Here’s Why You Should Stop, and It’s Not What You Think.
As women in our society, we are taught that the love of a good woman can change a man. We are also taught to want what we can’t have. From childhood, movies like Beauty and the Beast groom us to believe the love of a good woman can set a troubled man free from his emotional torment.
Women are expected and encouraged to do more than their share of emotional labor in relationships, so it’s not surprising that so many women would attempt to willingly enter into one-sided relationships with convicted murderers.
In a world full of killers that look like Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, even someone with average looks like Ted Bundy is elevated to handsome status. Chris Watts is genuinely, conventionally handsome, and he’s got the shirtless prison beefcake photos to prove it. So yes, women are attracted to him. Maybe you’re one of them.
If you’re reading this, you already know the details of Chris Watts’s crimes. There’s no need to rehash them here. Watts gave a detailed confession, so there’s also no need to discuss whether or not he’s innocent.
This conversation begins here and now and not in the past, because none of us can change anything that’s already happened. Watts is behind bars, and he’s not getting out—ever. Any woman who becomes Watts’s love interest will never know what it’s like to have an equal partner they can build a life with, and any marriage that results from the relationship will never be consummated. Despite this, Watts is being inundated with love letters behind bars.
If you think you’re going to save Chris Watts, your efforts will come at a tremendous price. You should save your time and your stamps, but not because he’s not worth it. You should save your monetary and emotional resources for yourself because you are worth it.
Before you send that love letter to Waupun Correctional Institution, read this article. Once you’ve explored the real reasons behind why you’re drawn to Watts, you may just change your mind.
What is Unhealthy Helping?
If you’re trying to help Chris Watts, either by giving him emotional support, by claiming he is innocent, by giving him money, or by performing tasks for him, you are engaging in unhealthy helping.
Signs of Unhealthy Helping
Is your helping…
- Enabling someone with an addiction?
- Allowing someone to put off getting mental health help?
- Preventing someone from developing life or work skills?
- Causing you to put another’s needs before your own?
- Allowing someone to be irresponsible?
- Requiring you to compromise your morals or integrity?
- Causing you to spend money you don’t have to spare?
- Allowing someone to get away with bad behavior?
- Dependent upon your ability to control someone else’s behavior?
- Causing the person you’re helping to resent you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s time to reassess the way you’re helping others. Not only are you not actually being helpful, you are actively harming yourself in the process.
How Unhealthy Helping Begins
If you’re an unhealthy helper, chances are it’s a habit you picked up during your childhood. From birth, children are completely dependent upon their parents for their every need. Whether you had a happy home or an unhappy one, when you are a child you have no choice but to accept the treatment you receive from your parents. In fact, your survival depends on it.
For children who are victims of abuse, normalizing your experience is a survival skill. Some of these children may disassociate from their feelings, or they may sink into the murky waters of deep, dark denial. Others will become helpers who end up “managing” their parents to try to control their home environment so they can stay emotionally and physically safe.
If you’re from a nurturing environment and your parents can be trusted to protect you, you’ll most likely grow up expecting that from your partners as well. However, if you aren’t from a nurturing environment, chances are you had to learn to protect yourself and to protect others.
You may also have internalized the message that you are “bad,” and thus do not deserve to be protected from bad people. If you feel that you are bad inside, you won’t protect yourself from who you perceive to be other bad people. You may even wrongly perceive that you are the same in some sense. You would never relate to strangling a pregnant woman and smothering two toddlers, but somehow, you see yourself as relating to a man who did just that.
If your parent neglected or abandoned you during childhood, you may have convinced yourself that your behavior was the key to getting them to return and stay with you. When this happens, we are set-up to try to make others happy so they will stay with us and love us in our adulthoods. Helping others becomes a coping strategy and a means to avoid loneliness, and this compels us to put others’ needs first.
As an unhealthy helper, you will inevitably fail to completely take care of a dependent adult’s needs. This may even anger them because they feel entitled to your help, rather than being grateful for it. When that happens, it can trigger the same sense of panic you felt when you were abandoned as a child.
In essence, you probably aren’t trying to help Chris Watts because he actually needs the help; you are doing it because you need to be needed.
One-sided giving and taking during childhood grooms you for future relationships that replicate this unhealthy dynamic. It leaves you desperate to please and without the normal expectation of a give and take relationship. You are prepared to take on a relationship in which you have to do all the work, and because of this, you are ideal targets for convicts who want to exploit you.
When women reach out to men behind bars, you’re projecting your own needs and experiences onto these men and trying to help them the way you wish others had helped you. As unbelievable as it may be to many critics of the women who wrote to Chris Watts, you may be reaching out to a murderer specifically because you are a good person.
Why Smart Women Love Killers
If you think incarcerated murderers are targeting women they believe to be stupid, think again. If you were dependent on someone on the outside to take care of your needs, you’d want that person to be capable, wouldn’t you? A woman who has accomplished a lot for herself is also going to be someone who can accomplish plenty on his behalf, and he knows it.
Women who are writing to Chris Watts aren’t doing it because they’re dumb. They’re doing it because they feel emotionally rewarded by receiving his attention and approval.
