“How did I let this happen?”
Ordinarily on TV, this phrase is uttered by a lonely widow swindled by a gigolo; a newcomer to the big city, left possession-free by an unstable roommate; or a mistress left with nothing because her married lover died, never arranging to provide for her.
But this time, the question is posed by a high-powered businesswoman, with money, a fabulous apartment, and an off-the-Bergdorf’s-rack wardrobe on the new ABC/Shonda Rhimes show, The Catch.
Billed as a romantic caper, the story centers around “Alice Vaughn” (Mireille Enos), the best private investigator in Los Angeles, who falls in love with wealthy tycoon “Christopher Hall” (Peter Krause) aka elusive schemer “Ben Jones.”
Yes, the con-catcher gets conned.
No one likes to believe they’re vulnerable, or worse, naïve, enough to fall for a scam, but when one is book as well as street smart, at the top of their field and worldly, the sting is particularly painful, not to mention embarrassing.
Even before Alice and her squad – similar to that of “Olivia Pope” and her gladiators – gave us a mid-episode walk through of how the sting went down, I saw the signs.
Like Alice, I once had a 9-to-5 with hours more like 24/7. Because it’s hard to meet anyone when you’re always on the job (or sleeping), relationships are non-existent or fly-by-night. To fend off the “Why aren’t you married?” question, one often uses the fallback, “I don’t know if I want to get married, I’m really into my career.”
Of course, one’s true colors show themselves faster than a rainbow after a storm when someone like Christopher the charm bomb appears.
As they make plans for their future, he wants to buy Alice a house, to which she proclaims, “I’m not coming into this marriage as a dependent.” To prove her worth – literally — she hands Christopher a check for 1.4 million dollars, her entire life savings. There had to be some kind of insecurity at work here. Obviously not feeling successful enough, Alice left herself destitute for the sake of equality, instead of insisting on a smaller house – one she could afford.
I know someone who had to declare bankruptcy after she spent her way through a romance with a trust fund baby, trying to dress the part of a woman good enough for him to be seen with.
Unlike a lot of people who would wallow in despair, Alice heads to her white board, picks up a marker and begins to dissect exactly how she got played.
He was too good of a listener.
“You would not believe this day.” When Alice got home from work, she felt free to unload, not realizing she was providing inside info. Christopher, as Ben, and his partner/paramour Margo, zeroed in on Alice because of her stellar reputation. Her firm attracts A-list, big money clients – the real marks Ben and Margo are trying to steal from.
Makes you want to ask yourself next time you meet someone, Do I have something he needs? Money, connections, fame? A one-sided relationship is trouble. Everyone should bring something to the table.
He threw her off guard.
Christopher came in as an eager, potential client, but left giving only a vague, “We’re not a good fit.” The page from the want-what-you-can’t-have playbook sent Alice into I don’t take no for an answer mode.
I worked with someone like that. Her mantra: I get what I want. I guess she thought it made her sound cool or tough or powerful, but often looked foolish in one of her maniacal quests. Sometimes I wondered if she actually desired what she was being denied, or just liked the thrill of the chase.
My grandmother also had a mantra: Watch what you wish for. Often, being told “no” can be a blessing in disguise.
He let her come to him.
“A con never approaches a mark,” instructs Alice’s business partner Valerie. “He creates a situation where the mark approaches him.”
Alice wanted Christopher’s business and tracked him down at a restaurant to not only re-pitch her firm, but show off her detective skills.
Perhaps those women who wrote The Rules knew what they were talking about when they advised to let the man make the first move.
He was too generous.
“A con man gives and gives,” says Alice, adding, “He never asks for anything, so you give him everything.” (See the above 1.4 million example.)
I worked at an ad agency where I was paired with a giver. Her dream was to be told: “You never make demands, so we’re making sure you get the best stuff.” She always requested nothing, unlike the rest of us who jumped when offered a chance to order new office furniture, eat lunch on the boss’s dime, or be sent free products from the clients. When she’d get what she asked for, as in nada, well, let’s just say the only thing she gave anyone was grief.
There’s no such thing as something for nothing.
Or did he? A handsome face. A winning smile. Double-talk that passes itself off as flirting. Some people were born to be lawyers, as they can make a case for anything, or at least sound like it. Next thing you know, you’re engaged and can’t remember who asked whom. Oh, who cares? There’s a tasteful white dress to buy. Until, as with Alice, the realization sets in: “I proposed to myself.”
If someone makes your head spin, it’s not necessarily the equivalent of butterflies in your stomach or raging hormones. It just might mean you’re being conned.
“You want to play. Let’s play.” Yes, Alice is on the retaliation bandwagon. How will she do it and will she succeed? We’ve got a whole season to find out.
Suggestion: She could go the Frozen route and let it go; get her business back on track, find a new – real – love, regain control of her life and follow my mantra: Living well is the best revenge.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels Fat Chick and Back To Work She Goes.