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Dating Maze #243 -  E-Friend Fiasco
Dating Advice 243

Dating Maze #243 - E-Friend Fiasco

When her marriage went dry, she went looking online. And then the trouble really started.

by
Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 32-year-old woman with a big problem. I met a man online and we developed a friendship over the Internet. He was in his 60s, so I felt safe talking to him. He spoke of his family -- he said he was married with three older children, and even grandchildren. I am also married and have three children, and my husband lives in another country.

We became friends online, and eventually we met a few times in person. Deep down I was really hoping this could develop into something serious. Then, I went to work for the same company that he works for -- and he suddenly stopped talking to me. He said it was affecting his marriage and had to stop.

Now I am not able to get him out of my mind. I feel so lonely and I am totally lost. How do I pull out of this?

Allison

Dear Allison ,

Even though yours isn't a question about dating, many single men and women have experiences with on-line relationships, and that's why we've included your letter in our column.

But before we even address the issue of online relationships, we have to deal with the infidelity of your situation. It is morally wrong for a married person to get involved in a relationship outside the marriage. Unfortunately, many people think that as long as things don't "get physical," it's somehow okay to explore outside a marriage. But an emotional relationship is also wrong, dangerous and ill-advised.

Particularly with the Internet, people often start off innocently enough, because they feel there is a built-in barrier. But that's an illusion. You get emotionally involved, and you've crossed the line, bringing a destructive element into your marriage. Our strong advice: Don't start.

* * *

Having said all that, let's try to examine your situation in the general context of online encounters. It seems to us that your friendship with the man you met online evolved because you were lonely and needed to feel emotionally close to someone. That's the way a number of Internet friendships, as well as romances, begin. The privacy of e-mail conversations and the anonymity of a user name allows people to search for online companionship, even though in the "real world" they would never consider becoming involved with a complete stranger. The online correspondence can develop in depth, much the same way as an actual friendship gradually develops, as the people involved slowly open up to each other and share their experiences, inner thoughts, and feelings. Just like in "real life," the e-friends can feel deeply connected to each other.

The Internet provides a "safe" venue for these friendships to flourish. We use the word "safe" in quotes because there are actually many dangers lurking in relationships that develop this way. Some of those dangers include not knowing if an e-friend is telling the truth about himself, or has an ulterior motive behind the correspondence, such as using the correspondence as a "research project," or setting the other person up for a scam.

The dangers exist even if both people participating in the e-correspondence are honest and well-intentioned. For example, sometimes, after an e-friendship progresses, one of the parties involved wants to meet, but the other either will not or cannot do so. Perhaps he has trouble relating to others interpersonally, can't function well in the "real world," or is afraid to put a face on the person who has revealed innermost thoughts and feelings. (And this is assuming that he's an honest person who hasn't created a virtual identity for himself.) His e-friend, who isn't content to maintain an entirely virtual friendship, becomes frustrated.

Your e-friendship exemplifies another danger of an Internet friendship -- it can start as a way for two lonely people to have someone to talk to, evolve into something deeper, and then cause complications as it spills over into the "real world."

Another danger is that e-friends can become so dependent on their virtual relationship that their real-time relationships suffer. They may spend more time, or develop a closer emotional connection with their e-friend than they do with the people they interact with on a daily basis, such as spouses, siblings, friends, or relatives. They put so much emotional energy into their online friendship that there isn't much left over for interacting with other people. They may feel they don't have to nurture their relationship with their husband or wife, or put a concerted effort into resolving the problems or conflicts that are always present in day to day life, because they can escape to the cocoon of an e-friendship over which they have some degree of control. Websites such as Second Life exacerbate this problem immensely, by giving people an easy framework for playing out a fantasy life.

So, how do you deal with what you're feeling right now? We'd like to suggest that you first deal with coming to terms with the loss of this friendship, and then on creating a more fulfilling personal life for yourself.

There is no set pattern or time limit on how the grieving process progresses, or how long it lasts -- some people can emerge from their grief in a few weeks, while others take months, or even much longer. However, there are ways to help it along so that you don't remain stuck in it far longer than you should. One way is to start following a "normal" routine: getting up on time in the morning, grooming yourself and getting dressed, helping your children get off to school and taking care of the younger ones, going to work or taking care of your responsibilities at home, and finding some sort of outlet for your anxiety, such as exercising, being creative in some way, or pursuing a hobby. (We suggest that for the time being, that outlet not be Internet-related). Having a routine helps keep you from wallowing in self-pity and allows your unconscious to process many of your emotions and thoughts.

If this advice doesn't help, we suggest that you try following the ideas of a self-help book, or working with a grief counselor.

* * *

While the routine we've suggested will give you a framework to work through your grief, we think it's also a good idea to deal with the reasons you looked for companionship over the Internet and were vulnerable to becoming so invested in a doomed e-relationship. You've told us that you're lonely, and you long to be emotionally connected to someone.

