I’m an optimist, and I tend to believe people are as they present themselves. But I also believe in Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify.” Before I do business with someone, I’ll check him or her out. I believe it is part of due diligence to make sure people can deliver what they say they can. I became this way after having been burned a few times. And once you burn me, our relationship is over. “You fool me once, shame on you. You fool me twice, shame on me.” (Randall Terry)

Sometimes I meet people or get engaged in situations where I will get a strong gut feeling. Experience has shown me I need to pay attention to that. It’s that little voice that says, “something isn’t right.” It’s never been wrong, and I have paid the price for those times I ignored my gut.

Some people are masters at gaining your confidence. They figure out what you need and what you want to hear and that is what they give you. If you are enthused, they are even more enthused. They have big plans and they share their vision of what will be. They lead you down a path, all the while they are gathering information on how they can use you because that is their real intent. They are convincing and they are charming.  

First, we are a bit shocked then angry when we realize we have been taken in. There were warning signs, of course, but in our desire to believe someone, we disregard them. We are invested in their success.

Therefore, it is so important to do due diligence. Because there are people out there who aren’t what they seem. They know they can deceive us. They use it. It has worked for them before and they feel no sense of remorse. They don’t care you are disappointed and hurt because they don’t experience those feelings. They are in it for themselves and what they can get out of it. And when it gets to the point where they will be exposed or there is nothing left to gain, they disappear and cover their trail. They don’t give a second thought to the mess they have left behind.  

This is true in business and in our personal relationships. It’s so easy to be taken in by a narcissist. They are the takers and are experts at identifying and using the givers. Until they have gotten everything out of you that you are able to give then they drop you without a backward glance. It hurts and you cannot figure out what you did wrong. You thought everything was going well.  Then you realize everything they told you was a lie and they were just reflecting on you what you needed to hear. 

At some point, we all get taken in by a narcissist.  And when it ends, the narcissist will blame you it didn’t work out. Their story will feature them as the victim. This is a caution.

On a brighter note, this Friday is Valentine’s Day. Be kind to your Valentine and be grateful for however they choose to celebrate your relationship. The holiday should not be fraught with emotional pressure. Manage your expectations, lest it become more about how it is observed rather than the relationship it celebrates. If you don’t have a romantic sweetie, then celebrate a friendship, do a random act of kindness or donate lovingly to our local humane shelter. It’s a holiday about love and I feel like we all need to put more love out into the world. It’s the only way we can counter the hate. 

Elsie Hickman is a Lake Martin resident and weekly columnist for The Outlook.