We’ve all seen films about husbands gone bad. Julia Roberts was menaced by Patrick Bergin in Sleeping with the Enemy and Jennifer Lopez was hunted by Billy Campbell in Enough. But when the story is true, it becomes more than entertainment, it becomes a warning.
Dirty John is a cautionary tale about being blinded by love enough to overlook red flags and accept the excuses of someone you desperately want to trust.
The Set Up
When Debra meets John online she has already been married and divorced four times. Adding to the sorrow of four failed marriages, Debra’s sister Cindi, had been murdered by her estranged husband years earlier. One might think Debra would be cautious in the dating world given her history. But she appears to be a hopeless romantic, a woman with a successful career and loving children who wants a loving spouse to match.
Debra’s children are suspicious of John early on. Her daughter Veronica, (Vinyl’s Juno Temple) is a pit bull in the body of a teacup poodle, who spearheads an investigation into John’s background. Despite evidence presented by Veronica, Terra (Ozarks’s Julia Garner) and Toby (Keven Zegers, Fear the Walking Dead), Debra longs to trust John.
Through flashbacks we see John has a long history of lying, cheating, and intimidating to get what he wants. Not only does he romance women for money, he has a history of violence, drug addiction, and fraud. Additionally, John had served prison time in two different states. John is not just a swindler, he is also cruel and vindictive.
As Seen on TV
In the Bravo series Dirty John, flashbacks provide backstory we don’t get in the podcast. Unfortunately the flashbacks slow the pace of a story that should race to its climax as the situation gets increasingly terrifying for Debra and her children. People familiar with the podcast will notice some names and details have been changed for the series, some for privacy and others to enhance the drama for television.
In addition to the Bravo series, the story of John Meehan will be told in a Dirty John, the Dirty Truth aired on Oxygen last night.
A Personal Connection
John Meehan was obviously a dangerous person, but sometimes danger is more subtle. This year marks the 20th anniversary of my divorce from my abuser. Although I was never beaten, my ex was a liar, thief, pornography addict, and master manipulator. Over the course of our 19 month marriage, my ex was rarely employed, emptied our bank account without my knowledge, accumulated debt in my name, and hid disturbing pictures in our home. I knew I needed to get out. My desire to leave prompted his one act of violence that luckily ended with only a broken lamp. His emotional and financial abuse crushed my self esteem and left me thousands of dollars in debt.
If you are in a toxic relationship, please seek help. If you are unsure what constitutes abuse, talk to a family member, friend, counselor, physician, or law enforcement. The first step is the hardest. You don’t have to be punched to be abused. Emotional, financial, sexual and physical abuse in marriage are all unacceptable.
Here is a practical list and links to resources for getting out of an abusive situation.