I was hoping that people could share their experiences with me about relationships with people they had met online. Both in terms of friendships and romantic/sexual relationships. What worked well and what didn't.
Some specific questions I had- What kind of sites are safe, especially for younger people? How do you keep yourself emotionally safe? (About being physically safe, it's reasonably clear to me) What is it like if/when you've met the person in real life? How are these relationships different from in-person relationships?
To give these questions some context, some time ago I joined a site for lesbian and bisexual-identifying women. Mostly I was looking to meet some women who could relate to my cultural background and also shared that sexual orientation. I had found it very difficult to meet and maintain contact with such women at my local GLBT groups. For a host of reasons, it's pretty impossible for me to date a woman at the moment, but I was really feeling in need of a friend in a similar situation.
Problem is, I feel very wary about disclosing information about myself online. Somewhere like Scarleteen is a bit different as we maintain a degree of anonymity and do not expect to meet the people here in-person at any point. So in my profile, there is no photo and the details about me are so general that they probably apply to 50% of the population. Understandably, such a profile does not generate much interest. Although profile information is only available to site members, still I have fears about someone recognising me there and outing me. It concerns me that this site is linked to facebook- it would be so easy to connect someone's profile picture to their real name on facebook.
Also, I've had a previous bad experience talking (writing) about my sexuality online with a real-life friend who now lives overseas. Some of his comments were very insensitive (though intended to be funny) and hurt me. At the same time, I *know* that he is not an insensitive person, and were we sitting next to each other talking, he would have responded very differently. Sometimes what I write can seem nonchalant, tough, even joking. But inside, I hold all this fear and sadness. It can be so hard to see the nuances when chatting online. After that day, I told myself I wouldn't ever disclose that much to someone without at least hearing their voice on the other side.
Anyway, I look forward to reading about others' experiences. Advice also welcome.
-------------------- "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."
I haven't had much experience with online communities in terms of dating sites or like sites for a specific purpose. But I have had online relationships with people, friendship, over online games. There were about two genuinely nice people I met, everyone else made me extremely uncomfortable. Let me explain why. The young men in these games often seeked a romantic online relationship with any girl that comes along. They would say things like no one likes me, or other put-downs to themselves. And I think their motive is for me to always counter by saying a lot of people like you, or you're not ugly, or whatever. It makes me really uncomfortable because I hardly knew these people but yet I must say these things if I want to be polite. But when you actually need them for something, like a quest, all of these so called friends online are all of a sudden busy. And once or twice, they just kept begging me to be with them in a fake online marriage in-game, that I complied because I simply didn't want to be harassed anymore. I had a boyfriend at the time and I made explained the situation to him and made sure he was okay with it. You may have other views but I never said anything to these online people that was anything more than what a polite acquaintance might say to them. I regret this now though, totally. I should not have enabled them, and I should not have done this to my boyfriend, even though I didn't cheat physically or to me psychologically. I just feel like I violated something that was just for the two of us.
The only two nice people I have met were dealing with some self-esteem issues as well but I could feel that their friendship with me was genuine. We helped each other and talked about issues that were bothering us casually. I did a very bad thing though because by that time, I had gotten so sick and tired of the online gaming community that I just cut off all contact with it, including those two. It was almost a painful memory to me. I never said goodbye to these two. I should have and I'm so sorry now. I guess you know you're getting old when you're starting to regret things.
I think sites safe for young people are sites like Scarleteen, where is educational and not filled with people seeking to use young people for something. And sites like Neopets that keep the contents to strictly a safe level.
I have trouble keeping myself emotionally safe anywhere. I have issues I'd rather not disclose here but now I tend to remove myself from online contact except for help/educational sites like Scarleteen for fear of getting used/hurt.
I have never met the person in real life. I would almost never do that. One is just because they are mostly geographically in the States and two I frankly have no desire to. The people I have met online in these games have almost always been emotionally unstable to say the least and it wouldn't have been very safe to meet them in person.
These relationships for me are no different than in person relationships. I behave the same way. Although I doubt these people express their insecurities so openly to the people in their real lives.
I wish that I had never stumbled onto those games. Honestly. I just don't deserve to be hurt emotionally like that. But I was young and I never listened to my elders.
Posts: 53 | From: Toronto | Registered: Jul 2009
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Hi Eryn, I'll do my best to give share my experiences constructively.
