Fantasy online romance
July 25, 2013 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Few months back, I started talking to someone online that I have never met. Things developed from there and now all our conversations revolve around our feelings for each other. I am happy to keep this as a fantasy. Am I still going to get hurt here?

I realize this is silly. I also realize that things with us can't work in real life due to extreme distance and age difference. Still, his messages brighten up my life. We have an "online exclusivity" agreement. That is, that we don't have this type of online relationships with anyone else. We have also agreed that if either of us meets someone in real life and things get serious, to let each other know because then our relationship will be inappropriate. Other than that, we agreed to keep the other in the dark about casual dating and such.

We are in contact every day for now 5 months. I have dated few other guys during that time but nothing serious. I don't feel that this online romance stops me from meeting others. I have compartmentalized it in my mind as "fantasy". I still go about my normal life as usual. We may get a chance to meet in a few months where I may visit his country for work. That is still up in the air though.

All of this gives me spring in my step and makes me happy. Is there something I am not seeing though? Am I somehow going to get terribly hurt?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It strikes me that you're right on the edge. You may not THINK that this isn't keeping you from meeting other people, but...I'd examine that.

Would love to advise you further, but privately - do you have some kind of throwaway email you could use?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 AM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you keep up this kind of compartmentalization of your life? Have you been able to do something like this before? Separate out feelings you have online from offline? This isn't just a fantasy, you're interacting with another human here. There's a deeper connection there, and that means you can get hurt.

When you dated those other guys, did you find yourself comparing them to him? Did you get the same buzz from contact with them, that spring in the step?

If you do meet him, and the lines between fantasy and reality do get blurred, how will you handle it?
posted by RainyJay at 6:58 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, have I been there.... more than once, and I'm kind of in something similar now. Firstly, it's not really silly to develop feelings for someone you're writing to; it happens-- it's been happening for centuries-- Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning are a great example.

Maybe you can compartmentalize better than me; but I couldn't do it. You also have to factor in whether your online friend can compartmentalize as well -- if he can't, HE may be the one getting hurt here, too. That's not ideal either.

For me, I met my online 'boyfriend' in person two years after I'd known him online and had been talking to him daily. Meeting him was a shock, but ultimately he became my real-life boyfriend. We had discussed feelings also, and we had committed to each other in a similar way. Ultimately, we got on very well. We were together for about five years before different life situations (towards the end he had issues with his depression that made him avoidant) pulled us apart. I don't regret it, even though it didn't work out for us in the end. It wasn't due to lack of love. Ultimately it was very worth it to me, I have happy memories I treasure, enough that I would absolutely do the same again.... and I kind of am in a similar situation now.

The problem is that the 'fantasy' tends to outshine the reality, and if you do meet someone 'in real life' -- they may dim in comparison to this relationship you've built up in your mind with this person. The other thing is, the longer you leave it, the more you may build up this person, and the more unreal they become.

Secondly, you are wasting time and effort 'loving' someone you can never have-- wasting effort that you could be putting into a person who will love you back, now today. It may not seem like it, but even though we'd actively told each other similar things, like: "hey if one of us meet someone where we are, have at it," the reality was neither of us kind of wanted to meet someone on some level. Or if we did, we'd compare it strongly to the relationship we had with each other. Always, there was a strong feeling of holding back.

Unless you're amazing at compartmentalizing feelings (I'm not) then I would see where it goes. Otherwise you may risk pining for someone that is for all intents and purposes, completely unreal.

If you start to develop intrusive thoughts or daydreams, hugging your pillow and imagining him, or wondering, 'if he were here?' then maybe things are getting into dangerous territory. Sometimes, you may need the meeting to snap things to reality.

It may end, or it may deepen, but at least you'll never be left wondering "what if?" either.

But as RainyJay says, if you feel you can keep things truly separate, then, it may be whimsical nonsense that you can keep on the side. However, in my experience, it's never as clear cut as that.

A good way of seeing how attached you are is -- imagine he meets someone now, today, and they become intimate. How does that feel? If it makes your heart churn, you may be overly-attached already.

The age thing, well, unless it's in excess of 20 years, I don't feel age is necessarily a problem, unless it's an issue to the couple in question.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am happy to keep this as a fantasy.

If you want to keep this as a fantasy, keep it in your mind. Once someone else gets involved, it's real. You are flirting with and developing feelings for an actual person, and they're reciprocating. It may not be a committed relationship, but it is a real thing.

It's fun and not necessarily harmful, as long as it's just the two of you involved, but it's not terribly good for you. This sort of arm's-length flirtation can feel great, because it's a quick, easy hit of good romantic feelings, without any of the less exciting qualities of long-term committed relationships or any small awkward spinach-in-teeth moments. And keeping it at this uncommitted level can prolong the rush long after a serious relationship would have settled into a comfortable groove. It's romantic junk food, and it may make "real" relationships seem bland by comparison.

