truly bizarre series of coincidences.

That Friday, I sent Kim a message about catching up over beers, suggesting maybe she arrange it with the others because I was having trouble tying the others down to a date. Her reply seemed a little annoyed, saying she didn’t think she would have any better luck. Later I tried again to talk, asking what’s going on, saying that everything felt confusing and made no sense. She ignored it. I ended up removing her from Facebook again, thinking that the most rational explanation was that she still thinks I’m being dishonest about the car, but there’s no way of us ever resolving this unless we can talk, have an honest, open conversation.

A week later, I decided to try again. I just thought how crazy all these events had been, and how awkward it would always be: with all our mutual friends, we really needed to sit down together and sort this. I begged to talk, and she agreed to meet the next day over lunch.

When we met, I tried to explain how confused and uncertain all this had made me. I tried to go back to that Easter: when I’d sent her a message, she’d ignored it for days, then finally replied shortly after a Ru posted a picture of the Ferrari. Kim insisted it was coincidence, but everything in her body language said otherwise. We didn’t really get anywhere with that conversation, but at the time I thought the Ferrari would be repaired and back home in the next week or two, so if all this was coming from Kim’s distrust, bringing the car back would make it clear that I hadn’t been lying.

The two weeks passed, and the car was still no closer to repaired. It seems that “just a few more days” is Georgia’s “mañana”.

A month later, I ended up borrowing Ru’s car for a trip. He posted on Facebook.

“Lent my car to Marcus. Hope I don’t have to go pick it up from a third world country.”

And Kim liked the post. Kim, who won’t talk with me, who seems angry with me, who won’t be friends with me, is liking a post about me. I found this pretty odd. I can’t imagine liking a friends’ post when it’s about someone that I’m upset with and not talking to.

I messaged Kim, saying that I found this odd, and she replied that it was just a funny post, nothing more. On the other hand, I can think of another explanation: if she thought that “Broke down in Georgia” was a convenient excuse for never having owned the car in the first place, then the post is a little dig at my dishonesty, and Kim liked it because she was angry and upset at the thought that I went through all this elaborate scam in order to impress her, when it was all a lie.

But all this is just background, the back-story that leads to a sea of secrecy, dishonesty and hurt from friends.

In October, we started chatting about Christmas and ice-skating in IRC. We’d gone out together as a group for the last few years. A few days later, I sent a message to Kim. I explained that we’d started chatting about ice-skating, and although I’d organised the trip the last couple of years, I didn’t feel I could this year, because I didn’t feel I could be there if she came, but I didn’t want her to feel left out. The next morning, Lu spontaneously created the event on Facebook, and invited us all — but not Kim.

Over the next week, in messages with Kim, she said “Back in September we sat and talked, I thought that was what you wanted. I just don’t know what you want from me!” I replied: To understand this. To make sense of all these things. To feel like we can just be normal friends and put this in the past. She said she’d think about it.

A couple days later, I was sat on Facebook when I noticed Ru and Lu come online at the same time. They stayed online for a while, presumably chatting. I just happened to have the event page for our ice-skating trip open. Then, within the span of a minute or so, I saw Lu add Kim to the invite, I saw Kim accept, and then her name disappeared. I realised that she’d blocked me. The conclusion seemed obvious: they’d all been exchanging messages, having a conversation about me.

Shortly after, I sent a one-word message to both Ru and Lu: “Sigh”. Ru just ignored it. Lu responded, initially pretending not to know what I was referring to, but her replies showed clearly that she’d been discussing all this. She told me that I’d got the wrong end of the stick, and if I see Kim again, not to talk about it. It was quite a long set of messages, and she seemed pretty angry with me, but it boiled down to this: “You’re wrong, shut up”.

All this left me really upset.

Firstly, all these conversations they’ve been having about me, when they could have had them with me. How can I hope to understand anything, when everything’s a secret?