If you’re a smart, successful woman who is writing to convicts or considering it, you are not alone. There are plenty of successful women also wrote to cold-blooded killers—and sometimes ended up married to them.
Before she married the “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, Doreen Lioy had a successful career as an editor of Tiger Beat magazine. In an interview, actor John Stamos of Full House fame admitted Lioy was responsible for his first appearance in the magazine as a teen heartthrob.
Of Lioy, Stamos said, “She was sort of like a sister and became best friends with my mother — she was a very lonely woman — [and] spent all the holidays with us.”
As a result of her prison marriage, Lioy’s family disowned her, or at least they pretended to after not wanting to be associated with her. The rest of society did as well, and she ended up communicating with others largely on message boards designed for the families of the incarcerated before dropping out of sight after DNA connected Ramirez to a child murder that took place in San Francisco before his infamous killing spree.
Lioy wasn’t stupid, she wasn’t crazy, and she wasn’t a bad person. She was lonely and seeking a deeper connection. One she was unable to find through more conventional means. She didn’t find it through being the wife of Ramirez, either. Instead, the experience she had as Mrs. Night Stalker was quite the opposite. Lioy described the time she spent married to a serial killer as a “lonely lifestyle.”
The Proof Is in the Letters
The evidence that the women who have been sending love letters to Chris Watts are doing so because they’re trying to meet their own needs is present within the letters themselves. It’s literally written all over them.
In one letter, a woman mentioned to Watts that she’s the Executive Assistant to a CEO. She followed that statement with, “It’s the strangest thing writing to someone who up until this point didn’t even know you existed!”
Another letter began, “For days I’ve had an overwhelming feeling to write to you. We obviously don’t know each other…” The letter goes on to say, “You honestly have one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know you, yet I don’t want you to feel alone.”
As the woman who wrote the letter stated herself more than once, she doesn’t know him. She specified that she had seen the news reports and did not proclaim his innocence like some other letter writers did. Instead, she admitted she didn’t know anything about him at all except that he’d slaughtered his family.
In other words, that “overwhelming feeling” she was experiencing had nothing to do with him. It was within herself, and by acting on it she made herself vulnerable to someone who has already demonstrated what he does to women in that situation. It’s like dating a cheater and thinking he’s not going to cheat on you, or dating a deadbeat dad and then being surprised when he dumps your kids.
Often women who pursue incarcerated killers do so because it feels safe and gives them an unusually high measure of control in the relationship. Being with Chris Watts or another convict means you’ll never have to worry about where he is or whether or not he’s cheating. More than that, he’ll be dependent on you for every single need that isn’t taken care of by the corrections system. He’ll be helpless without you, so he won’t leave. At least, that’s how it seems at first.
Even though convicts are locked up and can’t leave, they can still very much leave you. Incarcerated murderers can and do cheat, too, even if just emotionally. The relationship may feel safe because of the situation, but the truth is you will experience the same problems you would with a non-captive partner.
Whether they’re incarcerated or not, and regardless of what they say, our potential romantic partners show us who they are through their actions. Chris Watts, cheaters, abusers, and all other forms of deadbeats have already shown us who they are. When we see something else, it’s because we’re projecting our own needs onto another person.
If the man you’re projecting onto is handsome, it’s that much easier to delude yourself into thinking he needs you. Believe me, I understand, because I’ve done it too.
What Healthy Helping Looks Like
There is nothing wrong with helping others, and being helpful is a positive trait, but only if you’re helping from an emotionally healthy place. Healthy helping benefits people who are ready to help themselves, and it will also help you and the rest of society. Helping someone in a way that empowers them can be emotionally satisfying for everyone involved without opening anyone up to the risk of exploitation.
How can you tell if someone is ready for and deserves your assistance? Those who will genuinely benefit from your help are in positions where short-term, limited aid can help them produce long-term, positive results. This does not describe someone who is in prison for life without the possibility of parole.
Healthy helping has nothing to do with “fixing” someone else. If you enter into a relationship with the intention of helping or fixing a man who hasn’t asked you to, and you’re willing to drain your own resources to be there for him, chances are it’s coming from an unhealthy place.
It goes without saying that Watts’s wife and daughters deserved better treatment than they got from him. His mistress also deserved better. She was lied to and manipulated as well when Watts tricked her into a relationship with him by claiming to be separated when he was still very much married and sleeping with his wife.
This may be an extreme and shocking case, but the women who are sending these letters to Watts are often doing so for common, relatable reasons. How many of us settle for who we believe will love us instead of who deserves to? How often do we enter into relationships that are doomed from the start because we’re afraid to be alone, or afraid to take a chance on one that might succeed?
Too many women settle for cheaters, commitment-phobes, jerks, deadbeats, abusers, and partners who are otherwise okay but simply aren’t right for us.
There is a better way to get the love you need, because Watts cares as much about you as he did about the other women in his life. Even if it feels like true love, trust me, it’s not. The only way to find the love you need is to give it to yourself. Treat it like the scarce resource it is. Value it. Don’t just give it away, especially not to someone who would kill you to get what he wants if he could.
There are worse things than being alone. The way you will feel after he’s used you up and thrown you aside is one of them.