When Is It Good To Let go Of An Internet Friendship?
July 18, 2014 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I've had a two year friendship with someone I've never met but care a great deal for. It is causing a lot of stress. I am unsure how to end it given the intensity of our communication. I have included more in the extended area.

Two years ago I attracted someone to me on youtube. He commented on my work for an entire year prior to us communicating, somehow I never noticed. Then I did. We started to chat in yahoo every day, some of the chats lasting hours. Eventually we spoke on the phone, those conversations lasted hours as well (five or more). An entire day seemed to go by with nothing but communication between us. It was fun, interesting and I liked his intellect as it seemed very complimentary to my own.

We will call him D...Eventually I fell in love with D and told him as much. He was stunned and shocked, speechless basically. He said the distance was terrifying for him. He also said he was unsure of what to say. Since he did not expound about how he felt regarding me, or rather his lack of response said volumes, I changed the way I felt. Eventually I managed to settle into a close friendship with him where we spoke once a week for several hours. I also met someone offline and we fell in love and are together today. The thing is D still wants me to call every weekend and we talk two or more hours.

Sometimes I think I still feel very affectionate toward D and it bothers me. He claims the friendship is very precious, yet we have never met in person. I am unsure we ever will. I find that at times I have sexual fantasies about him and this also disturbs me. He knows, does not seem to mind – in fact in a very early email to me, he actually wrote something to the affect of I could use his body and mental image anyway I choose. (Odd since I never gave any indication I even wanted to.)

Lately I find that when I don't talk to D, I’m more relaxed. I've also started to paint and write with much more frequency. At times knowing I need to call him on a Friday or Saturday seems like a burden then the rest of my day seems shot. It hurts as well because he believes our friendship is precious. I also dislike talking to him about my issues with my partner but have gone there anyway. D has always been neutral and has never had a bad word to say about my boyfriend. Now D has attraction to someone else and I find this bothersome as well . . . I feel depressed when we speak and the entire situation brings me down. I think it is time to end it for my own piece of mind.

I'm curious what anyone else thinks on the subject of Internet friendships: Is this sort of Internet friendship where distance is an issue a waste of time and unhealthy? Why would it be unhealthy and if I were to end it, what advice could someone give on how to do this? I have stopped calling in the past, eventually I get an email asking if I am no longer talking to him. I have even tried recently to end it but somehow we talk again. I could ignore him, it feels cruel – any suggestions or thoughts on this sort of situation would be appreciated. This is very depressing for me.
posted by Fayrose to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Cut it off. You haven't even met them in real life.
Also, meet new people.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:27 PM on July 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think it might help to redefine your terms a bit: most of my friends are "from the internet", and I don't have problems like this because my relationships are not quite this intense in a romantic or sexual sense. It sounds like what you have is an unconsummated romance, of which friendship is a smaller piece. Having these kinds of feelings with no way forward would be nigh-impossible for anyone...time to let go of your unworkable LDR.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:31 PM on July 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

It's cruel to keep this up; do both of you a kindness and end it abruptly.
posted by michaelh at 7:34 PM on July 18, 2014

This very specific sort of attention from another person becomes its own sort of drug after a while. You want to stop needing it but you don't know quite what would happen if it wasn't around. I think an honest conversation about the space that you both need from the intensity of this friendship would be good and then, this is the hard part, stick to what you say you want and let him go.
posted by Merinda at 7:39 PM on July 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

Internet friendships are friendships. And yes, sometimes they can get intense really fast and can be troubling since it can sometimes feel weirdly abstract.

But yes, think of this as a failed romance you had with someone in real life. It's OK to feel weird and jealous of D's interest in someone else, regardless of your own happiness with your boyfriend (rejection always sucks! It can take a long time to get over!)

I know people always say "Tell him upfront!" But I think in this case it would be OK to say something like "Hey, I am going to be busy on Friday and Saturday nights for the foreseeable future and work has been super busy too! I'll email you when I can, though!" If he calls, don't answer. If he emails, take a long time to reply. I think fading out is good. If D pushes, then yes, absolutely say "I need to work on myself right now and you can't be a part of this" (but I doubt it will come to that).

I have had many many "Internet" friends over the years, and many "real life" friends too. There is always an ebb and flow to these things. It hurts but it happens. But I've also had friends I've reconnected with after years of separation. Life is weird and confusing, yeah, but I've also found it's not the worst thing to be hurting over someone. Let yourself feel this loss of connection and it will help you move on.
posted by darksong at 7:42 PM on July 18, 2014 [18 favorites]

It sounds like this friendship is no longer making you feel good about yourself. Kudos to you for recognizing that - it can be really hard to come to terms with something like this. Realizing that you are unhappy and that something is not working is the first necessary step towards happiness and a life that is smoother and easier.

