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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

February 2000, No. 1, Sect. 2

A Stress Doc Valentine Love Online: Reality vs. "Romantasy"

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 awhile, 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 indiosyncracies, 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 used to be: "Senator." Then Bill Clinton comes along and ruins my joke!] 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! 

Announcements: 1) For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A -- Work Stress Digital City - Washington, DC - Ask the Stres... and Love and Relationships Digital City - Washington, DC - Relations . Also, check the Doc's Q & A Archives: Stress Doc's Q&A and Q&A: Love and Relationships .

A QUICK GUIDE TO ENTERING WEBMD LIVE EVENTS: by Jon Roig, Producer for Healtheon-WebMD, jroig@webmd.net

1) Go to WebMD -- the URL is http://webmd.com. As far as browsers go, both Internet Explorer and Netscape seem about equal, as long as you're using a reasonably recent version. Mac users generally have the best luck with Internet Explorer 4.5 with OS 8.6or better.

2) If you have not yet done so, please create an account. This will take approximately 10 minutes, so if you're planning on joining an event, you might wish to set aside some time to do so... * Click the "Login" button on the top navbar, just underneath the WebMD Health logo. * Click the "Become A Member" button * Please fill in the required fields: Nickname, Password, Email Address etc... * Click accept -- it'll let you know if you've missed fields. * There's no need to create a member profile right now, although you can if you like, of course.

3) Click the "WebMD LIVE Events" button -- it's on the left side, under "Home and News" and above "Member to Member"

4) This will take you to a list of upcoming events. Choose the one you want to enter by clicking on the title.

5) At the top of the announcement for the event, you should see an "Enter this Event" button. Click it.

6) This will then take you into the chat. At the top of the screen, you'll see the Terms and Conditions page. Please take a moment to read these, as they include information about general use of our live events areas, our privacy statement, general info, etc...

*A quick note about privacy* Obviously, we don't sell individual user's data to anyone, but we've heard stories of people getting spammed as a result of posting email addresses to our message boards. In a general sense, if privacy is a major concern and you want to post an email address on the boards, then get yourself an account with Hotmail or some similar anonymous email service. We don't necessarily endorse any specific service, but there are several good ones out there.

7) Click "Enter Chat" This will take you to our live event area, where the event of your choice is taking taking place.

The upper portion of the screen is where the conversation itself will be taking place. Feel free to ask you question at any time by typing "/ask" followed by your query... EX. /ask What are some constructive ways that I can quit smoking?

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, known as "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! His writings are syndicated by iSyndicate.com and appear in a wide variety of online and offline forums and publications, including AOL's Online Psych and Business Know How, WorkforceOnline, Mental Health Net, Financial Services Journal Online, Paradigm Magazine and Counseling Today. 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 2000, look for Practice Safe Stress with The Stress Doc™, published by AdviceZone.com.

(c) Mark Gorkin 2000 Shrink Rap™ Productions