And even if you're not officially committed to each other and have an agreement to stop if one of you finds a partner, it's going to be harder for you to disentangle than you may think. Maybe one of you can and one of you can't. What happens when you're past the honeymoon phase with a new partner and you miss that new relationship feeling, fully aware that you can get a fix at any time with the online person? What happens when your online partner changes their mind and starts trying to pull you in again?

I'm tempted to categorize this as "kind of a bad idea, but it's not really hurting anyone and you're an adult so whatever," like playing seven hours of video games every day or eating nothing but takeout. But there is, in fact, potential to hurt someone.

It's a good idea to start weaning yourself off of this. But don't view it as a "this is so bad for us and we can no longer be together!!" scenario, because that will only have a forbidden fruit effect. Just start looking elsewhere for things that will brighten your day without the risk for drama or messy fallout.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:41 AM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't think you're going to get terribly hurt, but there's certainly the potential for some pain here. Nothing that will kill you, though.

Kindly allow me to share some wisdom.

In the past, friends have talked to me about their dalliances that went wrong. Sometimes the thing that happened was that there was an Understanding ahead of time, there were ground rules about feelings, etc. And to them I said, "Your mistake here was basing your decisions on the idea that you can believe someone when they tell you how they're going to feel."

A modified version of this is what I tell you now.

You believe this will be okay because you believe it is within your power to apply reason and rules to your feelings about someone. You believe you can use your brain to keep your heart between the buoys. This is not something that works. You're gonna feel what you're gonna feel.

You say things developed to where they are now. What you're suggesting is that you can decide they've developed far enough and they can just freeze in place. You knew things could never work with him before things got to this point, and now you're at the point where, as you say, your conversations all revolve around your feelings for each other.

And if you meet him...then what? Do you think meeting him in person for a short time would lessen your crush on him? Would it make your imagination less active?

Again, I think the potential for getting hurt here comes mostly from the fact that this will all be manageable and okay for you as long as you are correct about how you're going to feel later and as long as your heart doesn't step outside the lines your brain has drawn. I've never really seen that work for anyone. I've seen people who are convinced it'll work, sure, but that's different.

See, here's the thing:

I don't feel that this online romance stops me from meeting others.

I have no way of knowing that the above statement is true, but please consider that this is something you can't be objective about, and that while you would be making the above statement if it were true, you'd be saying the same thing if it weren't, as well.

Can you honestly say that, since you've gotten to the point you're at with him now, you've never once been thinking about him while you were on a date with someone else? Never once been looking forward to getting home and chatting with him once the date was over?

The human brain is really good at believing it's okay for it to get what it wants. To use a crude metaphor, right now your brain is saying, "Just the tip." You've told yourself you will only go so far, and no further, so it will be okay. It's just fantasy. You can compartmentalize. It's not interfering with your life or your dating, you tell yourself. I take this opportunity to remind you that "just the tip" never actually works out that way.

I can't tell you what to do with yourself because I don't know enough about your whole deal, so what I will tell you is that it always sets off alarms in my head when someone's situation is predicated on their ability to control their feelings, and that in your shoes, I'd probably start to cool it with the online guy. It's nice to get that little rush when you hear from him or flirt with him or whatever, but it's not really likely to develop into anything great.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

Just throwing this possible unhelpful tidbit out there. I felt the same way about a guy I met online 10 years ago. There was very large age difference, I was way older than him, and we lived half a world apart. We visited each other a few times and we totally bought into the whole we were just friends (with occasional benefits) thing, mostly because I was terrified of the age difference and the distance, much like you, then one visit we weren't just friends. We got married 4 years ago.

There is nothing wrong with having a crush, there is nothing wrong with having an online crush. Are you going to get hurt? Maybe. Maybe, but you could get hurt by a guy the same age in the same town that you are dating face to face. That fear is half of the rush of most romantic relationships, do they? don't they? will they? won't they? I honestly think more hurt will come from trying to keep it in a box than by accepting the fact you are having a fun romantic, be it online relationship and enjoying it for what it is right now.

Trying to make it something it's not to make yourself feel, I dunno, maybe safe, maybe you are worried what other people will think, or what you will think of yourself, like I said I don't know why you have to have a rules for it. The compartmentalizing to me is the thing that is most likely to bite you on the ass in my opinion.

What I told myself early on when I met my online "crush" was that if this ends tomorrow, I've had a lot of fun and felt loved by someone for whoever long this lasted, and that's a pretty rare thing. I just lucked out and got to keep that feeling for a very long time.
posted by wwax at 10:27 AM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Am I somehow going to get terribly hurt?

How would you feel if he wrote you tomorrow to let you know he'd gotten serious with someone else and wanted to cease all contact?

How would you feel if you found out he had a wife and five kids he kept secret from you?

