I have formed a relationship with this boy from England via social media. We talk almost every day over online texting and we enjoy the same things and have the same sense of humor, etcetera. But I have never met him face to face, I have no idea what he looks like, and I’ve never herd his voice. I try to be wary of strangers on the Internet, but I just trust him for some reason and I am falling in love with him. I am foolish, I know. Is falling in love with him OK and should I try to get him to call me (so I can hear his voice) or video chat me (so I can see him)?
Let’s begin with the mandatory warning. I’m really glad that you are wary of strangers on the Internet. (We need to update caveat emptor for the online era. What’s Latin for “let the surfer beware”?) The Internet is kind of infamous for scenarios in which charming boys from England prove to be middle aged soccer coaches from Alberta.
Thankfully, there are strategies for protecting yourself as you text. The first and most important strategy is to tell at least one person in your life whom you know, trust, and respect about your conversation with this boy. (Online advice columnists don’t count – we’re looking for a flesh and blood person with whom you can speak directly.) If you are a minor, and I’m guessing from your letter that you are fairly young, then one of those people needs to be a responsible adult, such as your parent or a teacher. I don’t know that we get any smarter as we get older, Alex, but experience does grant us more finely tuned BS meters. That, coupled with that fact that your mom or dad or teacher isn’t wondering if he or she is in love with your friend, means that he or she may be able to spot red flags that you don’t notice.
Second (and this is pretty much cut-and-pasted out of the “how to be safe on the internet” handbook) be judicious about how much personal information that you share with this boy. And for crying out loud, don’t sext with him. I say that not out of prudery or even out of morality but out of plain old practicality: photos and text that you share electronically will live at least as long as you do, and there may come a day when you wish they weren’t around. As one of my friends says, there is no such thing as safe sexting.
Those warnings aside, I actually don’t agree with you when you say that you are foolish. To the contrary, your letter sure suggests that you are an articulate, smart, and self-aware person. (For the record, you scored huge points with me by using the Oxford Comma.) While this online conversation and the feelings that it is inspiring in you might be a little silly, so what? Flirtation is always a little silly. And notwithstanding its silliness, once in the most bluish of moons flirtation leads to something enduring and something special.
So, yes – go ahead and see if this boy will call you or Skype with you. He may refuse, in which case you can stop wondering if you have any future together. He may say “yes,” in which case, much like meeting the celebrity whom you idolize, you will soon discover that he is a human being with all of the flaws and joys and quirks and brokenness and beauty that comes with being alive, kind of like the rest of us. And what’s more, he will soon discover the same thing about you. Talking on the phone or on Skype will mean the end of the image crafting that social media allows/demands of us, it will mean that neither of you will be able to curate every word that comes out of your mouths or every picture that you see of one another. That’s probably a good thing.
I suppose, Alex, that there is a distant chance that the two of you will find a way onto the same continent and that what you are feeling now with grow into love, into something that is way harder and way more wondrous than being “in” love. But more likely, for one reason or another, the time that you have together will come to an end. If that happens, you will have learned a few things about yourself and about life and about loss, a few vital lessons that you can’t buy. And, if you’re lucky, you will look back on this conversation with a warm wistfulness. Maybe the day will even come when you’ll amaze your children by telling them about the summer that you spent talking with the boy from England.
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