May 15, 2013

re: Online relationships and virtual sex

Greetings. Today is Joey Ramone's Birthday. Act accordingly. 
Now on to this week's dual questions.

Dear Ask A Punk -
I've been with my girlfriend for about three years. We're pretty serious and moving in together soon. The thing is, when I'm with her, I still feel like I'm cheating on my online girlfriend of nearly six years. I'm not making this up. My online girlfriend is a real person. We skype  (sometimes naked, but not always), we're connected, but we've never met, and never really plan to. but I've never told either about the other and I don't know which would be more mad or have the right to be more mad. How do I handle this? - No 3sum.

Dear AAP
My current boyfriend would be shocked to know what I do online some nights. ok. alot of nights. We don't live together. I don't consider it cheating, but I know it is worse than just watching porn, which I'm sure he does. The truth is that some of the guys I'm with online just once but others I've been with for longer than most of my realworld boyfriends. I can not be the only person dealing with this. Who am I cheating on here? - Wholesome-ish.

Dear N3s & Wholesome-ish
I have gotten quite  a few letters/questions from people trying to figure out how to deal with either their partner's or their own "online activity" but these two letters approach it from a slightly different angle. I've actually been sitting on the question from 'No 3sum' for a while because I was hoping to eventually get a similar question from a female reader. Thank you 'Wholesome-ish' for finally coming through. 

Most people who write in about their own online activities are usually on the defensive for any one of several reasons. Some are trying to convince me (or really, themselves) that "it isn't really cheating" etc. because it is "just online" while others are defensive because they're trying to convince me that it IS a "real" relationship even though it is "only online."

So which is it? Sociologists, "Digital Media Experts" and divorce lawyers, all with a lot more training than I have, have been wrestling with this issue for a several years now. The facts, as I see them, are as follows:

The internet has created an entirely new class of human relationships that have never really existed (on a massive scale) in all of human history. Sure, there have been long-distance relationships, and random foreign flings/connections that linger... but those have always been the rare exception, not the rule. We can all now wander the main streets - and the darker back alleys - of the internet and bump into all sorts of people, no matter where their geographic location might be. 

For the most part I think this is a good thing, perhaps even a very good thing. When I was younger, so much fuss was made about "Finding your Tribe" - especially if you were someone who felt most comfortable outside of what was generally mainstream and "acceptable" -- and that quest often required a geographical move to wherever "people like you" tended to congregate. Which was swell if you had the opportunity, time, money and confidence to move etc, but being in any way unusual in your hometown often made for a lonely llfe. Enter the internet - where you can always find many people who share your interests, no matter how unusual or obscure those interests might be and - voila! You have your tribe. This is a good thing. Any connection based on mutual interests is better than being lonely. It is a pretty safe bet that every person reading this post has at least one or two people they consider real friends who they only know online. Put another way: What percentage of your Facebook "friends" have ever actually ridden in your car with you? Online-only relationshiops really are part of the new normal in our 2013 digital world (and have been for awhile) - to say otherwise is to be in denial.

This is all pretty vague & generalized stuff I'm talking about and, let's face it, not exactly what these two letter-writers were hinting at. Their online friends are more than "friends." They are real connections that, from the sound of it, also include (online) sex acts and other intimacies. In most of the letters I've gotten people have asked if their online activities "really" counted as cheating on their real-time significant others - and my standard/short answer for that has always been: Yes, it is cheating. If you really thought it was harmless and "no big deal" then you wouldn't be wrestling with the question, you would just tell your realtime SO about what you're doing.

...but these two questions interested me because they both seemed to be saying: "I know I'm being unfaithful, but I'm not sure which person I'm being unfaithful to."   So which factor counts more? The amount of time two people have been together? ... or geographic proximity? 

Of the two, I think "No 3sum" is really wrestling with this issue the most. He is caught between an online "girlfriend" of 6 years and a real-time girlfriend of 3 years, neither of whom know about the other. My direct answer to your question is this: Obviously your conscience is telling you a truth you don't want to hear - that you are actually cheating on someone. Your choices, as I see them, are as folllows: 1) Keep everything status quo - maintain both relationships and don't tell either about the other... this isn't likely to end well and it sure isn't a good option Karmically speaking... Take this easy test: How thrilled would you be if either of them kept this same secret from you?  2) Break up with one of them and commit 100% to the other - which would really make you have to decide, once and for all, which relationship is more "real" to you than the other. or 3) Tell both of them about the other, and then accept whatever consequences follow. 

I think Wholesome-ish is in a slightly different place with all this. She doesn't sound all that into her real-time boyfriend, nor does she sound all that attached to her online partner(s.) She just says that some of them have lasted longer than her real-time beaus. Even though she doesn't give me much to go on, I'm going to go ahead and say that this sounds more like intimacy issues. You have to admit that online "relationships" are easier to establish, easier to maintain and, much much easier to terminate than real-time relationships (all you have to do to break-up with someone online is block their emails & messages.)  ...I think the question for Wholesome-ish is: What is it you REALLY want here? It sounds like you're still keeping ANY real connection at arm's length - online or otherwise. Know what I mean? ...but the Karmic question is the same: How would you feel if your real-time boyfriend was doing the same things you are? ...if you think you would be fine with it, why not just tell him? Either he'll break up with you, or maybe he'll join you, and then you two can take your real-time connection to new levels with your online friends.

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