Imagine being married to your college sweetheart. The two of you have three beautiful kids. You live in a gorgeous home on a sprawling million dollar estate in the suburbs. And then one day, the police call to say that they would like to question your husband about the murder of a man.
As a loyal wife, you tell the police that they have the wrong person and you will not cooperate with them based on their lack of any evidence tying your husband to the murder. You continue taking your kids to school, soccer practice, and life goes on as usual.
Three years later after serious issues with your marriage, you divorce your husband. The police approach you again, and this time you consent to a search of your property. The remains of eleven men are found. You go on Oprah to say, “I had absolutely no idea. There were no signs.”
Sounds crazy, huh? This was the real-life story of Julie Baumeister. Police believe that her husband may be tied to the disappearances of gay men in Indianapolis in the ‘90s. As a teenager, I remember seeing the interview on Oprah and thinking, “How could she not know. There had to be signs!” Years later, the Oprah show interviewed her again. This time, she admitted that there were definitely signs.
Julie had been married to her husband for over 20 years. They met in college and were married a few years later. "We did everything together," she says. "He would push the mower, and I would trim the bushes." Her husband did make several trips to the city, but it was always explained as a work trip. Aside from that, there was a day when her 13 year-old son came to her with a skull. When she followed him to see where he found it, she also saw bones.
When Julie confronted her husband, he explained it away by saying that they were from a medical school skeleton once owned by his dad, a former anesthesiologist. Julie, satisfied with the answer, never pressed the issue any further.
So what makes Julie any different from any of us? Sure, we may not been with a murderer, but we have all ignored the signs that flash in our faces or the actions of a loved one. We have justified the unjustifiable by altering our perspectives, pushing it to the back of our minds, changing the subject, or recreating reality with memories that stress the good side of a person or focus on their potential.
I have a friend who sat in meeting after meeting at AA, before he called himself an alcoholic. He referred to his heavy drinking before going out by calling it "pre-gaming". While he listened to stories from men and women at the meetings, he opted out of being an alcoholic with statements like, “At least I’m not like him” or “I have never done anything like that” or “He drinks way worse than I do!” or "At least I never drank the cooking sherry or mouthwash." The day that one person had his exact same story, childhood, behaviors, and outlook, he could no longer hide from the truth that he too, was an alcoholic.
All of us partake in the “opting out” method. We use twists, lies, and differences in perspectives to place space in between ourselves and the next person. Whether your significant other is abusing you, cheating on you, disrespecting you, or lying to you, ignoring a sign is ignoring a sign, no matter how you spin it.