And secondly, trying to keep Kim’s invite to ice-skating secret from me. When I’d said that I didn’t feel I could go if she were there, it was because I was finding this all too much to deal with. I didn’t think seeing me break down in tears on the ice-rink would be a positive experience for any of us. I’d been open about this, and instead of saying “OK, we’re going to invite Kim because we don’t want her to feel left out, but if you feel up to coming along, you’re welcome to join us”; instead of being honest or supportive, they had tried to conceal what was happening, and put me in exactly the situation I had been trying to avoid. And if I hadn’t happened to be on Facebook at exactly the right time, I’d never have had any warning.

In November I went back to Georgia to recover the car that was finally repaired. Well, almost repaired. Just another few days. Those “just another few days” turned into 3 weeks. Whilst I was out there, I deliberately posted photos on Facebook and Twitter: of the engine parts, the ongoing repair…if there was any lingering doubt about my honesty, perhaps this would dispel it. And maybe it did. Kim messaged me whilst I was out in Georgia, saying it would be nice if I came along to the ice-skating trip, perhaps we can put an end to all this.

After three and a half months parked up collecting sand, dust, and guano in a car lot in Georgia, the car was finally repaired and raring to go. 3 days, 3600 miles, many border crossings and 2 punctures later, I got the car safely back.

I didn’t join the others ice-skating though. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t do anything, until all this crazy history was understood and resolved.

After another futile exchange with Kim, I messaged Ru and asked “Is this just how she is?” He came over to talk.

That was when I discovered one answer to some of the craziness: when Kim has suddenly replied over Easter, after ignoring me for days, it wasn’t from Ru posting a photo of the car, it was from Ru sending her a message: he said that he had messaged her, asking whether I’d offered her for a spin in the car yet. After all this time, with all the explanations of “coincidence” and “you’re overthinking things”, it turned out that there was an answer, of sorts. But why had she been so steadfast in insisting that it was coincidence?

That persistent lie has been repeated so many times.

“You’ve overthinking things”.
“It was coincidence”.
“Ru’s message was irrelevant, it wasn’t about you”.
“Ru asked me for a walk, and as you’d also asked, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone”.

Here are the actual messages:

“So has Marcus offered you a ride in his new car yet?”
“Nope, have you seen it?”
“Drove it to Thornbury and back ;) I’d recommend it.”

Then, having ignored my message for days, Kim replied 12 minutes after receiving Ru’s message. But it took another 20 months of being told “coincidence” before the content of these messages finally came out.

A lot of this may well just be coincidence, perhaps I am just speculating wildly on some odd coincidence of timings. But Kim repeatedly lying to me about Ru’s message, hiding it from me at the time, then misrepresenting it for so long afterwards, it puts such a different spin on everything that all these “coincidences” become unexplained odd events — that are then absolutely totally covered by one simple explanation: if Kim thought I was lying about the car, it answers every single odd event in this bizarre history.

Shortly after talking with Ru, I began to see some coincidences of people appearing at the same time on Facebook, suggesting Ru and Lu were having conversations with Justine. About me, perhaps?

Lu called me paranoid when I suggested this, but when I phoned Justine, we ended up having a long call discussing all this. She said that yes, they were talking about me, but it was because they were worried about me, that they had my own interest at heart. I said it felt like they were talking about me behind my back, and asked to see the messages, so I could understand what was going on. Justine initially got annoyed at me for this, and said “you’re talking about Lu behind her back right now” as I had talked about everything relating to the invitations for the ice-skating trip, but I pointed out that I wasn’t saying anything about Lu that I wouldn’t say directly to her, and that she was welcome to share anything I said with Lu. Justine then said fine, she wouldn’t have any issues showing me these messages I’d asked to see. I’ve never been shown them though.

After that, Justine left Facebook open on a browser all the time, so that I couldn’t see when she was online. The thing is, at the time, Facebook showed what device you were using: web or mobile. I saw the same pattern, Ru coming online, Justine’s status changing to “mobile”, then as Ru went offline, Justine’s status went back to “web”. Justine clearly had no issues carrying on talking about me behind my back, but took steps to try to conceal that from me. That was when I lost all trust in her.