Trust yourself. Do not feel guilty for being busy with yourself. That is really what is going on here: You are nurturing yourself. The advice from darksong is excellent. "I need to work on myself right now and you can't be a part of this" is exactly what you need to say, if he keeps pushing after you try to fade away. It is also what you need to tell yourself as you go through this: You are working on yourself right now, and he can't be a part of it.

Be ruthless about who you let in and what you do with your precious short time in this lovely and strange world. Do not let people in who, whether or not it is their fault, leave you feeling bad or down. There is not enough time for that.

I do personally struggle with the question of "fade away vs. tell them to their faces," and in my experience, telling people straight does not work. It is either so hurtful that they become defensive and they don't hear you, or it is so confusing that they pretend the conversation did not happen, or... I don't know what it is. People have a very hard time seeing themselves clearly. They have a hard time hearing that someone wants to redraw the boundaries of their life, leaving them out of the inner circle. Boundaries are another way of saying "no" - that does not mean they are unkind, but they are a rejection of sorts, and rejection stings. We have a model for this situation for romantic relationships - a breakup, no contact, eating ice cream on the couch, getting too drunk, burning photos, defriending on Facebook, finding someone new to put in the circle eventually perhaps - but there is no model for friend break-ups. I think that is one of the reasons people find it hard to see and accept when it is happening.

I don't think it matters one whit that this is an Internet friendship. This is a friendship that has run its course. The medium does not matter. It makes it a lot easier to deal with at this stage, but this is not happening because it's an Internet friendship. It's happening because it is time for it to happen. You need to focus on yourself right now, and he can't be a part of that project.

Best of luck to you. Losing a friend is really hard, even when it's your own choice. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 8:34 PM on July 18, 2014 [20 favorites]

I am a fan of the gradual fade-out for friendships. I even had one of those friendships come back a few years later. It was not the same type of friendship, but it is healthier for me. One difference has been that I can now appreciate a variety of friendships. You don't have to have an all-or-nothing approach. With that one friend I mentioned it's a very relaxed check-in every so often friendship and we are both okay with that level of intensity. That may not work for you, or your friend, but the advantage of the slow fade is that it gives you time to figure out what works.
posted by dawg-proud at 8:48 PM on July 18, 2014

Why not just tell him how you are feeling and ask his permission to end it. If he doesn't agree, then just end it anyway.
posted by Dansaman at 8:59 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

When Is It Good To Let go Of An Internet Friendship?

When it no longer serves your well being. You don't need anyone's permission to end a friendship that stresses you out.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:09 PM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm going to focus less on the "why" and more on the "how," which in this case is pretty cut-and-dried:

I also met someone offline and we fell in love and are together today. The thing is D still wants me to call every weekend and we talk two or more hours.

Your out is that you tell him you and/or your boyfriend are uncomfortable with being this close to another man, given your history and the fact that you've gotten serious with somebody else. It isn't even totally a lie.
posted by dekathelon at 9:12 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

D isn't meeting you in person for a reason. Either D is married, or he looks nothing like whatever you think she does, or something else. Either way, it's been YEARS and you're not getting thing out of this. This is a comforting relationship kept at a safe distance from D's life. It's not part of D's life and this seems very intentional on his part to keep it that way. Meanwhile, you are investing real feelings and real worry into it. It sounds like this guy is using your relationship for the "safe" companionship and attention, without investing any of the real things that come with a true friendship, let alone romantic relationship.

Internet friendships are perfectly fine, but not if you're in love with someone who has zero intention of making your internet relationship a "real" one -- not to mention, the internet relationship is affecting your real life relationships.

And whether it's an internet relationship or an real life one, I don't think friendships can really stay friendships when one person is in love with the other person, and the other person doesn't reciprocate.

You sound happier without the burden of dealing with your one-sided relationship with D. Just end it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:44 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh goodness, this is no ordinary friend.
I think you need to have a little more transparency to yourself, D, and perhaps your partner as to what is in your heart. I don't think you even fully understand it. Multiple hour phone calls that you "dread"? Uncontrollable sexual fantasies? These things don't happen with everyday friendships.

D is very deep into your heart and brain.

You need to honor all of your relationships - with D, and with your partner. But first you need to figure out what's going on and what YOU want. I don't think you want to be in love with D but I think you may be. That's ok. There's no limit on the number of people we love, or the situation of those we love.

