Infidelity on the Internet
Introduction: The Internet has opened a world of adventure and discovery to most of us who use it regularly. But, for some, it has opened a can of worms. One of these problem areas is Internet infidelity. In this week's column I will describe the problem, explain why it exists and try to offer suggestions as to how to overcome it.
My first letter is not about Internet infidelity, but rather about falling in love over the Internet. It should give you an understanding of how easy it is to do. Then, the next three letters are about Internet infidelity and my analysis of the problem.
Dear Dr. Harley,
I met a woman and have fallen in love on the net. We began the relationship on the precept that we would take a chance on falling in love with a mind and soul. With that in mind we decided to NOT discuss appearances, hair color, employment, any of a hundred sundry details neither felt were germane to a good and lasting relationship.
Our efforts concentrated on the things we felt were important...values and morals. Spiritualism was a strong consideration. We pray together often.
Three days ago we both made the commitment to be married. No date set, left it open. I feel this will be soon. She too, feels the 'urge to merge'. Are we foolish in choosing this route? Is the brief duration of courtship a consideration?
The process of falling in love took us about six weeks. We then exchanged Photographs and job descriptions etc. In about one month I am to go spend a week with her at her home over the Thanksgiving holidays. Thanksgiving...appropriate holiday to meet a soul mate...
Is this as odd a place to begin a relationship as it seems to me??? How do you perceive the chances for a relationship based on this scenario?
There are a host of people doing what you've just done. They fall in love because they meet each other's emotional needs over the Internet, needs of honesty and openness, conversation, admiration and affection. These are powerful needs and when they're met, people usually fall in love.
But when these Internet lovers try to live together, they find themselves faced with a problem they did not anticipate. The vehicle of emotional bonding and need fulfillment, the Internet, is replaced by face-to-face conversation. And the replacement does not work as well. What most find is that they are not nearly as good meeting each other's needs when they try to talk to each other face-to-face. And when they live with each other, they discover that the countless adjustments that must be made in daily living turn out to be a bigger challenge than they had ever imagined.
Internet romance has many advantages and few disadvantages compared to face-to-face romance. It's similar to telephone romance, where lovers can talk for hours with each other, meeting some of each other's most important emotional needs. Undivided attention is the key to the advantage of the Internet and the telephone. There are very few distractions when communicating on the Internet or by telephone, and most emotional needs can be met only when you give your undivided attention. Dating also limits distractions, especially when just you and your date go out to dinner or go for a walk. But even an evening of conversation in front of the fireplace is often not quite as effective in meeting emotional needs as an evening on the Internet. That's because there are more potential distractions in a face-to-face encounter than there is over the Internet.
For years now, I've encouraged couples to spend a minimum of fifteen hours a week giving each other their undivided attention. That's because it takes time to meet emotional needs, and it also takes undivided attention. It's what you did when you decided "to take a chance on falling in love with a mind and soul." I guarantee you, you spent fifteen hours a week or more doing it. I did it myself when I dated my wife, Joyce. We talked for hours each week, even though I was a full-time student and worked part-time. If I had dated her an evening a week, and checked in with her occasionally, she'd be married to someone else right now.
I encourage you to pursue your relationship, but you will need to find effective ways to compensate for your loss of the Internet as a way to communicate. Will you be able to share your deepest feelings with each other when you sit face-to-face? It will probably be more difficult. But it can be done, and you can do it.
Begin by trying to see your friend every day, and giving her at least 15 hours of your undivided attention each week. Discuss face-to-face the same topics you discussed over the Internet, because it's that conversation that met your emotional needs. When you live with each other, some of your conversation will be by telephone, but most will be face-to-face, so develop good habits of conversation that will be used when you marry and live together.
When you finally marry her, it will be tempting to stop setting aside time just to talk to each other. You will be so busy with the pressures of life and raising a family that you will feel you do not have the luxury of taking 15 hours from your busy schedules just to be alone and talk. But I guarantee you, if you forget what it was that gave you your love and emotional bond, you will lose it, like so many others do. You will find yourselves no longer in love, and no longer emotionally bonded.
Another consideration is the problems of adjusting to each other. But there's a simple solution to that problem. You guessed it (if you've been reading my articles): The Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse). As soon as you are together, follow the policy religiously. It will enable you to build a lifestyle of compatibility, where everything you do will be comfortable for each other.
I suggest that you not marry for at least a year to give yourselves a chance to learn to meet each others needs without the use of the Internet. You will also need to adjust to a new lifestyle that takes the feelings of both of you into account simultaneously. If you are still in love at the end of the year, you can thank the Internet for bringing you together. But your ultimate success will depend on your willingness and ability to continue to meet the needs you met over the Internet.