Thursday, February 4, 2010

Take Care Out There With Cyber Romantic Interests

By Patty Maher

I just “unfriended” a handsome actor from Seattle on Facebook. On my birthday, a month-and-a half earlier, I blocked communication from a Philadelphia salesman on a faith-based dating site where I have been a low-key member for nearly a year.

The handsome actor kept posting videos and status updates that seemed to directly speak to MY heart. For instance, the day after I changed my profile picture to a white rose (long story; and yes, I admit I have tendencies towards melodrama!), he posted a link to an exquisitely performed rendition of the opera "Flower Duet."

About a week earlier, after he had picked an e-snowball fight with me, he had written in his status update that his resolution for the New Year was not to become a “clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk.” I have a special relationship with the Wizard of Oz and he knows it and so I assumed he was telling ME that he felt like the Tin Man and was afraid of what might happen to his heart. I e-mailed him a link to Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to console him. Yesterday was the last straw.

I found myself feeling like I was falling in love with him. I am not going to lie to you, I was thinking about wedding dresses! I am a fairly rational woman. I don’t go around falling head-over-heels in love with people all the time. But his seemingly romantic status updates had come to feel as if he was standing right outside my bedroom window, singing love songs and waving Valentines. My computer is in my bedroom, partially explaining why it felt that way. But I think it is pretty easy to slip into a pit of unreality on the internet – even for realistic people such as me.

I had to call him on it. I had to get a reality check. And I have to tell you, twenty-four hours ago I absolutely expected that he was going to tell me that he was the man for me and had, indeed, developed an indirect way of expressing it. I wrote to him and explained what I was feeling and what he seemed to be communicating to me. He seemed a bit alarmed. He even accused me of being “passive aggressive.” He said he meant nothing by posting the "Flower Duet" except to share a beautiful piece of art with his Facebook buddies and he was sorry that I had somehow taken it as being related to me. Now hearing THAT response was a little embarrassing, and to be honest with you, I am not sure that I totally believe it. I think to a certain degree he was knowingly being provocative.

But then I took another look at his “Wall” and noticed that it wasn’t just me whom he was provoking. He had quite a following with the ladies! In fact, since we had become Facebook buddies, only once had a male responded to any of his posts. But nearly every time he posted, there was quite a group of ladies ready to express approval or join in the conversation. One of his friends had been even more moved by "Flower Duet" than I had, apparently. She wrote “So beautiful, it made me cry!” He had called her “Babe” in a response to her comment about one of his posts about a week earlier. It strikes me as a bit odd that I didn’t notice his disproportionate male-female Facebook friend ratio earlier. But when you are falling in love, you believe what you want to believe. You see what you want to see. Love is blind. That’s ALWAYS a problem, but it seems especially problematic on the internet.

To give myself a bit of a break, the guy wasn’t some random person who I just added to my list of Facebook friends. We had bumped into each other on the same faith-based dating site where I “met” the Philly salesman. The handsome actor knew I had had a bit of a crush on him, had suggested several months earlier that he would love to be my “prince” if it would be God’s will and had been the one to suggest that we keep in touch via Facebook.

Since my divorce in January 2000, I have dabbled in internet dating here and there and mostly found it unsatisfactory. I don’t really like it. But I am over 40 now, hope for a partner who shares my faith background and I know several people who have had success finding mates at this particular dating site. As far as dating sites go, it is supposed to be a very good one. So far it isn’t generating a relationship, though, and I am on the verge of quitting it altogether. My experience with the Philly salesman was very odd. His family is fairly prominent in the social circles of our particular religion. He has an uncle who is high ranking and considered to be very holy and he made it a point to mention this in his biography. We started talking on the phone within the first week of writing and this was a refreshing change.

We seemed to have much in common. He was warm and funny and, best of all, he could out talk me. Any man who can out talk ME has my respect. We talked for three hours, then for two. The third time he called to talk I had to get off the phone because I was going out with some friends to celebrate my birthday which was the next day. I came home and found that he had e-mailed me. I was happy and expected a birthday greeting. Instead, he had written to say: “By the way, my balls are the size of pumpkins!”

I didn’t like that. I have become sexually modest as I have increasingly embraced the religion of my childhood and he had been aware of my feelings in this area and, I thought, shared them. Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. We live in a fallen world, I decided. He’s just trying to be funny and he’s awkward. He isn’t trying to offend me. So, I wrote him back and told him I didn’t like what he had said and that even though I had not always been sexually modest, I am today and I am looking for a partner who respects that.

He wrote back to say: “You’re too uptight.” I wrote him again to say that I may be uptight but this is how I feel and I thought he knew that. This was my birthday, mind you, and he was aware of that. He wrote back to say: “Well I SURE am glad that I started writing to you!” That was it for me. He didn’t respect my feelings. I blocked communication with him feeling bothered that I had allowed him to have six hours of my time on the phone preceding my birthday and that I hadn’t even received an e-card to note the special occasion.

The good news for me is I have very, very good real life friends who are always there for me when I need to talk and process such experiences. I think it is extremely important to have good friends. This is especially true for anyone who spends time on internet dating or social networking sites and those of us who do socialize on the internet should be certain spend even more time face-to-face and on the phone with real people with whom we share real life experiences and history. My “real people” saved my butt this week!

When I found myself all caught up in the "Flower Duet" and thinking about wedding dresses, I phoned a good friend of mine who is a Jewish mom and a psychologist. I love her; she usually never tells me what I want to hear! If not for her wisdom, I might still be imagining myself in an Opera with an actor from Seattle whom I have never met.

