Sanctuary for the Abused
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Virtual Relationships & Online Betrayals
You might ask "who would do things?" and wonder how I could ask such silly questions. But, if you've ever entered into an online relationship, you may have done all of that and more.
The virtual world can be a very dangerous place. It is the only place I know that anyone, anywhere, can be anyone they want to be. Who's to know if "Mr Perfect" is a truly sensitive guy or if he's on death row and having fun with trusting strangers?
SET UP FOR ONLINE BETRAYALS
Betrayal is devastating when it happens in real life, when our husband or wife does the unthinkable. Regaining trust after a spouse betrays us can take years, if ever. And, yet, we think nothing of trusting someone we "meet" online, exposing our deepest secrets, and becoming emotionally involved even before we've met them in real life.
In real life, we're able to put a face and personality together, and, while we certainly don't know everything we may need to know to form a friendship or relationship, we have quite a bit. In a first meeting we can tell whether or not there's a "spark" that might grow to a flame or more.
In the virtual world, we use our imagination to "flesh out" the other person, giving him or her all the characteristics that we "need" him or her to have.
A skillful manipulator is able to use just the right words to draw us into an emotional and/or sexual relationship, all without stepping away from his or her computer.
Photo exchanges are no guarantee of who you're sending email to, IMing or chatting with. It's very easy for someone to "lift" a photo of another person from any number of sources online and pass it off as their own.
Not every online encounter is going to be dangerous or deceptive but do you know which ones are honest and which aren't? When you're in a support group sharing details of your marriage, don't assume that everyone in the group is there for the same reason.
THE POWER OF THE WRITTEN WORD
Do you have an online friend with whom you feel comfortable talking about everything including very intimate personal issues even though you've never met in real life? Do you feel that honesty is an integral part of this relationship? Do you feel that this person may be or is your soul mate?
Here's how one woman described an online relationship: "We talked about everything and he was so honest about how he felt and he offered me the support none of my family -- and certainly not my husband -- had ever offered. He didn't push for anything more than what I was willing to give; he was the ultimate gentleman. He even said he understood when I told him I was emailing other men, and he didn't object. He said there was no rush, that he'd take a cue from my needs. There was no pressure like the other guys I'd met in chat.
I was emotionally hooked by the time we arranged a meeting and I really thought it went well, no awkward pauses, and we seemed to 'click' in a physical way although I didn't go back to his room with him.
He was only in town for one day and when we parted he said he missed me already and promised to call as soon as he got home.
I expected to get an email the next day but there was nothing and he wasn't in chat and he didn't log onto IM. I waited until the second day to send an email which he never responded to. By the end of a week I felt emotionally raw. I've never heard from him again. What did I do wrong?"
She, as so many others before her, trusted the written words of a virtual stranger. With those words, she created a "real" person, one who filled all of her needs. She "fleshed out" his words to create her soul mate.
Never underestimate the power of the imagination. When he says he has dark hair, you imagine he looks like your favorite movie star. You give him a sexy voice, a beautiful smile, a winning personality. He becomes the perfect man, the man with all the right words at all the right times.
He becomes the one person who can brighten your day just by emailing "Hello, beautiful!" or IMing a smile. He's the first person you think about when you wake up in the morning, the last person you think of as you fall asleep at night. He fills in the emotional blanks within your life.
The two of you grow closer. You become dependent upon him and distance yourself from your real life relationships.
Would he be as wonderful, as comforting, as perfect, in real life? We'll never know how many women have pushed for an off-line meeting only to have their cyber soul mate disappear forever. Other women meet their dream man to find that he isn't single or separated but married and looking only for a lover. Words are easy, reality isn't.
ASSUME ONE PERSON IS A PREDATOR
In the virtual world, assume that at least one person in a chat room or a forum is a predator and act accordingly:
Don't post personal details in an open forum; don't assume that a private forum is any safer. On the Internet, there is no 100% safe place.
Don't email personal details to strangers no matter how understanding and solicitous they may appear.
Don't give out personal details when you're using chat or Instant Message programs even if the other person gives these details to you. They may have given you false information in an attempt to build up your trust.
Even if you feel you can trust the person you've been chatting or emailing, don't give out your address, phone number, or last name. With internet searches, someone with even one personal detail can probably find out where you live and more.
If you're planning to meet someone you've met online, make your first meeting in a fairly busy public place and take a friend along.
Be SURE to take someone with you, at least give them details of who you're meeting, where you're meeting, and when you'll be back to work or home.
No matter how the sparks fly at that first meeting, don't invite him or her back to your place.
No matter how comfortable you feel at that first meeting, don't take a drive with them or let them drop you off at your house.
Trust your "gut." There is no need to force yourself to like someone. That's exactly the point of meeting face-to-face: to see if the "bond" you feel for this person is real or illusion.
Have you been betrayed by your spouse? Have you come to the Web for comfort and support? Have you trusted in virtual friends and been hurt when they've betrayed you? After being betrayed in real life, why would you think a virtual relationship would be any safer from betrayal? Behind that keyboard, all those many miles away, is a real person, not a perfect person.
Remember Ted Bundy? He was a real charmer. I'm not implying that your online friend is another Ted Bundy but until you are absolutely certain he or she isn't, play it smart and safe.