I Relate to ‘The Tinder Swindler’ Documentary More Than I Like to Admit

But It Has to Be Talked About, So Shall We?

Karina Lafayette – February 2022

It’s almost 3am. I’m still processing it. Within an hour and a half of screentime, pain that had been suppressed for four years finally came rushing in.

Is this anger? Resentments? Bitterness over the time I spent loving someone who didn’t really love me? Wondering what would have happened had I paid attention to the red flags and left?

Maybe all the above.

There’s an idea that time heals all wounds, but does it?

I thought I was over it, not the part about being in love with him, that love faded when the mask dropped. However, the part where he made my life a living hell, I’m still not fully over it. When you give the most vulnerable part of your being to someone, who turns out to not be the person they said they were, a part of you may never get over it.

There’s also an idea that in order to move on, you need to forgive. Well I managed to move on without forgiving, so that’s definitely a myth right there.

My ex and I met in November 2016. I moved to Toronto a few months earlier and was a struggling artist trying to find what gigs were available, and had managed to work on a few film sets. I was also lucky enough to work as staff for the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite the hardship and the uncertainty of work, I was on a high. By now, I had moved into the basement of a house and the roommates upstairs were leaving, so I signed a new lease and put out ads to get new roommates. Being in charge of the house felt empowering. One night, he answered my ad on Kijiji. We chatted back and forth and he even asked me if I worked in film. I told him yes, assuming he probably looked me up on social media. The next day he came over and already had his share of rent ready in cash. He looked at me timidly with a glimmer in his eye and from that moment, even though it felt wrong, I was already attracted to him.

And this is the part that grossed me out the most looking back, the fact that we started as roommates.


Quickly after, we grew close and would hang out to watch movies. Weeks passed and before I knew it, I fell into a relationship. He was writing my name in the snow, bringing me pizza from his work, and seemed to do everything right. He even bought me a necklace and would boast at how proud he was with his salary. When I needed a new phone, he gave me his iPhone since he was already buying a new one. He always had to have the latest of everything. He would spend hundreds on Nikes and video games. A friend of mine even asked if we were going a little fast, but I brushed him off as being jealous. He also told me his favorite comedian was Charlie Chaplin, and I can say now this would have been one of the first red flags, because a quick Google search and he likely saw who my favorite director was. Of course, people have common idols all the time, but you get the bigger picture.

About two and a half months into the relationship, my ex was crying in front of me. He got a message from his lawyer saying his student permit was expiring in July, and one of the options was to get married. I told him that worrying was ridiculous, and since we were already together, we could do it. He already joked about me being his “wifey”, so it made sense, or at least it felt like it did. This was around the time he became more controlling. He wanted to know where I was at all times. He wouldn’t kiss me if I wore lipstick. He would accuse me of cheating anytime I texted with my friends, and would read my messages behind my back. According to him, if neither had anything to hide, there was no reason not to have each other’s passcodes. He even confided in me that the reason for his trust issues had to do with the fact that his first girlfriend cheated, because that’s what they all say.

At least, that’s what all abusers say.

He went from being sweet and caring to accusing me of asking for too much if I wanted to go for a movie or to the restaurant. He complained that being too tired from work, it was only fair that on his days off he got to stay at home, even if his days off were spent playing video games for twelve hours.

Still, there were so many appearances of his good side, that it managed to continue to outweight the bad, at least till we got married. As a kid, I always imagined I’d get married on a beach with friends and family. Instead, I got a rushed ceremony with witnesses and the officiant. And there was no beach, just us at a civic center. No music, not even any flowers. Even before heading there, he was annoyed because I wore a plunging neckline and where he was from, modesty was more proper.

I should have left at that moment. I should have left the first time he raised his voice at me or did anything uncomfortable. Yet, I was always taught how to love people unconditionally, but nobody ever let me know it’s okay to leave when you aren’t happy.

When the pictures from our so-called wedding were posted online, my friend congratulated me on my pregnancy. He quickly took that back after I got confused. During the first part of the relationship, I gained over a hundred pounds, and yes, it made me feel awful, but worse is the man who claimed to love me didn’t mind the awfulness.

Soon after he was making pregnancy jokes. He would poke my belly and ask if there was something in there. It made me mad, and he knew it. Once in awhile he would share pictures of us knowing I didn’t like the angle or the way it made me look. I felt so ugly as his partner. He also used to complain how as a man he felt self-conscious about not having a six pack and biceps, so it just goes to show the way he projected his shit onto me to feel better about himself. And like a typical mamma’s boy, he didn’t miss a beat remind me that nobody cooks better than her. He was ugly and he also knew that, but his ugliness had nothing to do with looks, it had to do with the person he really was.

And that’s not the person I signed up to be married to. The person he was in those first few months of bliss, the one who cried and shared his pain about what life was like back home, that is who I signed up for.

This is the part about abusive relationships people miss anytime they ask, “Why didn’t she just leave?” Well, if he had shown me his true colors from the beginning, I would have laughed at him and walked away. Of course I would have left. The sad reality is that a part of you continues to hope that it’s just a dream, that somehow you’ll wake up and he’s still that person you first met.

Instead, it’s the nightmare that’s real. And if you’re wondering if it got worse, it did. In September 2017, I landed a script supervisor position on an Indie feature. Already, that set was hard enough because the director was horrible to cast and crew and behaved like a bully the whole production. One night, my ex got so infuriated because I had to stay late, he was sending me incessant messages while we were wrapping up, calling me selfish. After I got home, he gave me the silent treatment. He was upset that during his day off we couldn’t spend time together. The best part? On days when I could be at home with him, what was he usually doing? Playing video games. He could do what he wanted, but God forbid if I did what I wanted.

