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tuesday, december 3, 2002

last year i did a term paper on online, romantic relationships. i even did my own research and asked for people who would be willing to fill out a form to contact me. they did and i swore i would never do such a thing again and was very glad i wasn't studying to become a research psychologist. for obvious reasons (recent events), i've begun thinking about the whole online relationship thing again, only this time it's not about romance. it's about friendships.

online relationships share some characteristics with real life relationships:

you can drift apart. you don't speak on the instant messenger so much, on or the other of you don't go to the same boards or participate in the same groups any more. one decides to go off-line. i even had one friend get all snappish with me when i tried to talk to her one day. when i finally asked her what was up, her response was, "well, you have to admit, we have almost nothing in common." like this was a sin and we shouldn't be talking to each other because of it. nothing else happened between us. she just got rude and finally told me she wanted to stop speaking to me because we had nothing in common. prior to that we had had really enjoyable conversations and were involved in several things together.

people play the same games. manipulation, masks, all of that real life bs is far easier to pull off on the net - no one can see your eyes or hear your voice so they can't give you away. few people are totally real. being real requires work. it means revealing your inner self and opening yourself up. it means making yourself vulnerable. for most people the pain isn't worth the risk so they resort to the same protective crap that goes on in real life.

people can become quite close. i have a few friendships that rival my real life ones. friends i've known almost as long as i've been on the net, friends who influence my life, and if we lived in the same town we'd be practically inseparable. there are people you find invaluable to your life. you miss them when you don't speak to them for awhile (although you might give them more time before you miss them because the net can be such a fickle thing).

fall outs happen. things explode in your face. something you said comes back all mangled and they don't want to hear your side. something you say is misinterpreted. someone expects you to do what they won't do themselves and blames you when things don't get talked about or worked out or whatever. someone ends up being needy, someone gets tired of being needed all the time. and so on. the same things that can kill a relationship in real life can kill an online friendship just as fast. i'm sure that somewhere out there is a broken online friendships from girl b stealing girl a's online boyfriend. people are flawed. we do shit to each other, sometimes not quite what we planned, sometimes completely deliberate. it's a sad fact of life.

you can be stalked on the net. i'll just leave it at that. i have yet to have a cyber stalker, and no, i don't want one. i swear i'm not that interesting, talented, or otherwise stalker material.

there are a few things that are different about online relationships. you can never be sure that picture you're shown is the person you are talking to. there's no tone of voice to let you know when someone is teasing or if those words that hurt so much are being said out of love and concern. the internet hides more than it reveals. we have to decide to take another person's words at face value until they tell us otherwise. or we decide to keep up the games of real life and are constantly playing the game even if the other person is not.

it's a choice that can be both easier and harder on the net. easier because if things blow up, you can block someone off your instant messenger, filter their mail to the trash, refuse to go to their site, and never ever have to deal with them again. what are they going to do? show up on your doorstep and insist you talk it out? harder because the net is seductive. it gives the impression of safety and anonymity. you never know, that psycho just may show up on your doorstep.

relationships are relationships where ever you go. you appreciate the ones that make it, mourn the ones that don't, and learn lessons from both. the net may provide some interesting challenges, but we're all still seeking connection and you end up having to make the same choices about who and how you will be.

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word of the moment: resilience

the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change