I Broke Up with My Fiancé Over Election Conspiracy Theories
While this woman could put up with some degree of differences, too much got to be too much. Plus: What to do if you have a loved one caught up in a conspiracy theory.
On January 6th, 2021, I watched the video footage of the storming of the Capitol building and along with millions of other Americans, I was horrified by what I saw. My ex-boyfriend Jordan was also horrified but for different reasons: He thinks the attack on the Capitol was part of an elaborate plot surrounding the “stolen” election and staged by Antifa so that the “deep state”—the shadowy people who run the world behind the scenes—can crack down on us and control us with even more restrictions. “It’s all part of some plan…” he told me. (Doomscrolling may have been part of the problem.)
That wasn’t the first time I’d heard those chilling words from him.
I thought he was the man I was going to marry
Through our five years of dating, Jordan and I had many things we didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye about but we always managed to work through our disagreements in a respectful way—it’s one of the things I loved about our relationship. When we began to talk about marriage, I thought our open communication would help us.
That all changed in 2018 when he came across some flat earth conspiracy videos online. (This conspiracy is exactly what it sounds like—some people believe the earth is not round.) At first, he started reading them out of curiosity and because he thought they were funny but over time he got sucked in and really started to believe them. I was shocked but as long as he didn’t try to push it on me, I tried to move forward with building a future with the man I loved.
The compromise didn’t last long and it quickly became a sore spot in our relationship. He would become very angry when I would tell him I didn’t want to hear anything about his conspiracy theories. He wanted me to at least hear him out but I would not even entertain those silly ideas.
The more I refused to talk about it, the more he pushed it
Over and over, Jordan would say things like “You are such a smart person, how can you be blind to this truth?” or “I can’t believe someone as smart as yourself is so brainwashed that they can’t see the truth that the earth is flat.” It would have almost been funny if he weren’t so serious about it.
It all came to a head when I went to visit my family for Thanksgiving. After flying home I was barraged with nasty texts from him asking if I saw the curve of the earth while I was on the plane and then saying, no of course not because the earth is flat. The tone felt very aggressive and it scared me. It almost felt like he was possessed and his insistence on this conspiracy theory was unlike anything I’d experienced with him before. I told him that if he couldn’t respect my boundary on this issue then it was over between us. (This person broke up with their best friend over the Black Lives Matter protests.)
But I was still in love with him
Even though we technically broke up then, I was still deeply in love with him. Being single wasn’t easy after five years of a relationship. I tried going on all the dating apps and was unable to find a new relationship. I was terribly lonely and wondered if I’d been wrong to end an otherwise wonderful relationship over a conspiracy theory.
So when Jordan reached out a year later in December of 2019, I decided to listen. He was trying really hard to win me back and I told him again that I could live with the flat earth stuff as long as he just stopped trying to convince me. He agreed and things were going well as we rekindled our relationship.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, it opened the floodgates of conspiracy theories. What had once just been a strange belief in flat-earth theory became an obsession with all kinds of new conspiracy theories. Among other things, he was convinced the coronavirus wasn’t real and that it was a trick used by the “deep state” elites to control us.
What was at first just fringe theories became deeply personal. I became very sick in March 2020 and had a hard time breathing but when I wanted to go to a drive-through COVID testing site he became incredibly verbally abusive. I was terrified that I had gotten the virus and instead of comforting and supporting me, he was telling me that my symptoms were fake. He told me that I wasn’t really sick and our government invented it to control us and shut down society.
That was too much and I couldn’t deal with it. I broke up with him again and moved out of the city so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back to him. I felt like I had to do it to protect my own safety, not to mention sanity. (Make sure you aren’t falling for these COVID-19 conspiracy theories.)
The presidential election conspiracies pushed him over the edge
We remained in contact, however, and I watched him deteriorate further into madness, believing in even more insane conspiracies. He believed that Antifa was behind the summer Black Lives Matter protests. He thought that the 2020 presidential election was a fraud and was manipulated and ultimately stolen. He hated Joe Biden and was convinced he wasn’t the real president-elect.
Then the Capitol attack happened and instead of seeing how crazy this all had gotten, he was convinced that this was the evidence that all those conspiracy theories were correct! Not only that but he texted me about them because he thought that now I would finally be able to see the “truth” and understand that he had been right this whole time. When I told him I didn’t see it that way at all he became very hostile and told me that I’ve been “brainwashed” by my college education.
What happens next?
I wasn’t equipped to deal with that level of delusion or mental illness and I knew I had to walk away for good. I still hope that he can recover from this but our relationship is over—for good. It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and I was absolutely heartbroken. I feel overwhelmed with grief. I feel like Jordan died in a way and it was these conspiracy theories that killed him. The handsome, funny, intelligent man I first started dating in 2013, the one who used to roll his eyes when friends brought up aliens, is gone. Now he’s the one everyone thinks is crazy.
I still very much love and care for him but every day, I become more and more worried for him. Not only has he lost me but he’s lost most of his friends as well due to his inability to talk about anything else. He is very isolated. We haven’t spoken since before President Biden’s inauguration but now that he’s alone with just his thoughts and the Internet, I can’t help but be terrified about where these conspiracies will lead him next.
What the experts say to do if you have a loved one consumed with conspiracy theories
Reader’s Digest spoke with Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma and relationships at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City to learn more about the issue.
Conspiracy theories fill some very important needs in some people’s lives, Romanoff says. In a world that can appear nonsensical and cruel, conspiracy theories impart meaning to seemingly random tragic events and give believers a feeling of control. They also give them a feeling of being special or chosen, by imparting “secret” information, and give them a sense of purpose by giving them an important task to expose the truth and save others. Lastly, they can give lonely people a sense of community and belonging.
“These drives are so powerful that people are willing to bend reality and facts,” she says. “They often conflate reality as it is with the fantasy they want it to be.”
Anyone can fall for a conspiracy theory but some people are more vulnerable to these beliefs than others, Romanoff says. This includes people who have experienced childhood trauma, have narcissistic tendencies, suffer from paranoia, are isolated or ostracized from society, and older adults. “Baby Boomers seem to be particularly drawn to conspiracy theories as a way to help navigate life’s changes and transitions as they get older,” she says.
While conspiracy theories may seem harmless or even funny at first, they come at a real cost, Romanoff says. “Ultimately they increase feelings of powerlessness and become counterproductive,” she says. They can lead to secondary problems like loss of relationships, further isolation, depression and anxiety, mental illness, lack of self-care, poor health, and financial problems, she adds.
If you have a loved one who has become fixated on a conspiracy theory, you should not ignore it as these ideas become more entrenched over time. Start the discussion by staying calm and speak from a place of love, she says. Don’t dismiss their ideas but do encourage critical thinking by exposing them to alternate points of view in a non-confrontational way. Ask them questions and answer their questions honestly. End the conversation if it gets heated but keep the discussion open for the future. Let them know that you are there if they want to talk.
However, you need to prioritize your own mental health so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to step away. It’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to change anyone’s mind and you should not feel guilty if they aren’t responsive.
If you feel your loved one is a danger to themselves or to others, take it seriously and alert authorities right away.
- Sabrina Romanoff, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma and relationships at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City
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