John Meehan told Debra Newell he would be the best thing that would ever happen to her.
He ended up being the worst.
The new podcast Dirty John produced by the Los Angeles Times tells a story of an abusive relationship and how a serial offender managed to manipulate and coerce multiple smart, accomplished and wealthy women.
But this is not like the story we are used to.
Meehan is 55 years old, six-foot tall, handsome and charismatic, presenting as an anaesthetist, rarely dressed in anything but his scrubs.
Listen: Last week on Mamamia Out Loud, I recommended Dirty John, the podcast that everyone’s talking about. (Post continues…)
Newell is 59, a mother of four, and owner of an extremely successful interior-design business.
The narrative of abuse does not start with Meehan’s fiery temper, or checking his partner’s phone in the middle of the night. It does not begin with degradation or cruelty or control.
It begins with what looks a lot like kindness.
Meehan was – in Newell’s words – “perfect”.
On their first date, he opened the door for her and placed her napkin gently on her lap. He had a warm smile – the kind that made people trust him. Meehan was fascinated by Newell, asking question after question about her life.
“The intensity of the attention was flattering,” Newell says. He would constantly tell her how beautiful she was and how lucky he was to have her.
As the weeks rolled on, he spoiled his new girlfriend. Every morning, he bought her coffee. He did the grocery shopping. He did the dry cleaning. He took the cars for maintenance. He insisted on carrying her purse. He doted on her in a way she had never before experienced.
Meehan was everything Newell had ever wanted.
It was date two or three when Meehan told Newell he loved her, and he could not wait to marry her.
Because that’s what happens when you fall in love – we’re told. You just know. It’s why we use the analogy of ‘falling’ – you can’t control it, you can’t stop halfway. Everyone thinks you’ve gone mad. Your heart beats hard out of your chest. It’s moving fast, but that’s because of the force of the passion.
“Follow your heart,” goes the cliche.
All you have to do is listen to the radio, read a novel or watch a Disney movie and you will be told in no uncertain terms that love is immediate, swift and overpowering.
But that is not at all what love looks like. In fact, for Newell, it could have been the biggest warning sign of all.