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
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
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
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
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
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 .
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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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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