Over the next couple of weeks, odd things kept happening. Kim would sometimes pop into IRC, say nothing, then leave. And all the time, I just kept thinking: what’s going on? Why do they keep talking about me instead of with me? Wouldn’t that be the most positive, adult thing to do: to sit together, have an honest discussion about was going on, and how to move forward in a positive way?

I booked a few months away, doing a ski-instructor course in the Alps. Kim sent a message saying she doesn’t like seeing how upset all this has made me, and perhaps we could sit and talk in the New Year. We ended up having a phone conversation late at night, just hours before I set off for the ferry. Again, no new answers, so at the end of it, I asked “so what now, where do we go from here?” She suggested that we all meet up for a beer when I got back, and put it behind us. But I’d heard that before, and continuing to leave me blocked on Facebook suggested that she didn’t really intend to go through with it.

When I got back in March, all this hurt hadn’t gone away. I was upset with Kim for all the lies, I felt hurt by Ru and Lu for all those times they’d been talking about me instead of with me, and for all the deceit around the ice-skating trip, when being honest with me would have cost nothing. I felt hurt by Justine for joining in, for trying to keep all this secret from me, for leaving me in the dark when I so desperately needed to understand.

I still tried to look for a positive way out though. I messaged Ru and Lu, begging to talk about all this. Ru ignored me. Lu replied, saying that I’d already been given answers, but if Ru and Kim were also willing, yes, we could talk. “But you have to accept that you’re paranoid”.

I’ve heard that awful word so many times since then. Paranoid. Crazy. I’m imagining things.

I talk about ice-skating with Kim one evening, and the following morning Lu creates the event on Facebook? Just coincidence. Lu not inviting Kim? She simply forgot. And Kim being invited, accepting, then blocking me within the span of a minute? They’ve not answered that one.

I tried to put it in the past, just get on with normal life. I decided to come back onto IRC. I’d left their private channel back in December, but I thought there’s at least #drupal-uk.

I rejoined, and just lurked for a while. After a while I thought this was silly, I should at least make an effort to chat to people. That morning, I said “Hi” to the channel, started chatting, and just hoped to avoid interacting with Ru or Justine there. 10 minutes later, Lu joined the channel. That instantly made me feel uncertain, unsafe. Why was she there? What did she want? She stayed there all day, and the next morning, she was back in there again.

As usual, I tried to talk about it, and as usual, it was futile. I messaged her asking why she had joined #drupal-uk, what she hoped to get from it, what she was looking for.

“Why? Because Justine was fed up with NikLP and I wanted to see what he was saying. You think everything is about you. Deflate your ego.”

My IRC client keeps a log of all the channels I’m in. I had a good look through the logs: there’s absolutely nothing to suggest any bother between Nik and Justine, just routine, comfortable chat. And it would seem extraordinarily coincidental that Nik had suddenly started bothering Justine at exactly the same moment as I started trying to participate again. But no, it’s another thing that’s all in my head, I’m paranoid, imagining all this.

A couple weeks later, I’d noticed that Jamie hadn’t spoken to me since I rejoined. I tried to reach out on a couple of occasions, saying “Hi” when he joined #drupal-uk…he didnt reply, but then, we don’t all reply to every hello in the channel.

I sent him a private message:

[14:21:10] ping! hey jamie, do you have a minute to talk?
[14:24:46] Look, I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but I wanted to clear the air and set the record straight. I’m not in the old channel because I’ve had a falling-out with Ru, Lu, Justine and Kim, and it looks like that’s not going to be resolved. I hope that we can still be friends, and if you’ve heard rumours and have any questions about this, I’ll try to answer them for you.

He didn’t reply.

I was pretty hurt by this, but didn’t know what I could do.

A week later, after a few too many bourbons in the evening, I sent Jamie an email, saying how upset I was that he had ignored me earlier, and describing some of the odd things that had been going on, so he could see there was another side to the story.

The next day he replied, saying that he hadn’t ignored me, he just hadn’t spotted the message. That seemed odd though, because I know people sometimes wander away from their computer and can miss messages that way, so I’d looked at Jamie’s idle time before sending the message. He’d been active on IRC for the few minutes before my message, active during, and carried on being active for a few minutes after.

