by Dr Gonzo
Why does it take so much from us to spend a few minutes making sure these people are ok?
|I have tried...Lord knows I have. Online friendships seem so promising at the beginning, yet, more often than not, peter out to become something short of what I expected. And I know...expectation almost always brings disappointment, but it's not disappointment I am feeling right now, it's bewilderment.|
Who is to blame when these friendships end? And why do they almost always, at least for me, come to this inevitable conclusion?
I remember her like it was yesterday, yet it was more than three years ago that we met. Her online name was Tealy, but I called her Kitty and we met on a support group site. I was there for my addiction and her for Endometriosis, but as I was to later discover, we all had other things going on, besides the listed conditions we were willing to share with the world.
My other thing was abandonment (and still is). Having every person I ever loved (family excluded) leave for one reason or another, brought a sense of expectation, and upon reflection, could well have contributed to these friendships and relationships going south and never returning, despite the winters of life having come and gone.
Kitty suffers from BPD...Borderline Personality Disorder, which seems to affect women more than men and is closely associated with childhood trauma. She has serious abandonment issues and had been severely abused as a child...both physically and emotionally.
One day, she asked if I would read something she had written about her upbringing. I agreed, but nothing could have prepared me for her story. What she went through was horrendous, and I cried throughout, making me wonder why some people would have a child, if this was all they had to offer.
Kitty had no sisters or brothers so, I asked my twin girls, who were around eleven at the time, if they would like to adopt Kitty as an older sister. They agreed, but when I told Kitty about my idea, she was skittish. In hindsight, it's likely she already knew what she was going to do. My guess is, she had no problem hurting me, but to hurt a child was something else altogether.
Kitty is a lesbian, although she preferred 'Asexual'. I was so naïve, that I thought her being a lesbian and married, would make the friendship safer than if she was single and straight. I doubt I would have been as relaxed in conversation if the latter were true, with too much complexity and possible misunderstandings for my liking.
No, I liked Kitty just the way she was, and at that early stage, I had no idea of the friend she was to become. Married to 'Alex', they appeared, at least to me, no different from any other online lesbian married couple I knew (which was none). They went away for breaks from their daily lives and had disapproving family members, just like a normal couple would. Alex suffered from complex medical conditions, which could at times be life-threatening. Kitty worried about her a lot, and being the gallant and honourable knight in shining armour that I am, I would be there for my friend when she was in need. And like every relationship, no matter online or in life, this served a purpose for the both of us.
For me; I liked being needed...a shoulder for her to lean on in tough times, which upon reflection, became a crutch of its own. She relied on me for support, and I relied on her to give that support. I'm no psyche, but if I had to guess, I'd say I suffer from insecurity, and this may have been a contributing factor when she decided that our friendship had run its course.
I had never heard of ghosting, let alone experienced it. One day, when she didn't respond to my messages, all manner of misfortunes crossed my mind. Everything that is, except the truth...that she no longer needed me or my support in her life. I wrote to her pleading that if she could reply, to do so because I was so concerned that she had been in an accident or some other catastrophe. Then, a few worried days later, she made contact, and what she told me was devastating...far beyond what I thought possible considering this was just an online friendship.
Her words were metered and lacked any emotion, "I'm sorry Neil, but I don't have room in my life for 'our' kind of friendship."
The thing was, I didn't know we had any particular kind of friendship, to me, it was just a friendship, and one I thought was special. After this, I never heard from her again.
It's hard to admit that after all this time, it still hurts (the song, The First Cut is the Deepest, by Rod Stewart, comes to mind). In hindsight, I should instead be laughing at just how naïve I really was because at the beginning of this friendship I was the one to stress there be no inappropriate behaviour from either of us. I laid out the boundaries and ground rules for our success, although I knew very little back then of what it takes to be successful at online friendship (and I must admit, I still don't).
One day, about eight to twelve months after we had met, she asked me if I found her attractive. She had sent me her photo and looking back, she did make quite a deal of it, for reasons I never understood. I was taken aback by her question. You see, I have a problem, and it was about to be tested. As much as is humanly possible, and doesn't put me in any danger or trouble with the law, I am honest to the core...someone once said, at times, I am brutally so.
Being totally honest (most of the time), rarely plays in my favor and although it is always the best option, it is definitely not the easier option, but I don't believe I am being the best friend I can be unless I can say what needs to be said and would like in return. This may somewhat explain why it is not just online friendships that seem to elude me. Kitty and I had not long switched from email to live chat, so, once the question hit my screen, I didn't have a lot of time to consider an answer.
The truth was, I absolutely was attracted to her, but I could never tell her this because it went against everything I believe in...honor, respect (for her, Alex, and more importantly, for myself), true friendship vs cheap flirtatious behavior.
And so, I laughed (LOL) and said jokingly, "You wish!"
