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Dating Online and Heartbreak

Protecting Yourself While Finding Love on IM

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In love and matters of the heart, breaking up is a hard thing to do.
It’s even harder when your significant other’s mother does it for you.

When Timothy Geitner met the man of his dreams in 1999, the otherwise stable adult felt like a high school kid again. After meeting “Anthony” in an AOL chat room one spring evening, the two clicked over IM to a four-hour phone call all in one night.

The chemistry was like magic, with time rushing past the two lovers as they forged a deep long-distance relationship, held together by sweet nothings shared across the Internet, phone calls and face-to-face visits on a regular basis. Three years later, however, it was Anthony’s sudden insistence on ending the otherwise romantic relationship that left Geitner speechless.

“He said he was being sent to London for work and it would not be good for ‘a relationship,” Geitner said. “…Not even ‘our’ [long-distance] relationship.”

Stunned, Geitner desperately sought answers over the weeks and months after the relationship's abrupt end only to find out from Anthony’s mother everything wasn’t as it had seemed. Anthony had not been offered any job in London nor had been involved in more rigorous work training, which he said prevented him from talking to Geitner. He did, however, meet someone else.

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Each year, millions of people flock to the Internet to make connections for romance, for dating or for sex. According to one estimate, 15 percent of Internet users use online personal sites and other Internet tools to meet people for romantic pursuits.

But, while some people find true love online, a staggering number of Internet daters can report at least one online romance that turned sour.

It all comes down to inconsistencies between people as they are in the real world versus how they present themselves online, says Karol Ward, L.C.S.W., author of “Find Your Inner Voice: Using Instinct and Intuition Through the Body-mind Connection.”

“Many people view the Internet as this great place to tap into a wide variety of people to meet, compared to dark, smoky bars,” the New York psychotherapist said. “If you are shy, if you don’t have great self esteem, there is a control issue that becomes available to these people online where they control the image they project online, which often is different than who they really are.”

Another issue, Ward says, is the speed at which IM and Internet dating progresses and the information shared during such exchanges.

Whereas people engaging each other in real-life conversation must stop to absorb what people are saying before they formulate a response, IM allows for a steady stream of discussion without much thought.

“They are connected instantly, people are responding immediately and receiving immediate gratification,” Ward said. “Unlike where people used to write love letters, where the recipient would read it, digest it, sit down and thinking about what to say before they wrote back, IM keeps people from having real judgment about what they are saying.”

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