I've had a lot of online relationship experience since getting 'Net access in my early teens. Nearly all of them, for me, were negative, for several reasons. I had low self-esteem, so caved easily to requests for more personal information-sharing than I was comfy with. The circumstances were also such that we'd never meet (several overseas people when I was too young to travel, a few much older men where it would be very problematic), so the relationships naturally burned out after lots of drama, fighting, etc. However! I'm now happily married to someone I did meet on-line, so it's not all bad.
I think the safest sites are things like Facebook, MySpace, and other "networking" sites. Not only is it pretty physically safe, but I have never met someone I was friends with/had a good relationship with overall from a dating site or message board. Speaking of message board/forum dating: no go! Trust me. If you're into gaming on-line, that can also be a fun and safe way to interact.
It's also a good idea IMO to avoid dating-centric sites simply because it sets a premise, and can interfere with exactly what you're trying to accomplish, getting to know and like someone. There are some people more interested in getting to know you as a new "lay" or even spouse, from the get-go! But on the other hand, if you state exactly what you're looking for and take no less, it can be very straightforward and fun.
Per keeping emotionally safe.. I'd advise you to date someone who you can meet in-person in a reasonable amount of time. It's totally do-able though if they're far away, but it's much harder to keep your expectations and "image" of the other person in check. They can tell you every detail about themselves, but your brain will automatically fill any and all subtle blanks with the traits that are most desirable to you, and that can lead to disappointment when you do meet. Most importantly, try your hardest to fall "in like", not love. You can totally like someone, find them attractive, etc, but like an article on this site says, it can be crushingly painful to decide you love someone, then meet and find there's nothing there.
What's it like meeting in person.. well, I was spooked, but that was kinda due the whole up-rooting-entire-life thing and intercontinental travel. But, really, it was all the same. We were talking and joking with each other as usual, even if a little shy, side-glance-ish, and giggly. He was shorter than I expected and had gained some weight from his photos, though, and I was a little bit disappointed, even though he told me he had (mental image, die!). But ultimately it was us both sitting on our butts chatting for hours for months that caused it, so I could let it slide.
My relationship is a bit of an online-relationship-anomaly I think, though. We knew each other for about 7 years, remained good friends, and had a must-conceal-wax and wane-crush on each other for a couple years. The realization that we were preferring romantic/friend company to each other's and his kindness to offer to help me in my need made me realize that I loved him, against my better judgment and against my advice to you!
Anyway, I hope you've managed to stick it out through this. Please let me know if you have any other questions/concerns/thoughts.
Posts: 4636 | From: USA/Northern Europe | Registered: Oct 2005
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I wrote a longer response to you on this elsewhere but I wanted to share my experiences here because I've been in your shoes before. The more viewpoints and personal stories you can get, the better I think!
My experiences with meeting people online have been entirely positive. Granted, I started in my 20s, moved very slowly in terms of comfort level, and just did what felt right which changed as my life changed and technology evolved. I have online friendships with people whom I speak to entirely online and do not know all my information (the amount I share increases with comfort level and time), others whom I've met in person and had a nice chat to ones that grew into in-person friendships where we keep in touch often and meet up when we get a chance. In fact, I met my current partner online; I had not expected or hoped for a relationship to blossom but it's been wonderful and I am so glad that the internet enabled our getting to know each other.
As for the people I've met in person, all those meet-ups have been positive. Some were a one-time deal and others were more long-term. Then again, as with any friendship, I seek good conversation and some shared commonalities (although having differences also gives us stuff to talk about!) I've lived in various places and had different types of friendships and acquaintances, so I'm pretty flexible and open, too. I met them through various sites and platforms; however, I was very delayed in joining actual social networking sites but know of so many people who consider them a staple for getting to know people ahead of time when moving. I have friends, both straight and queer, who met their partners at online dating sites; I know of other people who were not as "successful" in this regard.
I personally stick to mostly speaking to women online because I just tend to feel more comfortable, at least at first, although I certainly have branched out to include men, etc. If you can connect with friends of friends or use sites where there is a certain amount of ID verification, that might feel more comfortable. I talked a lot with friends who had met people online for advice and their experiences. Of course, every person and every dynamic is different.
My bit of advice is that if you are finding yourself falling for someone online that you stay cautiously optimistic and meet up sooner rather than later if you get a chance. I decided I'd rather meet sooner rather than later before any more feeling developed; I felt that, until I'd meet in person, what we had was a cross between a friendship and dating, nothing committed or all that "serious"... well, other than seriously fun.
