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I Fell In Love Online--But Here's What Happened When We Met In Person

In the romantic transition from online chats to real-life meetings, the reality inevitably turns out more than you planned on and less than you had hoped for.

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“We’re a team,” he told me, by now fully rested and grinning.  “I love you.  There’s nothing we can’t do together.”

Inevitably, our week together came to a close.  I had tears in my eyes on my way to the airport and not just because I was sad to leave him – in a drunken fit of clarity the night before, I had pushed him away as he reached for me in bed and tried to break up with him, but then I chickened out at the moment of truth.  I felt guilty for denying him sex; it was potentially months before we’d see each other again and he was my boyfriend, my Real Life Boyfriend, the man I loved.  But it didn’t change the way I felt inside – a growing awareness that he wasn’t the right guy for me.

He must have felt it, too, even though he didn’t share it with me.  When I got back to work and my daily routine, he seemed clingier towards me, almost desperate to get my attention, no matter what time of day or night.  The three-hour time difference and my lack of sleep didn’t help matters.  I grew increasingly irritated with his endless barrage of complaints about his boring day-job, his lack of a social life, his jealousy over the success of other artists in his field.  I felt like nothing I did satisfied his need for comfort and connection.  His constant stream of talking wasn’t even especially intimate; every word he uttered and typed rubbed me raw with his need.

I’d die for you, I remember thinking.  But I won’t live for you.

He didn’t need me to die for him.  He needed for me to be honest with him.  But I pushed him away instead.  As the weeks passed, I picked fights that were nonsensical at best and mean-spirited jabs at worst.  The terrible and almost unbelievable part of the whole thing was, I still loved him and desperately wanted for things to work out between us.  

I let him do the breaking up; I rationalized again, this time telling myself that I couldn’t be another woman who hurt him.  What a cop-out.  He broke my heart by telling me that he had been trying to convince himself that he was in love with me.  But he was crying so hard that I didn’t really believe him.  He insisted that it wasn’t all pretend, but I was furious with the way he had pulled the rug out from under me.  Why does love have to end in take-backs?  Why couldn’t he have said, “I love you, but my feelings changed” instead of telling me that none of it was real?

For weeks, I woke up to fresh tears.  I cried in the shower and on the ride to work.  I cried while listening to his songs on my iPod.  I cried while reading his Twitter feed, even though I had deleted both him and his circle of friends from my social network.  I took his innocuous 140-character musings as potential signs – was the Garth Brooks video from a broken-hearted lover that he favorited on YouTube an obscure but deliberate shout-out?  It wasn’t.  Within a few days of our breakup, he had a new love interest that soon morphed into the role of girlfriend, someone who lived in his state and went to the movies with him and joked with him and seemed to care about him as much as I ever had.  

I tried to get over him without much success.  A month after the break-up, I slept with a friend after a few drinks and an invitation to watch Netflix movies in my bedroom.  “Make me forget,” I told him as we kissed.  I pictured my ex’s hands and mouth on me.  It wasn’t until I was actually having sex with my friend that I could focus on the guy I was with, the moment where he and I joined together, not a longing fantasy of my ex-boyfriend.

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