imaginary friends

“I can imagine how alluring an on-line relationship can be because of the safe little shield. But a rl relationship has to be so much more satisfying, in every way. On-line you really are (though I hate to say it) talking with an imaginary friend; this person says all the right things and can basically be anything you want them to be. In real-time you get to deal with a real-live person, individual and independent of all the things you’ve imagined about them. That’s so much more rewarding.” – excerpt from an e-mail

The safe little shield. I’m wondering what this means. Safe little shield on which side, the transmitter’s or the receiver’s? I have a shield nowadays, but I didn’t always. It was just as easy for someone online to get to me as it was for someone “in real life.” And it is sadly very easy to get to me. I’m working on that these days, but I guess the shield concept is lost on someone who takes to heart even the most casual of stranger’s comments.

Talking with imaginary friends. I can’t imagine talking to someone who said all the right things to me. Not even Chad said all the right things to me, when we first met online. He said a lot of right things, to be sure, but all the right things? I don’t even think I’d want to meet someone who said all the right things. That’s just as unreal to me offline as it is on.

Regardless of online or off, I still deal with people in conjunction with all the things I’ve imagined about them. The physical attraction element is definitely different; I agree with this much. But with the advent of jpgs, gifs, scanners, etcetera, you can even see what someone looks like (still-life, true) online. The mannerisms, no. Even if someone would try to type in every mannerism she knew she had, she would still be lacking in the ones she was unconscious of. And these sometimes make or break the bridge from “VR” to “RL” – I speak from experience on this.

Nothing could have prepared me for making this transition with Chad. He was from another world, another place in the ‘States entirely, somewhere I had never been, and was unlikely to visit without good reason. But he was bright, and funny, and utterly charming (unlike the character he was playing at the time, who was more dark and brooding than anything). I was in a RL relationship at the time. It was unsatisfying. And here was a friendship that bloomed online, first at a muck and then in e-mails, and letters, and phone calls. The friendship was very satisfying; we shared stories, jokes, roleplay, ideas, dreams.

And I know Chad better than I’ve ever known anyone. I knew his opinions on hundreds of topics we had discussed during the months online. I knew stories from his past he would recount in late-night phone calls. I knew how he would manage to stay up almost all night with me online, and somehow balance his time for education and for theatre. I wouldn’t advocate anyone deciding her future on an online relationship, but so far as meeting “prospective life-partners,” I don’t think it’s a wholly bad method. It speaks to me much more than any bar or club scene ever did. Interaction, pared down to the nitty-gritty, the words, the stuff, the things that can be taken the wrong way not because you said them in a different tone of voice, but because they were words and that’s all you had to go on.

I’m particularly biased in this realm of communication. Words have always fascinated, tantalized me. Outward appearances, while interesting, and definitely integral to sexual attraction, never “did much” for me. If someone can turn a phrase that intrigues me, I want to know them. Granted, I was blessed in the looks department, so far as being average in all respects: close to the norm so far as build, features, and health. I have been vaguely insecure about how I look ever since I can remember, but other people’s looks don’t seem to evoke much response in me.

The best part of online interaction is being myself. I think this is true for many people who like being online, as I do. I also think I have less of a problem with offline social interaction than most people; I am an attention-hound both online and off, and fairly graceful in most social settings. But there is a certain freedom to being myself so tangibly as through a set of words, of phrases, that Ichoose to describe myself .

Then there are the other people, the choice friends I have made, whom I could not have met if it were not for the internet. Kite is one, for example. I don’t think less of her, or think she is less real, because 99% of our interaction has taken place through mudding and e-mail. We’ve known of each other for years, probably, through different muds we had in common, but only in the past six months have we interacted regularly, and only in the past two have we passed the “friends” mark on my internal chart. I can’t tell you when it happened; we were acquaintances, and then we were friends, bloop, like that. Maybe when I realized she was sticking around “for the long haul,” as many people don’t, with me.

Mac didn’t. We met online and had three months of prolonged sexual tension, interrupted sporadically by deep conversations. I flew to the West Coast to meet him, and spend a couple weeks, a trial run of our relationship. And it was blissful, clear and sweet, like any romantic vacation should be. Every moment was tinged with a “I’ve always wanted to do this with you” feeling. We filled those few moments with memories, some I can even still recall. Then I went home, and it took no time at all for our relationship to fall apart. We were making plans to be together, deciding which of us would move to be with the other. One night I had to leave the computer lab at school at its closing time, and I told him I loved him, and he replied in kind. The next afternoon when I logged in, I received the infamous, “We have to talk,” line.

