When Cyber-dating Becomes an Addiction

My roommate, Amanda, arrived home from work and went straight to her room. The familiar sound of her computer turning on told me that she was headed for another evening of online dating. For the next few hours, I would hear the clicking of her laptop whenever I passed her room. She might join me for dinner and watch a little television, but by the time I retired for the evening, she was back on the computer. It was like a drug she couldn't and didn't want to stay away from.

Her late-night chat sessions were becoming more and more frequent. Often, during the night, I would see her light on and hear her talking on the phone to the guy she had met through an online dating service just days before. The level of emotional intimacy she jumped to with these cyberdates quickly became intense. On one occasion, I brought the subject up, and Amanda explained that it was more natural to talk at deeper levels on the Internet. However, such quick and accessible intimacy didn't seem normal to me.

One day, I happened to listen to a radio program about women and addictions. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The counselor on the program seemed to be describing my roommate perfectly. Her increased amount of time meeting others online wasn't the only indicator of a potential addiction. There were other warnings. Meeting men online changed the way she felt about herself. It caused her to feel more in control of her future. Internet dating was exciting. It gave her a sense of closeness with men she had never met. The warnings alarmed me. Amanda's habit of meeting men via the Internet was excessive, but I'd never thought of it as an addiction.

So, I confronted Amanda about her behavior. It angered me to see her going out with men whom she wouldn't even have considered at other points in her life. I had known Amanda since elementary school and cared about the choices she made. She had always been cautious about dating. I saw these Internet relationships affecting her self-worth, taking her to emotional places that left her needy, yet craving more. I knew this was out of character. At first, Amanda had a logical reason for meeting these men. They're sweet, such good listeners. They like me for who I am. When her reasons didn't make sense to me, I questioned her further. She became defensive, even angry.

I learned not to argue with Amanda because you can't really reason with someone suffering from an addiction. She couldn't see the truth. She always had an answer for her actions. Denial demands this response. Amanda would rather believe lies and not be alone than face the possibility that she might remain single. Cyberdating created a false sense of intimacy for her. In the world of cyberdating, there was always just one more guy who might be the one. Amanda used these men in an attempt to fill her emptiness and make her whole. She used them as a false balm for her pain.

For Amanda, cyberdating soon led to meeting some of the men she chatted with online. Many of these meetings fulfilled the physical need she had to be touched and held. It was heartbreaking to watch this process, as some of her choices about physical involvement left her with the deepest emotional scars to overcome. But lies are also a normal part of addiction. She made decisions that exposed her to men who were unhealthy, manipulative and eager for too much physical intimacy. Still, she couldn't see the truth.

True to the pattern of addiction, at times Amanda seemed quite normal. She held a job and interacted with friends and family; she was responsible. Sometimes, my roommate would come home from a date, tell me of the absurdity of the evening, and we would laugh together about the night's events. In the midst of her addiction, Amanda had these moments of lucidity. She could appear healthy and even acknowledge her compulsive behavior. Yet, she inevitably returned to the counterfeit reality of cyberdating. It became a secret life a life marked by shame, one that she kept hidden. Addictions are always deceptive. Amanda thought that if she could function in the real world, she was not an addict.

Internet dating consumed my roommate's life for a period of time. I can't tell you why she slowly left the Internet chat room and cyberdating scene, but she did. It may have been guilt-induced. It may have been boredom. There could have been other physical and emotional factors I was unaware of. I'm not sure. But I have learned that the environment of the Internet was a ripe temptation that quickly entangled my roommate.

Her personality is prone to addiction, and the allure of exchanging reality for fantasy became too hard to resist. Like all addictions, Amanda's was subtle, filled with denial, and negatively affected her other relationships with family and friends. I know a number of friends who have successfully dated via the Internet and enjoy healthy relationships. My roommate wasn't one of them.

About a year ago, Amanda married an amazing man who loves and accepts her. She and Peter met on a blind date. I talked with her recently, and she told me that some of the issues she deals with in her marriage today are related to the choices she made while cyberdating. I take full responsibility for the decisions I made then. Maybe someday I can share more with you, she confided, but I still suffer in part because of my past choices and the damaging consequences they left. She sounded tenderly reflective and hopeful as she added, When I think about my actions, it's hard to believe that was me but it was. I wanted to be loved, and I believed I could make that happen. But now I've been given a marriage filled with grace and love. Once you taste what's real, it makes it harder to accept what isn't.

We hung up. Amanda had started to live life more honestly. That was her beginning.

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