I then told her (not jokingly) that she was a bit too young to be on my radar, which was true anyway (I was fifty-something and she had just turned thirty).
I breathed a sigh of relief when she let it go, but, about a week later, another left-field question that was even bolder...'Neil, if I was laying in front of you naked, what would you do?"
I had been mentally preparing for another question like this, and I said, "Kitty, I would take off my coat, cover you and take you for coffee...so, we could talk about what is going on for you to do that."
In my mind, it was the perfect answer, not rejection exactly, but not crossing any boundaries either. But, she was having none of it, and so, after her next inquiry on my desire for her, I played what I thought to be my trump card.
She persisted with the 'would I' line of questioning and I told her, "Ok, Kitty, IF I was twenty years younger, and IF you weren't a lesbian, and IF we lived in the same country, and IF you weren't married, then fine...I would."
This seemed to placate her, and I thought it was now over and we could get back to being friends without benefits. Then, a week later, she decided she no longer had time for 'our kind of friendship. I had given her what she wanted, as every man she had ever known had. It must have confused her when, after my speech on how we were not to become inappropriate with each other, I didn't make a move on her, and I guess in her mind, she couldn't understand what it was I wanted from her...she just couldn't see that all I wanted was her...not her body or what she could do for me sexually.
I liked that she was funny and smart and in love with her partner. It gave me a sense that there are some marriages that work...that happiness can be found in the arms of another. All I had lost when my marriage crumbled, I saw and wanted for her, but, Kitty was going to teach me so much more than I knew...about this artificial world, where there are so many of us, and yet, we are all so alone. Where we give our hearts and our trust to virtual strangers, showing the underbelly of our vulnerability, in a desperate attempt to show we are worthy of their trust, but without any thought of if they are deserving of ours. And how one minute you think you know someone, and the next, they show you that you know nothing about them at all.
In the old days, before online friendship became a thing, people would have pen-friends and would write, using, as the name implies, pen and paper. Then, perhaps a few weeks after posting the letter through the mail system, a reply would arrive, and even if a bad day was being had while opening the envelope, there was plenty of time to cool off before writing back...as opposed to writing in a state of unconscious mayhem and then pressing send.
I have thought a lot about why, at times, there exists a seemingly nonchalant, careless attitude towards others online. Perhaps it is just too easy to walk away. Or too easy to find new friends to replace those we have forsaken. Time also appears to be a factor...having noticed how the amount of time spent talking to someone can feel a lot longer than the actual time spent. Weeks can feel like months or longer.
A lot of information can be sent back and forth in a very short period of time and so, we think we know this person, but the fact of the matter is, we may not know them at all. People share what they want us to see, and hide what they don't. We all do it, but eventually, these idiosyncrasies will raise their ugly head, and demand to be acknowledged. Then fear or denial or any excuse we can think of can cause the friendship to become unviable.
There is often confusion about what is written, and how those words are interpreted. This can happen even if both people speak the same language and have a reasonable grasp of the mechanics of wordcraft, which can cause misunderstandings, and in turn, mistrust. It is likely that different words commonly used to describe all manner of things mean a lot more or a lot less, depending on where the people are from or were raised.
I am not saying all online friendships will end in disaster, but from my experience, there do appear to be more problems and easier solutions than friendships we may have out there in the real world. Where one push of a keyboard can end the problem, without us having to face the disappointment and hurt we leave behind.
I have a very good online friend (or as I like to think of her, my friend), who has stuck by me through the most difficult of times, but in the majority of cases, this has not been the way it has gone for me. I give her most of the credit for this success, although I know she would give me some of that credit too.
Is it strange that we are more likely to open up to a stranger about our deepest, darkest fears and regrets than we are to someone closer?
And could this be a cause of fear...when someone we don't know and so, have no fear of sharing personal stories with, then becomes closer?
The time available to an online friendship could affect the way we see the other person...if one person has a lot of time available but the other not so much, that could appear as if the busy person is not there or is being aloof. Explaining this may alleviate some of the hurt feelings but, taking what someone is telling us at face value only, could plant the seeds of doubt and make the friendship, as wonderful as it was to begin with, sink into the abyss of frustration and mistrust...never to be seen again.
I can only suggest what I think are the causes of this phenomenon, but it will not stop me from trying...after all, if a partner cheats on us and causes the relationship to suffer, even end, does this mean that somewhere down the road of life, and we meet someone new, they too will cheat?
We cannot let the past destroy our chance at future happiness (either through friendship or something more), or that is ours to own and has little to do with what others may have done to us in the past. Blaming is a pointless exercise and only limits our own responsibility, and is a cop-out that will see the same kind of disappointment happen time and time again.
So, we can't know who we are dealing with, even months after meeting, but we can and should give them a chance...to prove their worth...and in doing so, we too are proving ourselves to them.