As I was drifting along a river of fantasy while talking to my friend, she said: “Patty, have you met this person?” I said: “No.’ She said: “And you’re falling in love with him?” I admitted: “Yes.” She said: “Well WHY haven’t you met him yet if you have been writing since April?” I said: “Well first he was on an island and he couldn’t get off (he was acting, summer theater) and THEN he had some important personal things that he had to take care of so we quit writing for several months. Now we have only been writing again for about a month…” She broke in: “Patty, I just want you to know the battery on my phone is going here and if it quits, I did not hang up on you… So, you have been writing this guy for a month?” I said: “Yes. One month.” She said: “And you think he’s in falling in love with you?” I said: “Yes, I do!” She said: “So what’s the hold up? Why isn’t he meeting you?” I explained: “Well NOW his mother is getting chemo and he’s under a lot of stress. I guess she has cancer.” My friend said, just before her phone went dead: “Well you need to meet this man! I don’t understand what the holdup is. Seattle isn’t that far if he wants to meet you. My father was dying when my husband and I met…’

Dead air, her battery died – but not before she imparted JUST ENOUGH Jewish-psychologist-mom wisdom to shake me back to reality. Is the actor guy from Seattle in love with me? No. Is he ever going to be in love with me: probably not! Do I really want some guy who (assuming he genuinely lacks material resources) hasn’t stolen himself away on a freight train to come and see me by now when he has known of my lovely existence for almost a year? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I saw He’s Just Not That Into You. I know how these things work. The guy isn’t interested. Not interested. So why did he ever want to become my Facebook buddy to begin with and what was with the snowball fight and the seemingly romantic posts? Who knows?! Who cares?!

Ladies (and gentleman!), take care out there in cyberspace. It’s a dangerous place for those of us who grew up reading Jane Austin or Danielle Steele. When I was a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer in the late 1990s I had the opportunity in interview then-AOL-Online-Dating-Specialist, Dr. Kate Wachs author of Dr. Kate’s Love Secrets, published by Paper Chase Press. Dr. Wachs, made the following recommendations for online dating:

• Don’t befriend anybody who lives more than two hours away. Long-distance relationships pose problems.
• Don’t give out any personal information until you have met the guy several times.
• Meet at a public place and bring a friend with you if possible, even if just to hang out at a separate table while you meet the guy.
• Meet as soon as possible. If you don’t you may fall into the trap of an unrealistic fantasy about the person.

I thought I was a good enough judge of character and had been around the world enough that I didn’t have to follow the love doctor’s suggestions quite so rigidly. Nobody was going to pull the wool over my eyes! It doesn’t matter. Even if a guy isn’t trying to be evasive, the online communication methods are fraught with opportunities to live in La La Land. So, even if you think you know better, even if the guy seems kind and sweet and innocent – don’t fall in love online! And if you find yourself headed in that direction RUN to the nearest telephone and call your favorite Jewish-mother-psychologist friend IMMEDIATELY and LISTEN to what she has to say.

Also, I highly recommend that people don’t “friend” former love interests or potential love interests. For a week or so before I unfriended the actor, I thought I was getting addicted to Facebook. I don’t think that’s the case. What WAS addictive was not Facebook itself but rather the excitement of looking in on a prospective love interest or wondering what he was thinking about my status updates and posts. THAT was driving me crazy. From now on, no old boyfriends or potential boyfriends are allowed in my Facebook “friend” collection. Nobody gets in until I have an engagement ring on my finger. Of course there is the possibility that one of my friends could become a romantic interest in the future. I have made a pact with myself: if it happens, I will drop him as a Facebook friend and let the relationship blossom offline.

Reality is way better than fantasy land, especially when you make the effort to connect regularly with people who care about you. We all have those people. We must pull ourselves away from our computers and hang out with them face-to-face on a regular basis!


  1. Dear Patty.

    There are a lot of things I love about you. One of them is your brilliant creativity. Your unbounded imagination and true love for life bleeds into everything you do. This blog is an exquisite example of your dynamic soul. I am thrilled to read your writing on account of your true passion for the art. You, are absolutely stunning my dear.

    Good for you.

    Nicole Lee

  2. Thanks for your honesty Patty. That's gutsy. I know only too well how easy it is for us women to weave a web of fantasy around a kernel of truth when it comes to romance! Every woman needs to read this, regardless of whether or not they are trying online dating, and every man needs to take heed too, as an example of how NOT to woo or impress a woman! (And you are NOT uptight btw, just an adult responding to a very puerile chap!)

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful words, ladies! You're all so fabulous and I am honored and delighted to have you along for this ride through cyberspace with me.

  4. Patty,

    Very wise. A family member was in a troubled marriage and she decided to befriend a high school boyfriend on FB. She's got three kids and her mother-in-law had recently died of cancer (within a year). She left her husband the week before Christmas to move in with him. If only more people, especially women was more cautious about FB. Even simple things about telling everyone where you're going on vacation before you leave and when you'll be back! Sometimes people can peek and who you think your friends are ... well, be careful out there.

  5. Thanks Chris, for sharing this story. It is sad. Things can happen so quickly on the internet and that is possibly the biggest problem, I think. Rash decisions that have great impact on many lives.


    Based on what Chris said, I looked up some advise for anyone who gets a crush on a married person. I think the URL above has some very sound and thoughtful advise.