Naturally, the first question to ask is why you were willing to get involved in something that would further distance you from your husband. You have not given us enough information about your relationship for us to know if you once had a close relationship, and if that closeness has deteriorated because he is not home frequently, or for other reasons. But we think the starting point in repairing your emotional life is to try to strengthen your emotional connection with your husband.

This is indeed possible. When a husband and wife both want to improve their emotional connection, they can learn how to regain the emotional closeness they once had, even when one of the partners lives a distance away and returns home periodically.

Perhaps you and your husband are so estranged that both of you do not want to try to connect emotionally. Even if that's the case, you can nevertheless strive to have a good "working" marriage -- one in which you treat each other with respect and consideration, and contribute in your own ways to each other's well-being and the welfare of your family. While a husband and wife in a working marriage don't enjoy the strong emotional connection that many of us want to have, the fact is that historically, marriages were often like this, and that even in the 21st century there are many couples who are content with this kind of marriage, and consider their relationship to be successful. Marriage counseling or therapy can help a husband and wife achieve and maintain a working relationship with each other.

If you and your husband are able to have a working marriage, there will still be times that you long to have an emotional connection with another person. We encourage you to find constructive relationships that will provide you with the friendship and emotional connection you aren't receiving in your marriage. One can be the loving relationship you have with your children. However, it isn't a good idea to focus all of your emotional energy on your children. It's also important for you to develop one or two close adult friendships, such as with a female friend or a relative. We also suggest channeling some of your energy to charity work, such as a community service project, and to a creative outlet or hobby, which will help you feel purposeful and fulfilled.

We hope these suggestions are helpful, and we wish you all the best.

Rosie & Sherry

Published: November 3, 2007


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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Anonymous, December 18, 2012 5:45 PM

Maybe she just he just realized that he doesn't want a relationship with someone who is an officemate. Sometimes men think that in a relationship, there must be challenge, and not seeing each other everyday making something to miss is part of it. or maybe he realized that it will no longer work thats why he stopped talking to you as his way of ending the relationship you had. its his decision anyway, and what you need to do is to move on and find another, its his lost not yours..if you are still interested in meeting new people online, i have known a Jewish dating site that can try and see if your luck still works and for that time maybe it will be yours for sure. just reply to my comment if you like.

(7) Anonymous, February 20, 2008 5:56 PM

I understand how hard this is for you ...

My four-month boyfriend, 50, Jewish and never married, told me that he had waited his whole life for me, that I am the first woman he ever believed he could marry, that he wanted to marry me, and that everything in his life was better because he had met me. Though he was attentive and loving when we were alone together, he flirted and/or stared at women every time we were out in public. He also has a hobby taking "glamour" photos ... which are often of young women, as young as 16 with parental permission (he says), posing in the nude. I guess it was my own fault to ask if he found this exciting. He admitted he does. I told him I didn't know if I could live with this kind of situation. I want to share my life with a soul mate and for us to be elevated in spirit together. He told me that sometimes he could accept that he had done something but often he thought I was making it up. We saw two therapists, and both said he had a problem. When I would not admit that my jealousy and insecurity were also a huge problem (I DID acknowledge that I'm very insecure about his flirting, staring, and participating in the glamour photography.), he broke up with me. I miss him terribly despite the fact that these behaviors frighten me. Boundaries get very fuzzy, I think, when we veer too far from what is "normal" ... and I do realize that normal looks different to different people. Still, like Rosie and Sherry say, you have put yourself in a vulnerable situation. I did, too ... for many more reasons than I can explain here. Please take care of yourself. I appreciate their advice to maintain a routine, etc. It's been three weeks for me, and I still feel sad nearly every day and miss the man I love, but I know I deserve more, and I'm taking my stand. Please do, too!

(6) DonnaKaren, November 26, 2007 6:10 PM

Bad Idea

Not only is it a bad idea to seek out emotional companionship online when you are in a marriage (whatever the health of that marriage may be) - It is a Much Worse Idea to remain in a marriage where you are not getting adequate emotional support, affection and love. Marriage is for Life, people! This means that there should be no good reason to settle for a "Good Working Marriage". One should be sure to choose your marital relationships with as much wisdom as one can muster and never settle for less.

(5) Anonymous, November 25, 2007 6:19 PM

It's 2007

Women marry for different reasons in 2007 than they did 100 years ago. Most have careers of their own. It would be a shame for one to stay in an unfufilling marriage for economic reasons. Spouses need to be emotionally intimate. It's true that marriages were "working" ones 100 years ago, but now it is not the case.

(4) rachel, November 20, 2007 6:50 PM

sorry I disagree

The fact is very little can really replace an emotionally disconnected marriage. It is dangerous to have your emotional needs met by your children-highly unrecommended. NO amount of charity work or female friends takes the place of a close relationship with a husband. Unfortunately, she will either have to live with it or leave him. She could always try therapy, or decide that it just makes sense for her to stay in the marriage anyway, for economic or other reasons. Perhaps it doesn't mesh with romantic notions but as the authors say-most marriages historically were not emotionally fulfilling, this is just our expectation now.

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