Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Finding Love(?) on the World Wide Web

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.....Not all online relationships follow the happy course..., however. When senior Heather Baker's online relationship took a turn for the worse, it was too late for her to log off.

Unplugging the cord

Although Baker's former online boyfriend, Bryan, lived 500 miles away in Michigan, he still managed to exert control over her life through phone and IM conversations, destroying her self-esteem and her parents' trust in her judgment.

Baker now realizes that she never would have let her relationship with Bryan become as destructive as it did had it developed out of face-to-face interaction. "I told him a lot of things about me that I wouldn't tell other people. I thought, 'Hey, I don't know this guy and he doesn't know my friends, maybe it's okay to tell him these things,'" she says.

Baker found it difficult to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship when they took shape on the Internet. "I didn't see it would harm me. If it's physical, there's eminent danger and there are ways you can physically get yourself out," she explains. "When you're online or on the phone, you don't see the harm it's going to do to you, but it really can hurt you."

Bryan initially drew Baker in with compliments, telling her that he loved her. But after they decided to become a couple, Baker says, the compliments stopped. Bryan became jealous and possessive. He wanted to know "every aspect of [her] life," became angry when she talked about her other male friends and persuaded her to have phone sex with him, says Baker. (sounds like our past cyberpath, Dorksy)

Bryan was a hypocrite: He didn't follow the rules he set for his girlfriend. "He'd tell me that he cheated on me because I wasn't pretty enough for him and then have me come back to him after he apologized," Baker says.

The first people to notice the effect Bryan's treatment was having on Baker were her parents. "They saw a visible change in me. They saw I was more disobedient, argumentative, obstinate. And that's when they said I wasn't able to talk to [Bryan] anymore," she recounts.

But their restrictions meant nothing to Baker. She sneaked onto the computer in the afternoons to talk to Bryan and ran up a $680 phone bill calling him when her parents weren't home. Each time they caught her, fights broke out in her house, shattering the trust she had built with her parents in the past - a trust Baker is sure she could have preserved if both she and her parents had met Bryan in person before the situation got out of hand.

But that trust was already lost and with it, the focus of Baker's life. Her grades started to drop from As and Bs to Cs and Ds. "I started to plan my entire life around what [Bryan] wanted: what college I would go to, where I would live, how many kids I would have. I had handed my entire life over to someone I had never met," says Baker.
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Eventually, though, Baker started to compare the uncaring way Bryan treated her with the way her other male friends acted towards her. She had an "awakening" and realized that she needed to break up with Bryan. "I told him I was sick of lying to my parents, that I was sick of him lying to me and that I wanted it to end," she says.

Baker thought that she finally was rid of Bryan, but in March, Bryan contacted her through e-mail for the first time in two years. He told her that he was getting married but that he wished they could "have something like [they] had before."

Baker refused to let him back into her life. "Why is he doing this to me? Why is he trying to pressure me again?" she wondered. "I'm not gonna let him get under my skin." (because he was a CYBERPATH!!! Most of them go back for more!! good for her for kicking him to the e-curb! - Fighter)

Reflecting on her experiences, Baker realizes that her sense of fear was in part because of the uncertainty that is inherent in any online relationship. "Basically, you could be dating a stranger. For all you know, that person could be telling you all lies," she says.

(Thanks to our E-Group member *F* for finding this article and bringing it to our attention!- Fighter)

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