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Wired for Love

Looking for love online can pit fantasies against facts.

Hara Estroff Marano/Used with permission.
Hara Estroff Marano/Used with permission.

I am a 77-year-old American male who is active and works full-time. I met a woman on an internet dating site, a physician, 30, who lives with her parents in England. We have great conversations about love, trust, and friendship. We have expressed love for each other. She says she will visit me soon. I do desire a younger woman. I want to be in love again! I was married for 28 years to a wonderful woman; we have a grown daughter and are still friends. I know I am shooting for the stars! Maybe I will hit the moon!

The most likely outcome is that you will fall back to earth without ever reaching orbit. Not that I enjoy dashing dreams, but the problem is that you haven’t fallen in love with a real woman. And it has nothing to do with age or distance or even personality.

The internet is a wonderful place to encounter people, and it vastly widens the pool of possible partners. But until you meet someone in the flesh—and it’s wise to do so quickly, before fantasies start filling in for facts—no matter how many great conversations you have online, that person is primarily a projection of your needs. As philosopher Aaron Ben-Ze’ev puts it, when you conduct a relationship by solitary means, you risk “being captured by your own desire.”

You have fallen in love with the woman you want, but she may not be the woman who arrives at your door. An internet-only relationship is more about oneself and what one hopes for in others than what exists objectively.

Online romances can feel thrilling: They move quickly; people typically reveal a great deal about themselves. The rapid self-disclosure is exceedingly exciting—putting yourself into words, feeling heard. Until you spend time together in person, though, and have conversations about other things than love, you don’t really know each other.

Whipped up emotionally, high on possibility, and propelled by human hungers, you feel the online relationship is realer than real. It is stirring real emotions in you. It does make you feel alive. But the relationship has not been mutually constructed, as relationships must be. It exists independently in each person’s imagination. Without spending time together in person, in an array of situations, there is no means of developing a shared understanding of even the degree of affection involved.

All of this discussion presumes, of course, that there is no intentional deception going on, that your electronic correspondent is the young female physician you believe her to be. The opportunities for digital deception are great and would warrant a whole other discussion. And I hope you have reckoned with yourself (and your family) over your need to find love with someone likely younger than your daughter.

For all the above reasons and more, it is best to approach online relationships with restraint. It’s fine to be flirty, even very flirty, but make sure there’s a lot of information exchanged. And more curiosity than conviction.