Sometime after his birthday, I began feeling restless. When he suggested both our phone lines get added to his account, it made me want to run away. Already I started to feel like I had no more independence, now he wanted to have my phone line added to the same account! He was in charge of finances. He was in charge of the household. He was in charge of everything. My only job, apparently, was to be his “wifey”. Any attempt at a real life beyond that made him turn from Jekyll to Hyde. I felt like a prisoner. This was the first time we broke up.

He moved his stuff into the other room. Then he came to talk and said he was thinking of taking something to harm himself. While walking my dog around the block, I grew anxious, and all kinds of thoughts were running through my head about what he might do to himself, or even to the both of us. I wanted to tell a roommate upstairs but decided not to. Instead, I asked for advice from a woman I knew who had already been through a similar situation.

By the next week, we got back together.

For awhile, things were great. Till they weren’t, and only got worse. This time period between late November and early January is a blur. The only main event that stands out was that night where he came home drunk and started kissing me while I wasn’t in the mood. It took a few “no’s” and pushing him off for him to stop. It felt confusing as to whether this was sexual assault. All I knew is once he rolled over and threatened to watch porn, I felt humiliated to be with him.

A few weeks later, I ended it for good. Suddenly, he said he knew what he needed to do to make me happy. He wanted to pay attention again. He wanted to compromise more. All that, too little too late. To take some time for himself, he told me he would delete his Facebook. A few days later, I posted a status and he “liked” it. I was furious. He made it looked like he left social media, but once again, he did something to keep an eye on me, and only temporarily deactivated the account. I also found out later on, he had many social media accounts that he continued to make even after no contact. How many? These:

You’d think this break up gave me a clean state, but he had one more trick up his sleeve.

During the same period that things were done between us, I was working on pre-production for my first feature film. I already made a feature documentary called The Student Diaries, but this would my first time doing fiction. My Production Assistant and I were working hard on getting applications for funding. By this point we had the main cast and a lot of the crew, we just needed money finalized. Everyone was excited, and I even went to do an interview in Montreal with Global TV to talk about the funding campaign, the same station where I did my first TV interview for The Student Diaries.Karina being interviewed with Jamie Orchard for Global Montreal (2015)

Well, guess who had money.

Even soon after we broke up, he was adamant that I still be his sponsor so he could stay in the country. I refused. Later, when he caught wind of where we were at with the movie, he came in ready to make magic happen. He was willing to help with funding, as long as I continued to stay married to him. Even though we were not together anymore and only living under the same roof till the lease was up. He texted me incessantly. He got down on his knees in front of me. In one message, he accused me of faking the breakup and that he didn’t believe I wanted us to separate.

This whole situation made me feel so wrong, so disgusted with the woman he turned me into. How could I go from being so independent and not wanting to lean on a man, to almost allowing someone to con me just for a movie? What happened to that strong person I used to be?

A miracle happened. One afternoon while meeting with an artist, a potential cinematographer emailed me to let me know he felt production wasn’t ready. I started crying while we were at a Starbucks. The movie wasn’t going to happen yet. Somewhere in the universe, there was no way this wasn’t going to unfold as planned.

By July 2018, with production flushed down the toilet, my ex and I were moving to our new apartments. One of his friends helped me move into my new place. My ex kept on repeating to me how important it was to do the paperwork, and that as long as it still looked like we were a couple, everything would be okay, by his standards. I nodded and agreed, but deep down I knew, I wasn’t going to give him what he wanted ever again. After getting settled, I messaged his lawyer and blocked all his social media and phone number.

I wish I could tell you that not long after, everything turned around. It actually took until August 2020 for me to find my footing again. Even though it was hard, I never felt tempted to reach out again. I’m choosing to climb by myself. I haven’t been interested in relationships, but I’m open to it. It’ll happen when it happens. Between that time, I even experienced homelessness and stayed in a shelter for a year and a half. While staying there, I wrote and self-published a memoir called Persephone Rises. Not the whole memoir is about the relationship, it’s my own personal story of a young girl with big dreams. Some people think Hades in mythology was a good dude, but in my version, he isn’t. He just left me with the urge to not lean on a partner ever again, so I could enjoy my ivory tower in peace.

And before you say it, I know it isn’t my fault. It’s never our fault, even if we saw the red flags. Something inside us wanted to believe in that love and in the best of people and for awhile, it really was real. Or like Cecilie says at the beginning of The Tinder Swindler, “It just sticks with you, that feeling of Prince Charming coming to save you. And I think even though you know it’s not real, it still sticks with you a bit”.

Now, when it comes to forgiveness, there are a lot of people I can forgive for a lot of things, but this, it’s doubtful. I like to think there’s a special place in hell for him.

The first few minutes of the documentary, I immediately saw myself in those women. And I hate that feeling so much, but at the same time, what a relief.

I also see myself in Britney and what she went through with her father. I see myself in Kim K as she works on freeing herself from a nightmare marriage to Kanye. I saw a bit of myself in Gabby Petito, who never had the chance to leave. And if you went through this or are going through this, I hope you see yourself in me, and know that it’s possible to leave and to move on without them. We deserve better.

Karina xo

To check out my books, social media and more, scroll to the menu, where you can also get a reading. And be sure to watch my new short documentary series on the Saturn Return! If you support my work, please consider buying me a coffee.

The Student Diaries will be on streaming platforms later in 2022

This article was originally published on Medium.

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