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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)

Main Article

A Stress Doc Valentine

In honor of Valentine's, I shall address a simple, yet provocative question: Can you have real love on-line?

Ground Rules: I will respond to this question as if the parties have never met in person, perhaps have talked on the phone, but their primary mode of communication are emails and IMs. And the issue is whether true intimate romantic love can evolve primarily online.

Far be it from me to speak about what another person feels for a cyber partner. I certainly don't appreciate being told what I'm feeling or what I should feel; that awareness can only truly come from the individual. And I know there are readers out there who started a cybercorrespondence, met their soul mate and are now blissfully happy. (When did or does the honeymoon begin? In virtual or actual time? Hey, why not a second honeymoon? Now be honest, you lucky creatures, in which time zone or reality - virtual-actual - was the lovemaking best?) OK, so I'm envious. But how often does this happen?

Beauty and the Beast

Based on personal and professional experience, if you have two people who can give good email or chat, it lubricates the virtual love flow. But is this "true" love? Most of us have a need to love and be loved on an intimate mind-body, playful and emotional, if not spiritual, level. Because online corresponding can actually meet some of these powerful needs, there can be a blur between a virtual and a genuine love relationship. And this often brings out both the beauty and the beast side of cyberromance and cyberotica. (Author's note: I'm so proud of this sematic invention.)

The beauty side: it is safe. There's a distance that encourages a certain level of intimacy. It's often easier to be more open more quickly with our emotions, share secrets, be playfully seductive or bold and brazen, even have time to be more clever, than we might initially face-to-face. And what might scare someone off if shared in reality, the computer screen may help filter out some of the raw intensity. And if you are feeling encroached upon, you can always assume a secret screen name or use the IM block. (Of course, staying offline for a while, or getting a real life, is clearly not an option! Also, let me just say, you folks who define couple intimacy as swinging in a chat room...you are out of my range of experience and expertise. But, hey, send in your stories. I can be as voyeuristic as the next reader.)

Email and chatting also facilitate a back and forth that allows each of us to discover important things about the other, the groundwork for a truly close friendship - what both parties like and dislike, how we think and express ourselves in words and images, our personal and family history, our weird idiosyncrasies, etc. As an example of the latter (if you are a bit squeamish, you may want to scroll down now), I used to add protein to my diet by putting some tuna fish in my morning oatmeal. A former girl friend eventually shamed me out of my "barf special," as she affectionately called it. (Now this wasn't a virtual relationship. Would she have discovered my nutritional neurosis if it were?)

The Enticingly Dark Side

And maybe this gets to the beastly side of cyberrelating. Real love probably means embracing each others' flaws and foibles (though now I can accept that my oatmeal deviancy exceeded tolerable limits) as much as it involves finding the sympatico soul mate. Sometimes we can never know how much a person will drive us nuts until we live with them. Or, conversely, long distance relationships allow us to savor all the warm and exciting parts, without having to confront the mundane. Without considerable face-to-face time, we often don't experience as honestly or deeply the kinds of fears. frustrations, dissatisfactions or passive and active power struggles that only get stirred by in person, day-to-day relating.

It's all those luscious and lustful components - the coy or bold foreplay along with the witty cyberotica that, when combined with the mixed blessing of ongoing virtual communication ...this is why cyberromance can be soooo compelling. This volatile mix, over time (and sometimes shorter than longer) can easily give rise to a condition I call ROMANTASY: that seductive, heady and potentially all-consuming blend of intense ROMANCE and FANTASY. It's easy to idealize our partner or the uniqueness of the connection. And we are particularly susceptible to codependent fantasy when profoundly lonely, dissatisfied with one's self-worth or life or when grappling with an unrecognized underlying depression.

When Beauty Is the Beast

On the other hand, a state of heartthrobbing anxiety and romantasy - from trying to grasp an ideal illusion or the pursuit of an elusive spirit - can be the passionate wellspring for the outpouring of one's creative energy. (May I digress. Speaking of "love," passion is an interesting term. Let's play an association game. What's the first thought that comes to mind when you read "passion"? Let's cut to the chase. The "s"-word, right? Surprisingly, if you have a good dictionary it may not be "sex." [Of course, here in Washington, DC, we know what the "s"-word for passion is: "Senator."] Actually, my preferred, dictionary "s"-word for passion is neither "sex" nor "Senator' but "suffering," as in "The Passion Play": the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, the sufferings of a martyr. Hmm. Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman!)

