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The False Intimacy of Online Relationships

Updated on March 15, 2011

Dear Veronica,

I was involved in an online relationship for 3 months. I swear I never knew anyone as well as I knew this guy. We would spend hours and hours chatting every night. I told him things I’ve never told anyone. I believed we were best friends and I thought we built this incredible foundation for a relationship. To keep a long story short, we finally got together in real life. We spent 2 weeks together and it ended horribly. I don’t know what happened. How could we have been so honest and close online and then be total strangers in real life?



Dear Bewildered,

I’ve gotten several emails regarding this topic: the incredible intimacy you can feel with someone online that doesn’t translate into real life. I chose your letter because stripped of the details it speaks for everyone, addressing the core of what happened instead of burying it in blame and minutia.

The first thing to swallow here is that the persona someone shows you online is deliberate. They choose what to share, and when. I’m not saying it was a front or a game, I’m saying it was his choice what to share.

I think the confusion for this comes with the idea of what’s real versus what’s intimate. Giving you both the full benefit of the doubt that there weren’t lies and fake profiles involved, I’m trying to explain that there are the truths we want to share, and the truths we don’t. And then there’s the truths that we don’t even know ourselves.

Let me give you some examples. He decides to tell you something intimate about his childhood. Something he did that he regrets, or a time he was bullied, or a horrible fight with his mother that he never really worked through. And he tells you, he’s never had anyone he could share that with. He’s never trusted someone enough to talk about this.

His sharing and his framing of that sharing create a false sense of intimacy. You feel trusted and close to him, you feel like this brings you to a place more important than most meaningless exchanges in real life.

But the thing is, he chose this. He wanted to share this story. You may have been a wonderful listener, but at least part of the reason why he could trust you with it was the anonymity. It’s actually the opposite of the closeness you perceive.

Meanwhile, for every thing he chooses to share, there are 100 that he doesn’t. He didn’t tell you he’s rude to waitresses, or the kind of twisted porn that gets him going, or that he doesn’t brush his teeth every day.

The things that are unflattering that he shares, are still choices. And at that, they are still things you’re hearing and weighing against the significance and depth of what you’ve decided are much more important things. For example, you’re enthralled with this story about this horrible falling out he had with his mother, and the fact that he’s trusted you with it while he hasn’t even told his best friend about it. So, when he tells you some quip of how he didn’t leave a tip for a waitress because she was rude, and why should he ever tip at all, you don’t dwell on it. You don’t put your magnifying glass on it. You dismiss it as a joke, or some silly incident. Instead you choose to pay attention to what you want to magnify.

Sharing private wonderful secrets is certainly relationship building. But without reality, there isn’t much to measure it by. For example, it’s one thing to hear him make a few disparaging comments about waitresses. It’s entirely another to sit in a diner with him and experience it, feeling embarrassed when the insulted waitresses looks at you. Feeling disgusted when you look at him and see this side of him.

Or, after hearing about this horrible fight he had with this mother many years ago, feeling his pain and inner turmoil over it, you finally meet her. You’re appalled that he hugs her hello, smiling. You can’t bring yourself to be overly warm with her, you can only hear in your head the horrible things she said to him during that fight. It’s all surreal, seeing him with her, seeing him fine.

That’s because in reality, many years have passed. Feelings have healed. Even thought he still has hurt and needed a little therapy about it, the truth is it has passed. That’s how reality works. He has had years and years to get used to those feelings and put that fight into perspective. You on the other hand are just feeling it and absorbing it for the first time.

My friend Marie pointed something out to me. She said that when you don’t have friends and places and any things in common with someone, you have no way to measure who they really are. Just the common experience of being in a diner together is a means by which we can measure a person.

It’s like seeing a picture of a monkey online and thinking it’s incredibly cute. You read all about the monkey, you watch videos. You feel you’ve done your research and you know a lot about this kind of monkey.

But there’s no common ground. There’s nothing in the online readings or video clips that says anything about how this particular monkey would be in your particular house and life.There's no way to know how he will like your spaghetti, or if he'll react to your shampoo. You can't know if the monkey will hate your living room and fling poop all over it, or if he'll chew your best shoes. You can't know the reality of having this monkey in your life from an online experience of him.

Another thing to realize is that when you’re online, you’re choosing your moments. When you feel particularly unsocial or angry, you just don’t go online. When you go online you put your best foot forward. If your have a webcam, you make sure your hair is fixed and your fly is zipped before you walk past, or sit down to chat. It’s you at your best without the distractions of other people or work or anything else that could make you irritable or uncomfortable. You aren’t chatting with this online love when you are being yelled at by your boss for being 10 minutes late, or when you’re dry cleaner is telling you he has no record of your drop-off. You aren’t looking into the webcam smiling at him while your sister is sitting behind you telling you she’s dating your ex, the one that stole money from you and tried to hit you. When your online guy is sharing his secrets with you, it’s not while you are being cut off in traffic or bumped with a shopping cart by some rude kid. He has your full undivided attention.

I think meeting people online is great. I personally know quite a few couples that met online and are still happily together in real life after many years.

I also know many people that met someone in real life, and completely blew it.

You don’t have to meet online to go down in flames. And your online relationship isn’t necessarily doomed. It’s easy online to have a false sense of someone, even someone that’s being open and honest with you.

