Virtual Relationships- Cautionary Tales From The Front Lines

I’m afraid I’ve gotten behind in my blogging, and have missed writing about some interesting news stories and studies of interest to you daters out there. Now that singles clubs, events for singles and singles sites are gearing up for the busy fall season, it seems a good time to review some “items of interest” that could be useful as you go online- or get out and mingle, make that first contact and ponder your next move.

Let’s begin with a little dose of reality regarding the limits of online meeting and dating. We all know the many benefits- but if you aren’t a very seasoned and savvy online dater yet, here’s your chance to brush up on the potential dark side of cyber love.

First we have the incredible story of Thomas Montgomery- a stand-up, married father of two who decided one day to re-invent himself online. He “became’ an 18 year old marine named Thomas who began a cyber romance with an “18 year old girl named Jessica.” They corresponded for a long time, sending pictures of their young selves and love letters. Their “relationship” grew until they talked of marriage and he proposed. Thomas actually created a third identity- that of Tommy’s father, who emailed and corresponded with Jessica when Tommy could not (due to being in Iraq). Thomas became obsessed and talked about Jessica at work, telling people he was leaving his wife (Cindy) for her. Cindy found out and confronted him, but he continued with Jessica and Cindy finally wrote to her, giving her the whole story.

It didn’t end there however. Jessica contacted a young man named Brian-who worked with Thomas and who frequented the website they had met on. She wanted to know the truth, and Brain was able to give her the whole story. Brian then began an online relationship with Jessica, and made fun of Thomas at work- telling everyone about what had happened. Interestingly, Jessica and Thomas continued an on-again, off-again relationship for some time, as Jessica continued growing closer to Brian. At some point, Thomas became enraged, shot and killed Brian at work one evening and went to prison- losing his marriage and family. Even stranger, “Jessica” turned out to be a 43 year old woman named Mary, Who masqueraded as her daughter Jessica.

Moral of this one, folks- Don’t believe anything you are told by someone online. Assume it isn’t true until you have the chance to actually meet and experience this person- and compare what you were told to what you are seeing. This story is stranger than fiction- but it happened.

Then there’s the one about the “Second-Life” couple. If you are one of the few people who are not familiar with second life- it is a virtual world where people can buy land, own businesses, develop communities, date, get married, divorced, you name it. What is astonishing is how many people are spending their time and real money on this fantasy life- where their “avatar’ gets to be whoever they want to be.

Many relationships have formed and continue on second life, and this story deals with one of them- that of Ric Hoogestraat, a 53 year old married man from Arizona, who meets, develops a virtual relationship with, and marries- Janet Speilman, a 38 year old Canadian woman. Ric’s wife Susan is well aware of the “relationship”, and when interviewed, discussed how difficult it was for her to see her husband spending so much time online, talking to and making “virtual love” with Janet. Their relationship has even crossed over into real time, when Ric needed surgery last spring and Janet spent real money buying him a virtual island to cheer him up.

It seems that virtual relationships are becoming more and more common and that the people who engage in them are reporting how satisfying they can be. The danger I see in all of this is that technology has taken the place of face to face relating. It is easier in that we don’t have to deal with uncomfortable feelings and issues, if we don’t want to. If our real relationships are letting us down, we can go online and spend hours with a fantasy person (people), who always understand us, never let us down and expect nothing from us. Over time, one’s “second life” can become the one in which they spend their majority of time and energy. This addiction is becoming more common as virtual relating has changed the whole fabric of who, what, when, where and how we socialize and relate to others.

I don’t know about you, but an intimate walk on a solitary beach at dusk or dawn or an evening under the stars, talking intimately and physically touching another human being will always beat out sitting at my computer- sending out messages in cyberspace.

The last piece worth mentioning here is the story published in the Houston Chronicle, where they quoted the statistic that one in three women who met partners through online dating sites has sex with them on the first date. As hard to believe as this is, it gets better. It was also reported that 75 percent of these women didn’t use condoms. These statistics came from Paige Padgett, Ph.D., of The University of Texas School of Public Health, who conducted an online survey of 740 women who placed personal ads on the Internet seeking men. According to Padgett, “otherwise cautious women may engage in unprotected sex because they are lulled into a sense of ‘virtual intimacy.’ By the time the couples meet face-to-face, they have exchanged much information about their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, as well as their sexual preferences. Padgett also stated that “The high level of disclosure and frequency of e-mail exchanges with men provides women with at least a virtual intimacy—a sense of a relationship that may or may not exist in reality but may encourage sexual intimacy at a faster rate than what would develop through conventional dating methods.”

If you recognize yourself in any of this, now is a great time to step back and do an inventory of how you are feeling about your past dating experiences, if they were positive or negative- and how you could have a healthier and more successful dating life- which of course is one that ends in a long-term and satisfying relationship.

Hopefully, these will give you something to reflect on as you begin to warm up for a busy (and productive?) dating season.

Want to read all about them? Go to:

Wired magazine

WSJ

Houston

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