Let me illustrate this highly charged blend of pleasure and pain. Here's a slightly manic-inspired lyric that I penned some years ago in the throes and throbs of an inviting yet elusive, obsessive and maddening virtual romantic fantasy. While the relationship is history, this personal expression provides an enduring reality for a once vital yet, ultimately, mercurial romantasy. It's called:

Cool Moon Cat

She's a moonlight cat
A cool crescent cat
Slow dancing in the shadows
Of your mind, just like that.

She's a moonlight cat
Oh a bewitching cat
Crystal eyes mesmerize
In the night so black.

Cat, cat
Whomever you may be
Touch my soul
With some lunacy.

Moon cat
Whomever you may be
Touch my soul
With some lunacy.

She's a wicked cat
A slyly, smiley cat
So beware...heads and hearts
Of a vanishing act.

She's a wicked cat
Such a devilish cat
Purrs of silk conjure heaven
Course she's above all that.

Cat, cat
Whomever you may be
Beam up my soul
To the contrary.

Moon cat
Whomever you may be
Beam up my soul
To the contrary.

She's a royal cat
A disloyal cat
Sprawled upon the sun throne
Till she wants to be scratched.

She's a royal cat
Princess purple cat
No shrinking violet
It's her way and that's that!

Cat, cat
Whomever you may be
Embrace our souls
Whatever destiny.

Moon cat
Whomever you may be
Embrace our souls
Whatever destiny.

(c) Mark Gorkin 1993

Shrink Rap Productions

In closing, while I've tried to bring a light dose of reality to "love on-line," hey, it's still a virtual universe. We must not forget the most wonderous aspect of AOL and the internet: there's a whole wide world waiting to be explored. It's the new wild frontier. True love didn't pan out, this time? No problem...Search the profiles. Crusie a chat room. Your soul mate is out there waiting. The Internet makes everything possible. "Go web, young cyberite." Remember: "Hype, if not hope, springs eternal!"

Well, I've given the question of "true love" online my best shot. Now I'd like to hear from all of you. What are your thoughts and feelings, what's been your experience with real love or romantasy in cyberspace? For you, is love online possible, impossible or "all in your head"? And, of course, no matter what your position in the virtual, actual, philosophical, ethical or biblical sense, just remember...Practice Safe Stress!

"Higher Power of Humor" Section

Subj: Maintain a Sense of Humor!

From: aba@callintl.com

The Washington Post recently published a contest for readers in which they were asked to supply alternate meanings for various words. The following were some of the winning entries:

Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

Carcinoma (n.), a valley in California, notable for its heavy smog.

Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish expressions.

Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are some recent winners:

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the reader who doesn't get it.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very high.

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of obtaining sex.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like a serious bummer.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

And, best of all...

Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Seek the Higher Power of Humor:

May the Farce Be with You!


Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc,"™ is the Internet's and America Online's "Online Psychohumorist"™. An experienced psychotherapist, "The Doc" is a nationally recognized speaker, and training and OD consultant specializing in Stress, Anger Management, Reorganizational Change, Team Building and HUMOR! An expert advisor for www.AdviceZone.com and iVillage/allHealth, his writings are syndicated by iSyndicate.com and appear in a wide variety of online and offline forums and publications, including AOL/Online Psych and Business Know How, Mental Health Net, WorkforceOnline, HR.com, SelfhelpMagazine.com, Financial Services Journal Online, OpportunityWorld and Counseling Today. Recently, he was an expert for a CBS-TV Newspath segment on Workplace Violence and the Doc has been quoted and/or featured in such publications as Biography Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Bloomberg Report/News, Forbes Magazine, FoxNews.com, Dallas Morning News and The Washington Flyer. The Doc also leads his national "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" for AOL/Digital City and WebMD.com. Check out his USA Today Online "Hotsite" Website -- www.stressdoc.com . For info on his workshops or for his free newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662. Spring 2001, look for Practice Safe Stress with the Stress Doc, published by AdviceZone.com.

(c) Mark Gorkin 2000

Shrink Rap™ Productions