Have you ever been caught up in the shackling woes of a digital romance? An online love affair? A relationship that transpires via the art of text?
The type in which you incessantly message one another to the point of compulsion. You Facebook message ad nauseam.
You find yourself living in between fiery, hyper-sexualized, blazingly passionate emails with a person you may not have ever even encountered in the flesh.
You are complete and utter strangers. Yet you feel this wildly electric connection. They have awoken something deep within you. Something you thought was dead. Something that hasn’t arisen in years.
You feel almost addicted to the sticky, sweet sounds of “new message” alerts as they preciously radiate from the speakers of your beloved smartphone.
It’s a fleeting high. Like drugs.
Your eyes dilate. Your energy inflates. Your vision crystalizes. The world suddenly seems more manageable. You’ve become a fiend for typed-out words from a faceless lover.
It doesn’t matter how your digital romance begins. It could be with someone you briefly met in a crowded bar while traveling to an unfamiliar city.
The two of you somehow exchanged phone numbers while waiting for a fresh cocktail. Cut to a week later, and you’re obsessively texting with this stranger that you can hardly remember talking to.
Sometimes it happens with an old flame from high school who lives on the other side of the country.
It was 3 am one solo Sunday night, and you were sleeplessly trolling Facebook when you stumbled upon that gorgeous, familiar face.
Manic, and tired and bleary eyed, you decided to send her a brief and innocent private message. Just a “Hi, how are you?” sort of thing.
Cut to three days later, and somehow, the two of you are amidst a hot Facebook affair. Throughout the course of your nine-to-five workday, you’re sexting her your dirtiest sexual desires.
Or it could be the mysterious entity you matched with on Tinder last week. You were feeling overcome with loneliness and unsettling feelings of acute vulnerability last Thursday… so you decided to swipe right for once in your damn life. And BOOM. It’s a match.
Cut to today, and you’re pouring your heart out to one another over an online hookup app.
The point of origin is irrelevant. Because you, you are in deep. You’re stuck. You’re fixated. You’re in a digital romance.
And while you just might be safe from the slew of STDs that penetrate the real world, you have caught a surprising and dangerous infection: feelings.
Unexpected feelings that have manifested online.
It feels good to feel. So what’s the problem?
Digital feelings aren’t real feelings.
It’s an affair that isn’t rooted in reality. It’s rooted digitally, and digital roots don’t run deep.
So if digital feelings aren’t real feelings — why are we so enthralled?
How is it possible for a person we don’t even know, a person whom we hardly have borne witness to with our keen, naked eyes, to attain the powerful ability to conjure up such deep emotion within us?
Because this person is playing out our fantasies, baby. And it’s far easier to fall in love with a fantasy than it is an actual person.
It’s easy to project a fantasy on to what isn’t directly in front of us.
When real, living, breathing, fully realized human beings are in front of us, we can’t project our illusions on to them.
They are multi-faceted, deeply flawed, imperfect little creatures. They have opinions that are exclusively their own. They crave things we might not crave.
On the contrary, when we only interact with someone at a distance, we are free to let our fantasies run wild.
We inflate the weight of their beauty and brainpower in the safety of our heads because they’re not sitting in front of us, proving us wrong.
We can fill the empty spaces with whatever we want.
Digital love is a profile picture; real love is a tagged picture.
Digital feelings can make us feel like we are head-over-heels in love. And it’s easy for people to love us back quickly and recklessly too.
Because we’re not our full, real selves in the digital world. We’re the perfectly curated version of ourselves. We are able to bend our identities to fit into their fantasies.
They aren’t looking at our puffy faces after a night of drinking too much. They’re not witnessing us in the throes of the Sunday scaries when we’re teeming with relentless anxiety about the looming work week.
No. Not at all. We’re simply sending them pretty pictures of ourselves in pretty lighting.
We make sure our profile pictures on Facebook are impossibly gorgeous, right?
It’s always the picture that best displays our personal styles, and bodies and faces in the perfect softening filter.
Tagged pictures are a far different story. They capture us unfiltered and off guard.
In tagged pictures we’re often drunk with one slanted eyed. We are laughing our faces off in a deranged fashion. We are dressed in terrible clothes looking like the definition of a creep. Glowing in an unflattering light.
They aren’t perfect. They are anything but perfect. But they are real. And more often than not, it’s what we actually look like.
The goal is to find someone who can find beauty in our tagged pictures. A digital romance doesn’t give our partner a chance to even fall in love with our real selves because we don’t let him or her see us as we really are.
No one can live up to his or her profile picture.
We are able to perfectly construct our sentences.
We are able to calculatedly construct our words when we’re engaged in a digital romance. When we’re conversing in person, we don’t have time to think.
We don’t have time to stew up the wittiest answer. We don’t have the luxury of re-reading our partner’s words.
Person-to-person, we can only say what we’re feeling in the heat of the moment. Which is usually the closest thing to the raw truth.
Our partner might not want to hear our truth. In fact, if our partner did hear it, this person might decide he or she doesn’t even like us.
I’ve conducted the “perfect” text message responses for my friends to send over to their digital lovers. There is no way to even know that words we receive over text are authentically theirs.
The real danger of the digital romance.
So why does it matter? Why can’t we take a dip in the digital pond? It’s fun. It feels good in here.
Yeah, it’s all fun. Until it’s not.
We become so deeply engrossed in our digital romances, often for dark reasons.
They prevent us from having to face our unhappy realities. They’re akin to a Xanax: They work to temporarily stave off the pressing fear of being alone and the bouts of relentless anxiety.
But just like a Xanax or a strong drink, when the buzz wears off… we’re often left feeling worse than before.
We become heartbroken because we are losing our fantasy. The falsified feel-good.
We projected everything we wished and hoped could happen on to a digital person. A figment of our imagination. Once the fantasy evaporates, we’re forced to look into the mirror of our lives. Without a filter.
It’s hard. It’s hard to face the fact that we’re unsatisfied at work. It’s hard to confront our loneliness.
But the only way to be truly happy is to take an honest look at our lives so we can figure out what proactive changes we need to make in order feel at peace.
We need to stop looking for quick fixes and shortcuts to love and fulfillment. We need to fall in love with our real realities, not our digital “realities.” We need to cultivate wholeness within ourselves.
And when we do finally get our hands on the real thing, when we do find someone whom we love in the in harsh rays of light — it’s the most exhilarating feeling of all.
It’s okay to meet someone online. This isn’t about shaming those who date online. I’m all for it. Hell, I do it.
This is about being able to decipher the difference between illustrious, self-created fantasy and reality.
Nothing holds a candle to honest, imperfect love. Nothing feels as good as something tangible you can hold in your arms.
Real love loves the real you. You deserve someone who loves the imperfect, wonderfully f*cked up YOU. Not the perfectly curated you. The beautifully flawed, dynamic, one-of-a-kind you.