If a Heart Breaks Online, Does Anybody Care?

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A heart broken online feels real enough to me.

Generally, I think it’s good that online dating has become a “thing.” The world has changed so much; why shouldn’t dating change? I wonder, though, if it changes our expectations of how we should experience romance, love and “all that stuff.”

Does “meeting” someone online feel any less “real” than meeting in person? Should it?

According to the Pew Research Center, online dating has tripled among 18- to 24-year-olds since 2013. Twice the number of 55- to 64-year-olds search for love online since the same year. Here’s what’s interesting though:

One-third of people who have used online dating have never actually gone on a date with someone they met on these sites. -Pew Research Center

What?

Okay. Well, this statistic can mean a few things. Of course, it could mean that many people never find someone they want to meet in person. There are lots of creeps online, and scams. Oh, and sometimes, the match just doesn’t fit. That seems obvious. People, though, are so much more interesting than that, don’t you think? Consider this:

Online daters could literally be dating online.

Okay, that seems kind of obvious too. Think about it, though. There is potential in that statistic for a generation’s worth of chick-flick screenplays. Come to think of it, there already are movies based on that premise.

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Hold on, though – spoiler alert:

The characters in “You’ve Got Mail” actually meet. Well, that’s no real spoiler; They always do, in the movies, don’t they? In “real” life – maybe not so much.

So here’s what I’m wondering. If I talk to a guy online, and start to have feelings for him, can they be real? Could it even mean love? Am I (and, presumably, a portion of that one third of people who reportedly go online and never “meet” anyone in person) imagining my feelings?

Some say “yes.” Many, in fact. They argue that my feelings come from some idealized version of him. I don’t really know him, because we haven’t met. My feelings are completely based on – get this – talking to him. We haven’t learned the little things about each other. Wait a minute. Doesn’t that sound, sort of, like – dating? In fact, it kind of sounds like the first years of marriage (well, except for the part about not meeting).

We know some important stuff about each other – life events, family events, reactions, sense of humour. He’s talented, smart, witty, even-keeled. We have fought and made up. I have cyber yelled at him, and our friendship survived. And I know that I look forward to his name popping up in my inbox. I also know that I feel grouchy when it doesn’t.

The worst part is that I know we will never be together. It’s just not going to work out. Why? Does it matter? It is a loss.

We stay friends, and he is drifting away, because life is like that. And I have stopped dating for now, because my heart isn’t done with him yet. I tried to date at first, but it’s no use right now. You see, in the words of the Fox, from “The Little Prince,” he has somehow “tamed me.” I may even have tamed him, a little.

 

 

Months pass. It brightens my day to see his reply in my inbox, short, sometimes sweet and often mundane. What if it made all the difference in the world to me that we talked online, albeit briefly, over Christmas 2015, when I was without my kids for the first time, and I wanted the world to swallow me whole? We chatted. It was nothing much, and not often. But he was there when I didn’t have the heart to be with anyone else during Christmas “for real.” I didn’t want to feel so sad and lonely around happy people. But he isn’t “real.” So it’s different, I guess.

Also, I have no recourse, no claim. It’s not “real.” I must simply get over it.

I must sit in my reverie, unrequited, and suffer, or write. No one drops by to make you a cup of tea when you lose your imaginary boyfriend. Friends listen, God bless them, but their attention, understandably, redirects. I’ll say, “So-and-So emailed today,” and they’ll say, “Oh, do you still talk to him?”

Yes. Yes I do. It’s mundane, again, and based on friendship. I know I’ll stop feeling this way, because it’s all online, and therefore not “real.” I’ve made it all up. Right?

Maybe it’s more accurate – and kind – to say that I just need time to heal. My heart is broken. There is nothing “made up” or “imagined” about it.

It’s real, and it hurts.

 

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