How would you feel if you suddenly stopped hearing from him and never knew why?

There's your answer. But maybe you'll be lucky.
posted by yohko at 1:35 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I write this as someone who has had a couple of extended long distance correspondence (email, text chat) friendships that were in the fuzzy grey area of might-be-more-but-probably-not, and has had lots of time to ruminate on the personal significance. It is, at the basic level, mutual emotional masturbation. When you've got a direct line to someone's inner core that bypasses the logistical difficulties of meatspace, and you both share your personal thoughts and observations to the other that you would never say to someone in person because 1) you'd likely see them yawning with a bored look on their face and know it was time to shut up and 2) nobody cares enough to spend that much time with you in the first place ... well, it feels very nice to have that intimate, admiring attention source (wank wank wankity wank). And you tell him things about yourself and your soft focus version of him that are half true and half what you wish were true, and that reinforces who you both would like to be, so you go about life with a renewed interest in your own internal monologue and less interest in others, saving the clever bits you can recite to your friend later (wank wank).

All of this gives me spring in my step and makes me happy.

Yup. 'Cause wankery.

Is there something I am not seeing though? Am I somehow going to get terribly hurt?

There's a high likelyhood it will become a source of drama:

- If one of you finds a SO, he/she may not be so happy to learn you have this very deep emotional involvement on the side (which you will likely keep secret, at first because it's none of their business, and in the long term because it will simply be too awkward to bring up). SO may find out one way or another and see it as cheating. It's a potential landmine for your romantic futures.

- One of you loses interest and drops the friendship for whatever reason. Because of the intimate nature of the friendship, and how nice that concentrated attention feels ("We have an "online exclusivity" agreement."), it will be harder to get over than if a meatspace friend fades out. It's a fantasy to think you can keep up an intense level of interaction forever. Which means someone is going to be on the dumping end and go through attention withdrawal, eventually. Maybe resent the other's SO for taking their attention away, etc.

- You may find dating lacks something because it cannot recreate that intimate charge of communicating with your friend. Just like too much masturbation, you may become accustomed to a particular stimulus and find it hard to be satisfied with "normal" interaction, where people do not spill their feelings in such detail.

Chances are good someone will end up disappointed or hurt, eventually, because as much as you imagine yourself being okay with your friend moving on (should that happen), your real life feelings may not be so easily sorted out. You may also be very surprised at your friend's emotional response if you are the one who moves on.

Meet this fellow in person, definitely! Put your energy towards it! Nothing will throw the cold water of reality on this business faster than meeting in the flesh. Maybe you will discover a true lifelong friendship. Maybe you will suddenly see all the shabby illusions you have painted for yourself and end up crying on the side of the road at 2am (ask me how!). Either way, the result is very worthwhile.

I now have zero interest in growing and maintaining a penpal relationship.
posted by griselda at 2:28 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's entirely possible that if you meet h'm in person, it could really take off romantically or you could fall flat and both of you are turned off. It might be a good idea to actually meet and see which it is.

Seconding that feelings aren't static, restrained or guaranteed when someone else is involved for real in your "fantasy." People will want to meet and make it more real. The more you indulge, the more it will progress. I guess I'm saying either go whole hog or quit him, but halfassing a fantasy will not last forever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on July 25, 2013

I would love an update to this story.

I think online relationships might have some potential if you could possibly meet someday and have regular contact. Otherwise, it remains in a fantasy status, and as far as I am concerned that can be detrimental to emotional and social health.

My personal experience is that I got involved in an online relationship with someone 4500 miles away from me. He approached me on a dating site, and at first I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. He made an effort to have constant contact with me, and eventually I surrendered. With things like email, Skype, photo exchange, phone calls, etc. it is very easy to share almost every detail of your day (of course all of these exchanges are only as dimensional as you allow them to be.) Long story short, this continued for two years until he ended things with me because he found a woman that lived near him that he felt strongly about. I had been casually dating the whole time, but he was always, always there, and was an incredible source of intimate companionship for me as I went through some difficult transitions. Anyone who says "online relationships aren't real" has never felt the heart-break of an online break-up. You are completely powerless, devastated, can't talk face to face, and you not only lose a lover of sorts, but a friend. I ended up closing out my email account and cutting all established and potential ties to prevent myself from ever contacting him again (and vice-versa). It was HORRIBLE. I can't stress how horrible it was. I think sometimes we think we have things compartmentalized and under control until they are taken away and then we realize how raw and vulnerable we have made ourselves to this person, and then have to deal with whatever "emptiness" we were experiencing that allowed us to get into this type of situation in the first place. This happened six months ago and I occasionally still feel wistful about him, but I am glad I made it impossible for us to ever be in contact again.

I will NEVER have another online relationship (romantic). It's very high-risk, with very little tangible reward.
posted by IKnowTheFeel at 3:20 PM on April 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

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