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Christmas was a few weeks away, and he told me that he would be coming back East to see his family. From there, he would take a short flight to New York and have lunch with me. We talked about our work and our families, about baseball and Bill Clinton and Howard Stern and sex, about his hatred for Los Angeles and how much he wanted a new job. I had previously considered cyber-communication an oxymoron, a fast road to the breakdown of humanity. But, curiously, the Internet—at least in the limited form in which I was using it—felt anything but dehumanizing.

My interaction with PFSlider seemed more authentic than much of what I experienced in the daylight realm of living beings. I was certainly putting more energy into the relationship than I had put into many others. I also was giving Pete attention that was by definition undivided, and relishing the safety of the distance between us by opting to be truthful instead of doling out the white lies that have become the staple of real life. For me, the time on-line with Pete was far superior to the phone.

Through typos and misspellings, he flirted maniacally. I would stay up until 3 A. I was having difficulty recalling what I used to do at night. It was as if he and I lived together in our own quiet space—a space made all the more intimate because of our conscious decision to block everyone else out.

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My phone was tied up for hours at a time. He called not only when he said he would call but unexpectedly, just to say hello.

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He was protected by the shield of the Internet; his guard was not merely down but nonexistent. He let his phone bill grow to towering proportions. He talked about me to his friends, and admitted it. He arranged his holiday schedule around our impending date. He managed to charm me with sports analogies. He was unblinking and unapologetic, all nerviness and balls to the wall. And so PFSlider became my everyday life. All the tangible stuff fell away.

My body did not exist. I had no skin, no hair, no bones. All desire had converted itself into a cerebral current that reached nothing but my frontal lobe. There was no outdoors, no social life, no weather. There was only the computer screen and the phone, my chair, and maybe a glass of water. Most mornings, I would wake up to find a message from PFSlider, composed in Pacific time while I slept in the wee hours.

I fired back a message slapping his hand. This was true but not sincere. I wanted it, all of it. I wanted unfettered affection, soul-mating, true romance. Pete knew nothing of my scattered, juvenile self, and I did my best to keep it that way. The fact that Pete had literally seemed to discover me, as if by turning over a rock, lent us an aura of fate which I actually took half-seriously.

Though skepticism seemed like the obvious choice in this strange situation, I discarded it precisely because it was the obvious choice, because I wanted a more interesting narrative than cynicism would ever allow. I was a true believer in the urban dream: the dream of years of struggle, of getting a break, of making it. To admit to loneliness was to smack the face of progress, to betray the times in which we lived. But PFSlider derailed me. My need to experience an old-fashioned kind of courtship was stronger than I had ever imagined.

And the fact that technology was providing an avenue for such archaic discourse was a paradox that both fascinated and repelled me. Our relationship had an epistolary quality that put our communication closer to the eighteenth century than to the impending millennium. Thanks to the computer, I was involved in a well-defined courtship, a neat little space in which he and I were both safe to express the panic and the fascination of our mutual affection. Our interaction was refreshingly orderly, noble in its vigor, dignified despite its shamelessness.

It was far removed from the randomness of real-life relationships. We had an intimacy that seemed custom-made for our strange, lonely times. It seemed custom-made for me.

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The day of our date, a week before Christmas, was frigid and sunny. Pete was sitting at the bar of the restaurant when I arrived. We shook hands.

Is Virtual Love Real? – Online Dating

For a split second, he leaned toward me with his chin, as if to kiss me. He was shorter than I had pictured, though he was not short. He struck me as clean-cut. He had very nice hands. He wore a very nice shirt. We were seated at a very nice table. He talked, and I heard nothing he said. I stared at his profile and tried to figure out whether I liked him.

He seemed to be saying nothing in particular, but he went on forever. Later, we went to the Museum of Natural History and watched a science film about storm chasers. We walked around looking for the dinosaurs, and he talked so much that I wanted to cry. I felt as if my brain had been stuffed with cotton. Then, for some reason, I invited him back to my apartment. I gave him a few beers and finally let him kiss me on the lumpy futon in my bedroom. Inviting a Monkey to Tea. Teenage couples begin texting each other intimately and voraciously often before they are even friends, texting things to each other that they would never ever say in person.

Having a real life relationship with your boyfriend is no longer a prerequisite for having a virtual relationship with him. It is not uncommon for a girl to have a boyfriend whom she never actually talks to in person but spends most of her day texting with. On their own, texting relationships might not seem like a big deal, but the problem that they create is indeed a big deal.

Virtual relationships stunt real relationships and the skills they require. The pseudo intimacy of the texting relationship preempts real intimacy, which then creates a divide that is difficult to cross. The virtual romance happens at a pace and rhythm and with a hipness and ease that has little to do with real life romance or, for that matter, the emotional maturity of teenagers. And furthermore, the closeness that has transpired over text becomes imprisoning; what has been experienced in the device is not appropriate to the real-life relationship, which then becomes reason to avoid one other in actual life.

Adult relationships are also getting caught in the chasm between virtual and actual reality.

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  • They share their lives, as well, without the discomfort or effort that a phone call or in person exchange might require. In some friendships, even those that are long-term, texting allows for a creative, exciting and newfound conversational dance, a verve that is often not possible in the face to face familiarity. So too, texting feels easier and less stressful than real life relating; the conversation pauses or ends when we want it to and can happen in bite size, manageable chunks, with no awkward silences. Texting relationships feel in our control while real relationships often don't; we can be who we want in text relationships but not always in real ones.

    I wonder, will the gap between our virtual and real life relationships grow so wide that we will opt to give up real life relationships altogether. With the help of procreation technology, will future generations consider romance and courtship to be activities that happen entirely inside their devices? We integrate interactions in which we share a physical space differently than we do those that happen in our phone; we absorb them at a deeper and more cellular level.

    Our real life relationships change us in ways that our virtual relationships do not. I hope that future generations will not forego real relationships just because their virtual relationships may feel sexier, easier, cooler, and, in the short term, more pleasurable. Virtual relationships have some pluses. One doesn't need their parent's permission to have a text relationship. One does not have to introduce their virtual date to their parents. One doesn't have to tell anyone about their virtual friend, or they can tell everyone.

    Virtual relationships may be intense, but they also can be downgraded easily by slow and short responses, or blocked if things get weird. Virtual relationships may be private, or not so private. The advantage is that those in them are able to have a sense of control. What we do know is that we are never alone with Facebook on our phones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc It's comforting, and we all lean on it a bit. But to what end? Too many times, I hear my clients rant and rave about how he was glued to his phone all night, or that she is constantly posting pictures of the two of us on Facebook.

    Maybe it's a healthy outlet.

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    There is a point at which I have to stop looking because I can feel my productivity and attention waning. There's no easy way to stop Facebook now, only our approach to it.

    Had Enough Therapy?: Anatomy of a Virtual Love Affair

    My fear is that, for some of my clients, they will reflect on a life that was not lived by them, but rather someone else, somewhere else. I do not tell my clients to get off of Facebook, or even use it less. It's too powerful a force for me to stop and perhaps too difficult a request. Subtlety, we acknowledge there is more out there Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. At dawn, you quietly retreat to another room.

    You can hardly control this impulse. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

    Virtual Love Affair (Live)- Original song by Dianne Francisco

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