Figure out what you want first, honor the connections you have, and be respectful in your actions.

I have always felt that close connections in life are rare and important. Try to keep those connections but define how much you can give and take. Never burn a bridge, keep the special people with you as much as possible.

I think all of your pain and anxiety are caused by a lot of confusion. Start writing this all out for yourself.

One last idea: meeting D in person may burst the bubble. Or, it could start it back up. Pheromones are unpredictable!
posted by littlewater at 10:01 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Now is good. Being in a friendship that is detrimental to your mental health and possibly has negative effects on your actual requited romantic relationship is a very bad call. Either scale it back to casual gchats every couple of weeks or just cut it off entirely--I recommend this. Since he knows you had a thing for him before, just tell him that you don't want to rekindle any sparks out of respect for your current relationships and you're better off not talking to achieve that end (you can emphasize that it's not anything he's done if you wish).
posted by hejrat at 3:18 AM on July 19, 2014

I met Husbunny on the internet, I've met a lot of my now IRL friends on the internet. While I have fondness for folks I run into on the internet, these friendships have translated into IRL, and although we all live in different places, we make an effort to get together and actually know each other in person.

For whatever reason D is not this type of friend. You know that cartoon, "On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog." That. You don't really know D. You know what D wants you to know about him. Your brain filled in the blanks.

I'd send D an email

Dear D,

While knowing you in the past was great, I think it's time for me to move on. I am in a wonderful relationship, and my work and my free time are fully committed and I no longer have time to devote to long phone calls and chats. Given what were at once mixed emotions regarding you, it's best for me to sever ties now. I hope you understand and can respect my wishes. I wish you all the happiness in the world.

And then block the shit out of him everywhere.

Good luck you you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:03 AM on July 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

"Lately I find that when I don't talk to D, I’m more relaxed."

That's a huge clue, no?

You are happier when you don't speak with him?

I imagine that you can do this "whatever.I'm.not.sure.areyou?.no.soooo?" relationship for years.....

But don't.

Move on. Kiss your boyfriend. Break up. Whatever you want to do.

Do what you need to do for whatever reason.... frame it how you like.

I need to let internet man go so he can find true love.....

I need to let internet man go so I can find true love....

It doesn't matter.

But make a choice.


And don't look back or you will turn to salt!
posted by misspony at 9:06 AM on July 19, 2014

OP here.

Thank you all so so much for your feedback. There wasn't a single bad answer here and you all basically reiterated what I know, sans being in love with the guy. No, I am not in love. I've weighed that aspect of our relationship carefully for the last year. I've fallen out of love slowly and have been left with another kind of longing that I believe is not discernible - believe me I couldn't be with him for several reasons, one being his lack of being able to deal with reality (hence why I am a weekly activity for him.) It is because I am in love with my partner I feel discomfort regarding any attraction to D. He has to go for many of the reasons listed above. He has to go because I feel used, as if I'm helping this guy act like a coward about some choices and things he needs to face in his personal offline life and self. I will wait until he contacts me again and then explain why I cannot do this with him anymore - I will be quoting some of you for sure.

Thank you for the time and thought put into your invaluable feedback.
posted by Fayrose at 9:53 AM on July 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

OP here.

Update: Last night I sent an email to D. While fading out is probably best, I also honor the two years we did speak. Even if I may hardly know "him", I think that I do know "some facets" of him innately. We managed to discuss is emotional view points many times and also speak about his youth, past relationships with people and family, etc. Then of course the intellectual issues that also reveal who he is. So, I felt being honest and explaining my feelings, and explaining that I must take time for me and will not be writing or calling for a while, was the best thing to do.

Sending him the email was one of the hardest things to do. I cried a long while. I know it will pass, I also know I will never forget him. My feelings did run intensely deep, which is why it had to end. I love my boyfriend very much and while my boyfriend is not perfect, there's no reason to complicate matters or toss out my relationship for someone I have never spent time in person with...People will always wonder what could have been with others. I can say with no uncertainty that fantasies are powerful, they also fade. When reality sets in we are left with what is palpable and it can be work. D will always be special and I will always ache because of the parts of him that were not revealed, rather than the reality of those things. We fill in the blanks with those things we cannot see, which makes it so much more poignant - because it's what we want to believe is real.

D called this morning, a few moments ago in fact and I did not answer. I never received a reply to the email, which would be less hurtful on his part. The call simply feels invasive and makes me sad for him and us. I know he will eventually not call and I will be sad then too.

Again thank you. I felt you guys ought to be updated since you were all so kind and gentle.
posted by Fayrose at 11:16 AM on July 22, 2014

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