Welcome to Part II of Getting To Know You, a series in which I will address some of the questions and concerns people have regarding online and long distance relationships. My purpose in taking on this project is to share a different perspective on this slightly controversial topic. If possible, I would like to help remove the stigma attached to these kinds of relationships.
I am a firm believer that consenting adults should be able to engage in any kind of relationship that makes them happy. I also understand the skepticism regarding online and long distance relationships, but having been in a committed and successful long distance relationship for seven years which has resulted in a recent marriage, I hope I can shed new light on a few things.
In Part I of this series, I discussed what I feel it means to truly know another person. It was in response to the question, “How can you fall in love with someone you don’t even know?” While it directly inspired the title of that particular post, I believe the title suits the series just as well – it is about getting to know a different side of the issue, as well as the people involved.
I would like to address a couple more questions I have encountered regularly over the years. I believe they can be answered in the same or a similar way, so I will tackle them together:
How do you know the person you’ve met online isn’t lying to you? How do you know he isn’t a psycho?
Well, how do you know the person sitting across the table from you isn’t lying? How do you know the person next to you in church isn’t a “psycho”?
I won’t pretend that looking someone in the eye can’t help determine how truthful he’s being, and observing personal behavior is certainly useful in determining how stable he is. However, physical presence isn’t necessary to that end; while mannerisms and body language can help, honesty and mental state aren’t always immediately apparent, even when face to face.
It has been my experience that the best indicator of a person’s honesty and/or stability is consistency in speech and behavior. I believe determining this is directly related to how well you know a person, as discussed in Part I – the more things you talk about and share with each other, and the more time spent doing it, the more information you have to determine consistency.
So, is he consistent in the things he tells you, or does he contradict himself? Does he consistently call or email when he says he will? Does he consistently do other things that he promises to do? These are all pretty good indicators of honesty. Consistency can be a good indicator of a person’s mental stability as well; “crazy” people aren’t usually consistent, by definition.
That aside, if someone has proven to be truthful but then does or says things which frighten or alarm you, you should listen to your instincts. Inappropriate emotional responses (i.e., laughing about people being injured or tortured, becoming angry about a rapist or child molester being convicted, etc.) may be warning signs of instability. If someone becomes irate at the slightest provocation or perceived criticism, it might indicate anger control issues, or something even worse.
You do not have to be in the same room with someone to observe all these things. You do need to be tuned in, though, and it does require time and patience. You cannot learn how someone behaves consistently in the first few days, weeks or even months of getting to know him.
I would not recommend giving out phone numbers or addresses, or even full names in the beginning. Only you can gauge how well things are going, but by all means, care about yourself enough to protect yourself. And be extra cautious if there are children involved.
I think it’s important to note that there are a variety of mental conditions and illnesses that don’t necessarily make people dangerous. Having a mental condition does not preclude anyone from loving or needing to be loved, and certainly doesn’t make anyone less worthy of either. But we all have to decide what we are willing or equipped to deal with in a relationship.
I have a few more thoughts on that particular subject, but I think they deserve a post of their own. Watch for it if you’re interested.
But again, if your instincts tell you something isn’t right, take heed. Even if you can’t put a finger on anything specific, take some time out to think it over. If the person you’ve been chatting with can’t accept this and refuses to allow you the time you need, that may be a red flag as well. Healthy relationships are not forced.
All this applies regardless of the medium by which you meet someone.
The next two points may sound funny at first, but they are legitimate concerns that I will address in Part III of this series:
What if the person you’ve fallen in love with online has bad breath or body odor problems?
What if it turns out that you’re not sexually compatible?