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What Happens When You Fall in Love With Someone You've Never Met



"Dear Laura, thanks for the excellent, disheartening essay you wrote about sober dating," an articulate stranger named Eli (not his real name) typed in an e-mail to me. This wasn't the first time a random lonely heart had reached out about my writing.

But this time was different: I wrote back.

Within days of that first message from Eli—whom I'd promptly Google-stalked and happily discovered was gorgeous—we were e-mailing constantly, sharing both day-to-day minutiae ("here's a sexy picture of my omelet!") and our darkest fears ("I'm scared of dying alone"). He lived in Canada. I was in California. He was a few years younger, but we had a ridiculous number of things in common. Soon we were texting all day. Then we added hours-long phone calls into the mix.

Within a month, the tone of our exchanges changed from flirty to outright romantic. "Marry me," he texted back when I mentioned my decade-long obsession with Britney Spears. His missives became the sunny spots in my other-wise meh existence. I probably knew on a rational level that a romantic future between us wasn't likely—he lived in another country, for god's sake—I was more than willing to delude myself. I'd been unhappily single for six years, but not for lack of trying. I'd done it all—internet dating, speed dating, blind setups. My romantic efforts never seemed to take, whether they were disappointing dates or go-nowhere three-month blips masquerading as relationships. I wanted this intense stranger who found me to be different—to be, against all odds, the one. So I pinned all my hopes on him.


The result wasn't pretty. I began constantly strategizing, trying to untangle the mixed signals he was sending. While he wrote that I was "incredibly beautiful" and opined about our being together one day, he also mentioned ogling women on the street and repeatedly dropped just enough details about a very present ex he was "still affectionate" with to make my body clench with resentment each time he'd say her name.

All that lovesick indignation bubbled to the surface…and not just on my end. He'd get jealous when I mentioned anyone male, demanding to know whether I'd "met someone else." But then he'd turn around and publicly flirt with other women on Twitter. My spite ballooned to the point that I created a fake Twitter account as a hot, fictitious hipster guy to flirt with myself in the hopes of making Eli jealous. (It worked!)

Our melodramatic fights, frequent bouts of "taking space," and circular conversations analyzing our constantly wounded feelings were driving us both insane. Nearly every night, I struggled to sleep. In the morning, I'd wake to my stomach in knots, anticipating what exciting/excruciating situation might arise with Eli that day. I felt so wracked with perma-anxiety that I couldn't concentrate at work. My doctor wrote me a prescription for the antianxiety drug Ativan. My best friend said she'd never seen me as wound up, as disturbed, about a guy before.

She was right. I'd break down crying at the grocery store, while walking my dog, during exercise class, wherever. Any hint of an unrequited-love undercurrent in a cheesy pop song would do me in (Demi Lovato's "Give Your Heart a Break" was a frequent offender). I'd spend the entirety of my workday mentally AWOL. I was a disaster; I felt nothing like myself.

Every few weeks, I would oh-so-casually mention getting together IRL. But Eli was hesitant, and it took four months before I could finally convince him (he had never met anyone from the internet before and said he was shy). Of course, I was freaked out too. The idea of our experiencing the drawn-out equivalent of an awkward internet date made my stomach lurch. Still, I pushed back the start date of a new job so we could rendezvous halfway between our cities. I booked separate hotel rooms, but we ended up sharing mine. When I saw him for the first time, my heart lilted toward my throat. "You're real," I blurted, thrilled to discover that his eyes were as gorgeously green in person as they were on Skype.


We roamed the city, ate doughnuts, played boyfriend-and-girlfriend. In the bedroom, I had to make the first move, and our hookups were more awkward than incredible. Still, it felt amazing to be with him finally, but I knew the visit would be over in a blink. We did it again the next month. When the weekend was over, Eli kissed me passionately on the train platform, and then we each went home to our separate, single lives.

About a week later, he started acting distant. I asked why, and he texted, "I'm confused about where we stand, how I should act." When I mistook that to imply that he might be ready to try—gasp!—actual dating, he backpedaled: "I have feelings for you, but I'm just not equipped for a relationship right now, long-distance or otherwise." I was nauseous with embarrassment, and it dawned on me that I was chasing a ghost. Sure, it seemed as though we'd gotten close, but really, Eli was nothing but a confused, confusing vessel for me to project all my dizziest romantic fantasies onto. And he certainly wasn't living up to the dream I'd so desperately wanted him to fulfill.

I couldn't ignore my gut anymore. Eli kept showing me that he did not feel the way I wanted him to feel about me. He had no interest in a real romantic relationship. But I was so sucked in, I refused to see the red flags. Internet-based relationships are necessarily based on fantasy, not reality—of course people's hearts get broken when they're building up all these false ideas about some perfect faraway dream lover who doesn't exist in the way you want them to. Eli was not the kind of love I'd been waiting for—calm and steadfast, with someone who can support me, not rile me up and bring me down. That kind of love, I'll keep waiting for.



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Published by , 25.12.2014 at 17:24
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