Bewildered, I hope this has answered your question and has explained what happened. The next time you meet someone online, don’t fool yourself into thinking there’s intimacy there when there can only be so much closeness online. The best advice I can give you regarding online relationships, is to meet in real life as soon as you can. That will help you to avoid creating a world of perceptions that don’t involve reality.

Regardless of the outcome, have you ever been in love with someone you knew online without meeting them in real life?

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Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    ausart 6 years ago

    I just broke up with someone who had been a chat friend years ago, met in person this time and it was like a reunion, great for about 3 weeks, then growing bad gut feeling. Just annoyed with myself I didn't pull the pin 2 weeks ago.

  • KateWest profile image

    KateWest 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    Something similar happened to me. I communicated with someone from another state online for a year before starting to really become friends. When I visited him, it just didn't work and I blame this somewhat on life, but mostly on his lying to me and changing his mind and thinking he knew me intimately, when he didn't. As much as I tried to tell him we didn't know each other yet, he kept reassuring me that it was all so very "real". Shallow victory in ending up right, after all.

  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 6 years ago from NY

    Thanks very much pajamazzon!

  • pajamazzon profile image

    pajamazzon 6 years ago

    hi Veronica your advice is EXCELLENT

  • profile image

    Suz 6 years ago

    In other words, to get to know someone you need to see them in context.

    I'd say some of the things she was talking about - like what we choose to magnify and choose to ignore - are true of real life relationships too.

  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY

    Thank you jorja.

    I think that's a beautiful idea: having a fantasy and enjoying it for what it is. It sounds so balanced and healthy to me. :)

  • jorja kick profile image

    jorja kick 7 years ago from southeast georgia

    excellent points....

    I have been close with someone for a year,we haven't met..

    I thin fantasy is so much better then reality that I don't really want to meet him now and ruin what we have..

    better to stay pen pals..


  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY

    Thanks Brinafr3sh, I appreciate it!

  • Brinafr3sh profile image

    Brinafr3sh 7 years ago from West Coast, United States

    Cool topic, you are so on point about how we create a good perseption about the other person, then find out in real life that they are kind of off.(vote up, useful)

  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY


    Thanks for commenting. Your comment meant a lot to me, and I'm really glad to hear I said some things that connected for you. Best to you.

  • profile image

    it's me 7 years ago

    I am "Bewildered."

    Thank you for your email and for this lovely article. This was an amazing resource for me at this time. I am still really struggling with what happened. I hope this doesn't sound mean but just hearing that I am not the only one that's written you about this kind of thing made me feel a little better. Your take on this was so insightful. I just never thought about the way we measure what's real about people before. I wanted to think I was seeing this rare side of him but the point is it was a side he wanted to show me. The parts of him I needed to see where not involved in that part. It is amazing how well you explained everything, even how I was with his mother. I don't want to say anymore, I just want you to know how meaningful this was for me. Thank you, you've opened my eyes.

  • Ddraigcoch profile image

    Emma 7 years ago from UK

    A relevant topic and one that so many people are falling for. Although it can happen in real life it is more prevalent in cyber space.

  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY

    Justsilvie, crystolite and Elddwen, thanks so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.

  • profile image

    Justsilvie 7 years ago

    Excellent and Very Realistic Hub!

  • crystolite profile image

    Emma 7 years ago from Houston TX

    Interesting and realistic topic which all and sundry really have to look into.Well, thanks for sharing this topic that is actually turning into a problem to this generation of ours.

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

    Hi Veonica,

    Thank you for covering a subject that sadly many fall into.

    If we are genuine people then it is difficult to comprehend how flase and coniving these fraudsters can be.

    I hope that many will benefit from your great hub Veronica.

    A very definite up/useful for this one.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Take care


  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY

    Thank you mr kumbah!

  • mr kumbah profile image

    mr kumbah 7 years ago

    Great hub, online relationships are generally faceless and I think you need to "break the ice ", they're not real in my eyes and its always easier to talk to a stranger, look how many people pour there hearts out on here to total starngers ! Ive been one of them, good hub , many thanks!

  • Earth Angel profile image

    Earth Angel 7 years ago

    GREAT and HONEST Hub Veronica! Thank you for sharing!

    What often drives people to create intimate relationships online is an underlying paradoxical desire to truly connect with another while limiting the emotional risks!

    Thank you for bringing this important subject to light in a real life, humorous, insight-filled way!

    Blessings always, EarthAngel!

  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY

    Thank you crystolite.

    DaNoblest, I'm glad you agree. Thanks for commenting.

  • DaNoblest profile image

    DaNoblest 7 years ago from California

    You have some very sound advice here. I have been through some online relationships and I believe you are right about the closeness vs. real intimacy. You can spend so much time getting to know someone only to find there is no chemistry when you meet them. The relationship fizzles out pretty fast at that point. I would have to agree 100% with you when you say to meet them as soon as possible.

  • crystolite profile image

    Emma 7 years ago from Houston TX

    Excellent write up that is well elaborated.

  • Veronica profile image

    Veronica 7 years ago from NY

    Thank you very much, stefancando!

  • stefancando profile image

    stefancando 7 years ago from Iasi

    this is a really important topic as many pepole tend to be sucked into such relationships. thanks for taking th time to write this. vote up