Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Finding S.

It started in a chat room. (Duh) Literature in fact. My minimal experience has lead me to the conclusion that topic specific rooms, as opposed to region or peer group, are more interesting in general, because they have, well, a topic. In this case books. Which I usually read. Anyways, Science Fiction, with it's various sub-genre's and authors, is being discussed; S. and I have proven the most knowledgeable and are throwing factoids back and forth with great fervor. (S. was a guy of course, everyone knows girls don't read SF. Okay, I do, but I'm rather rare.) Eventually we go private and our conversation lasts through the night, ending in a rather steamy manner.
A few facts about me should be known at this point.
  • Up to this point I had never had a conversation online that lasted more than an hour.
  • I had never cybered, or had serious phone sex.
  • Usually, I am rather reserved and can be described as "hard to get to know."
  • My rule was to NEVER give personal info, including my phone number, to anyone on the internet that I didn't already know from "real life."
Within a few days (if that!) I'm chatting at all hours on the phone and IMing with a guy I don't really know, having cyber and phone sex, and telling him all sorts of secrets. Not little secrets like "I stole a candy bar from my sister when I was 5," but the really, really big ones that you don't tell anyone.
What in the Almighty's Name is going on!?! This is not me. Or at least not the me I've lived with for the past 29 years. And to top it all off, I have a serious crush.
So after about two weeks (and telling him about a very socially-not-acceptable incident from my past), I totally panicked. Told him I wasn't comfortable talking any more due to my infatuated/bizarro state. And that's where it stands.
How did this happen? Why did I act so contrary to my nature? Does this happen to everyone online, or is it just me?
The research begins, and the last question is the easiest to answer. It's not just me, of course. Everyone hears stories (the online dating services make sure you hear the happy-ending ones) and I even know someone that has experienced this. My jury's still out on the love issue. At this point I don't have enough data to determine if it's possible to love someone that you have never even met. But I'm not alone in finding myself in an unexpected whirlwind of midnight confidences and heavy breathing that seems to be moving at half the speed of light. If the rest of life was like this, we'd all be getting PhD's in a term or two, and dead by 17. It may even be a fairly common phenomenon.
The "why" of it is harder. I've read some research papers (see links if you can ignore the dry presentation and all those pesky numbers) and done some thinking. I have two theories on the sudden intimacy aspect.
  1. The first is that the unbelievable level of intimacy develops due to the anonymity aspect. "Strangers on the train syndrome". Because there is little risk of being outed or even harshly judged by our online interest, there is no reason to not tell them anything and everything. This is definitely the most obvious and easy answer, but it doesn't feel like enough explanation. I've been in similar situations (ie. going to a strange bar alone, traveling in unknown cities and meeting people I'll never see again) and I've never crossed that personal boundary before.
  2. My second theory is that the intimacy is necessary to form any real bond with a phantom person. In real life, two people go out to the movies, have dinner, blah, blah. They have a chance to build a shared history of experience that they can draw on for intimacy, both at the time and at a later date in the form of memories. This is not the case for phone/cyber buddies. Without mutual experiences, there is little to draw on other than general interests and personal history and issues. You end up diving right into serious stuff, or you never get in at all.
  3. (I know, I said two, but I just thought of something.) There are no distractions. When was the last time you had a multi-hour, uninterrupted conversation with someone you've don't already know quite well in real life? Online and on the phone, if you so chose, there are no other friends, no traffic accidents, no annoying waiters with over-priced, over-cooked entrees to distract from the person you are with. You have the normally rare opportunity to devote your entire attention to one individual, which would encourage a fast growing bond.
Those are my thoughts on the whole online-intimacy-secret-sharing-thing and my experience to date. Let me know via "comments" if you have any thoughts. Also feel free to link this to your blog or website if you like and I'll return the favor; just let me know about it. Good night all!


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