So I didn’t really trust Jamie’s reply, and went offline. A day or two later, I noticed a reference to this in their channel’s quote db: they’d clearly been talking about it and having a joke at my expense. It felt just horrible, all these people that I once thought of as close friends, people I trusted and cared about, now laughing at me and making fun of me, with no thought for the hurt or damage they might be causing.

I stopped coming onto IRC after that.

In the meantime, Kim had sent an email, trying to answer some of my questions.

I’d commented about how she’d acted at the start, adding me to all her social networks, asking me out for a beer, etc.

“I was keen to get to know you. I heard lots from Ru, Lu and Sian, and they indicated that they thought we’d be a good match, as such, I was naturally intrigued.”

Not once had I considered the thought that perhaps the others had tried to set me up with Kim. But the moment she said this, a lot of things fell into place: the way Ru had been helping her get IRC set up on her phone in the first place, the various invites to events that would put us together, the flirtiness and seeming interest right from the start…but why, all this time, hadn’t they said anything about this to me? They’ve since described Kim as “fickle” when it comes to men, but had no issues with trying to set me up with her, watch me get hurt, and even then, say nothing that might help me understand this or protect myself from getting hurt again.

The thing that hurts most though is this: all the while, I’ve tried to talk. I’ve begged and begged to sit down, talk honestly and openly about this, look for a positive way forward.

Each time, I’ve just been shut down and attacked.

“You’ve had honest answers”
“You have to accept you’re paranoid”
“No-one’s lied to you”
“There are no secrets”
“None of us wish to entertain your delusions”
“If other people come to me and ask about you I will know YOU have told them and been slanderous and I WILL NOT stand for that”

No-one ever actually bothers to talk though. Just accusations of being crazy.

In one of his replies, Ru claimed

“There’s no ‘set-up’. You’ve decided a lot of things happened that didn’t happen and then asked us to explain them.
EG: You’ve decided that Kim and I had a conversation where we talked about setting you and her up. This never happened.
This is why I’m not replying. Every time I try to help you, you decide I’m lying to you.”

I responded, quoting the message that Kim had sent me.

When Ru replied, he insisted that this simply didn’t happen. He did agree to meet up and talk though — but then spent the next month ignoring me, before finally replying with “You’re totally wrong, I’m tired of your bullshit, I’m not going to talk with you”.

It would seem a very bizarre thing for Kim to lie about, to claim that Ru, Lu and Sian had been talking about me with her, suggesting me as a good boyfriend, if that didn’t happen. Why would anyone lie about that?

But true or not, surely it was now clear that this wasn’t some fever-dream of paranoid imagination: the only reason for suggesting that they’d tried to set me up with Kim was simply because Kim had said that happened.

So no paranoia, no crazy imagination in overdrive, just a lot of contradictory messages, evidence of dishonesty, widespread secrecy, and an overwhelming amount of attacks on my sanity.

Perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve always accepted this as a possibility, so I’ve thought about and considered what I would accept, as evidence that would clearly demonstrate to me that I was wrong, in a way that I could accept.

I had asked for two things from Justine.

Firstly I had asked to see the messages from the conversations where she got brought into all this. The messages that she’d already previously agreed to show me. The conversation where she insisted that they all had my best interests at heart. And yet, if these messages are so well-meant and caring about me, I find it incredible that they haven’t been shown to me, a long time ago. I can’t imagine why such well-meant positivity would be veiled in a shroud of secrecy.

Secondly I had asked for an answer to Lu’s response: “Because Justine was fed up with NikLP” — had Nik really been bothering Justine? It seemed from the IRC transcripts that this was extremely unlikely, but if he wasn’t, then Lu made that up in order to come up with an excuse for coming into #drupal-uk, and then used that excuse to put me down and attack me with the accusation that I’m imagining things. I thought that Justine would be the absolute last person to be prepared to cover up someone else’s lies, especially a lie being used to make an abusive, gaslighting attack, but this question has never been answered.