I don’t love you anymore, Mac said. I don’t know when it happened, but it did. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. There was never an utterance so pitiful as “I’m sorry” during a breakup. I knew exactly what had happened, of course. In the months following our meeting, we had grown increasingly short-tempered with each other. With the distance between us. With time, too long, too many weeks, or possibly months — or, god, years? — until we could be together, and be happy. Lashing out at time turned into lashing out at each other, hoarding the seconds we had online together turned into growling at any other life activities that might subtract, or detract, from them. It ended badly, to say the least.

And what if the distance hadn’t been there? Who knows. What if we had met offline instead of on? Who knows. I’ve done my speculating for now. I do know that the feelings I had for him were as real as any I had had before, or have had since. Did the distance kill the relationship, as it had borne it? Yes. So we lose as much as we gain, in the end; we break even. But at least we tried.

That what it boils down to, for me. I’m trying. I’m trying to learn more, to experience more, to interact more, by meeting new people online. This doesn’t mean that I shove my offline interests and friends to the background, like I used to do. Oh, no. I learned that the hard way. I do make time for both, because they’re important to me. And while very different, neither is more real than the other. My reality is big enough for both.

minus time

…I kicked the wall outside my mother’s door, shouting for her, while Paul shouted, too, trying to drown me out, and I pushed him aside, kicking and kicking the wooden frame of the door, but I did not touch the door.

She had to open the door. We had to make her open the door. Dusk was falling, but there were no lights on except the thin yellow line that shone through the space between her door and the door frame. We sat side by side on the wooden floor until the bottoms of my hands were aching, until our shouting became a chant. Come out. Come out. Come out.

A chair lurched. She pulled open the door. “Will you stop it?” she yelled. “I can’t stand it. I had two of you so you would keep each other company.”

She pressed her hand over her mouth. The lamp shone on the desk behind her. The room was filled with the low chatter of the radio, a thick, human smell. She slid down the door frame until she was crouched in front of us again. There were white finger-shaped indentations in her cheeks….

– from Minus Time by Catherine Bush

I realized today how little faith I have in the U.S. space program, in any space program, in space programs in general. I’m trying to find reasons for all of my faithlessness. I’m trying to name it all.

The biggest reason why, at 11:37 p.m., is that we’ve so completely decimated this planet with our garbage and our baggage, that it’s been irrevocably changed. And traipsing out into the starry something seems like running away. Like when lovers say, “I need my space.” We need our space.

I realize how totally unamerican this is of me. How unpatriotic, how godless commie heathen of me, how pagan, how left-wing, bleeding-heart liberal of me. How boring, how lame. How selfish.

I can’t help it, though. As one who has needed space before. I can’t do it again. I can’t justify it again.

Just let me hold you, my lover would beg. Just let me come over and I’ll hold you, and it’ll be all right. But it just wasn’t ever all right. It wasn’t even partially all right. That I could deal with. All of a sudden I was addicted and I had to be treated with caution, with care. I hated the jokes my friend’s boyfriend would make. I hated him, then. He thought it was the funniest damn thing, he would regale me with stories of how addicted he was once, he had been there. I wanted to push him out the window.

But of course I couldn’t do that. I just had to sit there and watch him, pretend to smile (anything for my friend), nod my head, listen to the stories of his pathetic life and compare it to mine. And you know, I wasn’t that far off from being that pathetic. I had only my good graces, my social skills, saving me from that very same fate. Thank goodness.

Weeks went by and I was up with the moon, down with the sun, unhealthy and unclean, addicted. At that time, internet addiction was something only computer programmers had to worry about. I never got to enter that geek clique; I was on the outside of that one, too.

I ate so much ramen I’m surprised I can still look at the neon pink packages in the stores without the bile rising into my throat. I wanted everyone to go away and leave me alone and only care about me on my own terms. My own terms. I wanted to be loved, to be liked, for my own reasons. Reasons I wouldn’t let anyone else in on, even.

I had a hermit crab. Two, actually, but one died the winter before. Chani remained alive. She was tiny, and lived in a glass terrarium I made up with a hollowed-out log for her to crawl in, and lots of soft husk on the bottom. I was terrified of being pinched, even by those miniscule claws, so I didn’t pick her up much. When I did, I would immediately set her on the quilt on my bed before she could start to waggle her eyestalks at me. Across the quilt she would limp, sometimes stopping and retreating into her shell for hours at a time. She always seemed content, although it is very difficult to read facial expressions on hermit crabs. Chani the hermit. We were both hermits that spring, but she was much better at it. She, at least, paced herself.