Answer: If this question has crossed your mind, you are in an unhealthy online relationship. Healthy relationships feel good. They provide us with more answers to life’s mysteries than questions.
In The Journal of Popular Culture, Anastasia Salter (2011) discusses virtual romance and sex in her article, “Virtually Yours: Desires and Fulfillment in Virtual Worlds.” She states that “when compared with the risks of taking the physical body into a world of fantasy and desire, perhaps the ‘healthy’ choice for the separated mind and body is indulging in fantasy” (1134). I agree with this to an extent — if you are going to dive into something racy in the spirit of fun and adventure, as long as you are careful, it might be best to do it online.
But that doesn’t mean your emotions will be safe, and many of us know how easy it can be for our hearts to get involved though not invited. Just as men and women sleeping together as ‘friends with benefits’ can become ugly because of unplanned attachment, so can the creative use of the letters on your keyboard.
There is nothing wrong with a desire to abandon inhibition, liberate yourself from the pain of an unfortunate life event, to explore who you are, or to add some sizzle to your nights.
In effort to more fully respond to your question, I offer the following 10 red flags that your emotional stability might be on the line in a particular virtual ‘relationship’, creating an unhealthy situation for you:
- He/she prefers electronic communication to a face-to-face visit or phone call.
- His/her messages are often initiated after 10:00 pm. He/she communicates with you when all of his/her primary interests for the day have been exhausted.
- He/she asks for naked pictures of you.
- The two of you have not been on an official date.
- He/she does not ask about the details of your day.
- He/she does not answer personal questions directly, often ignoring them entirely.
- You don’t know his/her address or place of employment.
- You want to know him/her as a person; He/she clearly knows you as a sex object.
- You have stopped dating other men/women because you are waiting for your online interest to materialize in your life as, perhaps even as a surprise.
- You make excuses for him/her.
Salter notes: “A cyberlover is separated from the real person by the same barriers as a lover found in a supermarket romance or television drama. Cyberlovers lurk beyond the computer screen, acting out parts and offering truths that may or may not be windows to their realities” (1125).
A healthy person doesn’t often have to doubt reality. They bask in the peace that comes with knowing exactly what they are dealing with, and the palpability of their experiences.
This post was made in participation with the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge: Dear Abby (click the link to view the challenge) I have been asked this question more than once, and the above is a version of the advice I offer based on experience and research.