Finally I had asked Ru and Lu to show me the messages they were exchanging in their conversation with Kim, which ended with her being invited to ice-skating, accepting, then blocking me. I’ve said that if they were being honest with me, then this conversation won’t show them talking about the Ferrari, questioning whether I owned it etc, and the mention of ice-skating will be limited to something along the lines of “crap, I forgot to invite you, I’ll add you now”. If I’m wrong about them manipulating me about the ice-skating trip, if I’m wrong about being doubted about the car, then this conversation won’t show any of that. And if I read these messages, and see that they have been honest with me all this time, then I would accept I was wrong, and apologise profusely.

Three small things. Three little trifling things, that would — if they’re all being honest — prove once and for all that I was totally utterly wrong. Guess how many have been shown to me.

But what if I saw these messages, and discovered that I was right? Yes, that would be pretty awful. But it would have been a chance to talk about it, to learn something from this, to find something positive to take away. I’d been through a lot of hurt during all of this, and I wanted to understand it, and to ensure it would never happen again. If I discovered that Kim really had doubted me about the car, that perhaps Ru and Lu also had their doubts? I’d have said next time: tell me, talk to me about it. I could have shown the proof that would have put it beyond doubt, then we could have put it in the past and forgotten about it. Ice-skating? Don’t try to manipulate a friend into being in a situation they’ve expressed deep discomfort about. Talk to them, show some support, give them the chance to make their own decision about what they can deal with. Don’t force them into a situation that might leave them breaking down in tears. Setting me up with Kim — or someone else? Either talk to both of us, so we’re on mutual ground, or tell neither of us, invite us both along to events, and see what happens. Don’t secretly put one person in a position where they can easily hurt another. As for the rest: deal with things quickly. The earlier we’d have been able to talk and understand some of these things, the less hurt would have been caused. We could have written it all off as a set of silly mistakes, learned something from it, and put it in the past. As it stands, we still haven’t talked, we still haven’t resolved things, and the damage keeps on getting worse.

They’ve repeatedly insisted that they never set out to hurt me, and that mystifies me, because despite all their claims of paranoia, I’ve never once suggested that they did. I think they set out initially with good intentions, that any secrecy or dishonesty came about thinking that it didn’t matter, without thinking through the consequences, but as things got worse, they’ve all become more and more invested in their previous claims, and they’ve never allowed themselves to back out of it, admit what really happened, or say sorry. It seems horrible how far they’ve let things go, how much damage has been done, simply in order to save face.

All this has left me more damaged and depressed than I can describe.

I stopped going to Drupal meetups, in case they’re there. I don’t go on IRC any more, because it makes me feel uncomfortable. When I went to Drupalcon Barcelona last year, I just wanted to go to the sessions, then go back to the hotel. I mostly avoided socialising in case I met them. The one occasion where it did happen, it left me feeling so uncomfortable and upset that I felt I had to leave early, and ended up walking away in tears. Someone else later joked about that on twitter. I wonder what horrible things had been said about me, that he felt the sight of me in tears was an appropriate topic for humour. I know at least one now-former friend in #drupal-uk has been told things about me. What she was told or by whom, I don’t know, she refused to say. But again, this secrecy. It can’t be anything good. When you have to cover everything in secrecy, you’re not going to find many positives.

I’ve cried a lot since this started. I don’t feel comfortable in Bristol, and when I am there, I lock myself in my flat and spend as little time as possible outside. Not that I go out much anyway. Not that I’ve got the motivation to go out, to see anyone, do anything. Work. Eat. Sleep. Cry. That’s pretty much all my life is these days.

I hate talking about this, hate even more talking about this publicly, but secrecy got us into this mess, and the damage is still being done. All I can do is talk openly about what’s happened, and how it’s affected me. And hopefully show that I’ve not been asking for anything impossible or unreasonable; those three things: reading two sets of messages, hearing an answer to one question. Three small things to draw a line under this once and for all, and maybe find some peace. Is that too much to ask?