Granted, a in-person friendship is going to be different but every relationship is different; having someone separate from your everyday life to talk about stuff can be really nice, especially if you share a common goal and can support each other through stuff. Still, I think online friendships still can be considered real friendships, just of a different stripe, at least at first. Whereas in a dating situation I'd want to meet more quickly, I would like to meet all my internet friends/acquaintances given the chance; however that chance may not come up for weeks, months or even years, and that's ok. I'm sorry to hear thing did not work out in the situation you mentioned above; backpedaling when it feels uncomfortable is important, but there's no need to get down on yourself for trying... it is all a learning experience, to use a trite-but-true phrase. Most people are *not* bad or "out to get you", as you know, it's just being careful to avoid the ones who are shady.
That's my experience and my perspective but I know it's different for everyone. Good luck, please go with your gut, and let us know how it goes!
Hey Eryn! That's a topic where I have a bit of experience, so let me see if there's anything I can add to the great responses you've already received.
I started using the Internet regularly around 11 years ago, when our family computer was hooked up to the 'net (so, at the time, I was 13-ish). Since then, I've had all sorts of friendships and relationships with people I met online, and amongst all of them, there was only one creepy experience.
As to your first question, what kind of sites I would deem safe: Initially (the first year or so) I hung out a lot in AOL chatrooms and had a new 'boyfriend' every week. Thankfully I had the good sense, even then, to never give out more than my first name and, at most, the state I lived in. We mostly talked about trivial stuff and never had any real intentions of getting to know each other beyond IM. [Which, I think, is what a lot of 'net safety' - physically and emotionally - is all about, regardless which site you're on: Knowing what to disclose and what to keep to yourself.]
Later, I started frequenting a message board that's since stopped existing, and for most of the next 4-5 years, that's where I spent most of my online-time. This is also where the vast majority of my friendships have formed (and though the board has stopped existing 4 years ago, our 'clique' is still in regular contact and most of us have met up in real-life at least once by now). I've gotta say: a place like that is probably the safest way to meet someone, simply because it's just a place to hang out, without an agenda (as opposed to, say, online dating sites). Friendships and relationships formed naturally - I know of one couple that met up and got married, another group of people agreed to apply to the same college after graduation and they're all still friends to this day, I met my first girlfriend at that site 5 years ago and we're still friends and visit regularly.
As for the dating-sites: I met the aforementioned Creepy Guy at a dating site called Okay Amigo, which I joined as a joke (I think it was a quiz that they had which assessed your personality as you joined up, and a bunch of us thought it'd be funny to see what results we'd get). I received an e-mail at some point that made me curious and started talking to the sender, but things quickly turned strange. After he started bombarding me with close-up pictures of various body parts (allegedly his), I closed my account. Thankfully, I'd never given him any identifying information, or even my e-mail address.
So far, I've met 5 people in person that I had originally met online. Each time, things went very well. There is that awkward second or two when you first see each other, but then I've always felt comfortable around those people very quickly. I've always managed to continue the friendship in-person that has started online.
I've also started two relationships online. The first was the one with my girlfriend that I have mentioned before. That one did not survive our in-person meeting, as I quickly realized that we had no chemistry. That, I think, is the biggest pit-fall with Internet dating. No matter how well you relate to someone and how much you 'click' with them, no matter how much time you've spent with them on the phone or on webcam, no matter how attractive you think they are - you just cannot predict whether you will have real chemistry in person. And expecting big sparks when you finally meet someone for the first time can lead to a big disappointment. (Which is why I think Lena's comment above is very wise, about trying to meet up early on in the relationship so you can suss out your actual attraction before you get too invested.)
The second relationship lasted for five years and just ended a few months ago, for unrelated reasons. We were introduced online by a mutual friend, started 'dating' two years later and met in person for the first time another year later. Since we'd both had attempted online relationships before, with similar results, we kept our expectations low and were pretty blown away by the intense attraction we did then experience immediately.
Most of all, I think it's all trial-and-error. You obviously can't always know who's on the other side of the screen, but if you're careful and trust your gut (as well as adhere to all of the meeting-online-friends rules about selecting a public place and letting someone know what you're up to, etc), it's really not much different from meeting people and forming friendships and relationships 'in real life'.
-------------------- -joey Scarleteen Volunteer
"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand Posts: 8422 | From: Cologne, Germany | Registered: Sep 2005
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Thank you guys for really considering my questions and writing such detailed responses. I'll respond more once my emotions and globe travels have settled down. August is turning into such an intense rollercoaster month. Bring on September..
-------------------- "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."
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