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Becoming Vulnerable

by Joe Beam

A question about cyberintimacy provides the perfect platform for explaining the process most people evolve through as they fall in love. Love has three components—decision/commitment, intimacy, and passion. They all play major roles in a romantic relationship but consider the question I received below:

Dear Joe,
I’m falling in love with this really great guy. We have all the elements: commitment/decision, intimacy, passion. We have clicked on every level: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical (without sin, of course).
We’ve been “talking” for a year by email and instant messenger private chat sessions. It seems the Internet allows you to meet people from the inside out. I sometimes feel a sense of the backwardness of this situation, that I have allowed myself to become intimate and committed to someone I’ve never physically met. Yet I feel that I know him and want to be with him. Do you think I’ll still feel that way when we come face to face?
Because intimacy in its truest sense means warmth, bondedness, and closeness, it occurs only when two people allow themselves to be extremely vulnerable to each other. It comes about when both decide not to hide behind any masquerade, but instead to allow the other person to see into the reality of who and what they are. That, of course, is a frightening prospect. Most of us wear various “masks” in different aspects of our lives so we can feel accepted and loveable. We may wear one mask to work, another to church, and yet another in our personal relationships. We choose a mask that will provide the greatest likelihood of being accepted in each specific environment.

Removing all masks to let another see who we really are (“warts and all”) means risking everything in that relationship. If the other person doesn’t accept us when they encounter our undisguised selves, we feel absolute rejection. We likely won’t continue the relationship, even if the other person wants to, because we know that he or she has seen the true us and been repulsed by the discovery.

So how do we grow past that fear and decide to reveal our true selves? We do it in stages. We start by sharing facts that are nonthreatening; facts that we feel won’t be reacted to negatively. As we share those innocuous facts of our lives (e.g. “I was born in the USA,”) we register every reaction of the person to whom we share. Any lack of interest or hint of displeasure on their part causes us to stop the process. We’re certainly not going to reveal potentially threatening facts (e.g. “When I was younger I was arrested,”) if we note any disinterest or rejection as we share innocuous facts. On the other hand, as we register interest and acceptance we tend to reveal more threatening facts. We can become so trusting of the seemingly unconditional acceptance of the other person that we tell him or her things about ourselves we’ve never told anyone.

And that’s just the first step.

The more frightening step is the second one: sharing feelings. After all, some of the facts of our lives were things that occurred without our intention or control. Therefore, the facts of our lives tell only what happened; they don’t always reveal information about who we are or what we are like. Feelings do that. When a person can share feelings, he or she reveals self.

Just as with facts, we begin by sharing feelings that we believe to be nonthreatening (e.g. “I like being an American.”) And just as when we share facts, we take note of any disinterest or rejection. If the other person pays attention and accepts our feelings as valid, we gradually move from innocuous feelings to more threatening ones (e.g. “I’m sometimes afraid I can’t control my emotions.”)

When a man and woman can share openly with each other the facts and feelings of their lives—especially the facts or feelings that they fear will bring rejection—they are on the road to intimacy. The more they share of their realities—historically and emotionally—and continue to accept each other, the deeper their intimacy.

Why does that happen so quickly in a chat room? Because of their relative anonymity, they can self-reveal very quickly because at the first sign of rejection they can end the tentative relationship and move to another chat room. In other words, it doesn’t hurt nearly as much to be rejected when you aren’t risking much in the relationship. Two people living in different parts of the world can easily end the contact with little sense of loss. Therefore, they tend to share a great deal about themselves in a much more rapid fashion than they would in a face to face situation.

What can the rest of us learn from that phenomenon? Simply this, its unusually short time in developing intimacy illustrates with extreme clarity what we’ve said in this article about how intimacy develops. It comes from taking the risk to share with another and finding that the risk was justified. When acceptance follows revelation, the two people become very close to each other and feel intimacy.

Now allow me to make a quick comment to the lady who wrote the email. Unless one or both of you have been lying in your correspondence (therefore wearing masks rather than truly self-revealing) the likelihood of a lasting relationship is very good. Unless your initial face to face meeting causes one of you to find the other unattractive to the point that appearance overpowers intimacy, you will do well. Just last week I talked with a woman who met her husband in a chat room. They had grown intimacy far beyond many married couples before they ever met.

Because of the possibility of being deceived by the unseen companion, I urge you to be responsible, patient and careful when using the Internet as a resource to meet others. But I admit that I have seen chat rooms work powerfully in developing relationships. Sometimes for good, as in your case, and sometimes for bad, such as when it leads married people into adultery.

May God bless you in seeking intimacy.

Joe Beam is a relationship expert, best-selling author and founder of LovePath International.



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Author Comments
leemarie_PA



Joined: 12 Feb 2011
Dating Articles for Christians. Dating Advice.: 0
Comments: 1
 Posted: Sun Feb 20, 2011 11:07 pm  Post subject: Being "In love" before meeting in person

Ron,

I totally agree with your encouragement that online daters experience a person face-to-face before committing themselves & their hearts entirely to another person. Even when we intend to be open & genuine, we are able to reveal a portion of who we are via e-mail or phone interaction. Some facets are seen only in person.

I learned this the hard way.

Having married my college sweetheart, I didn't have a lot of dating experience. One year after my divorce, I entered the online dating world.

I met a man (a pastor/ missionary actually) via an online dating site. We communicated through e-mail intermittently over a period of months in a friendly manner before ever becoming romantically involved. He seemed so sensitive, compassionate and perceptive. He had been my "friend" in a way that seemed to show he had nothing to gain. Once we spoke on the phone, we became close very quickly, praying together & discussing anything & everything. It seemed that he really "knew" me & saw my soul without ever having seen me in person. We talked about a potential future together before he flew out to "meet" me and spend time together in person. I thought I knew who he was & allowed my heart to be open & vulnerable to him.

When he first arrived, it seemed that all our distance connection was confirmed. However, within the first day, he became angry, impatient & verbally abusive to me. This escalated over the next few days to the point that my normally warm & bubbly nature became very cowed, insecure, and even fearful for my safety. I saw that he was utterly charming to people (women actually) we encountered in stores and restaurants, but showed a very different face to me in private. I realized that he wore two masks- one from a distance or with superficial relationships and the other Narcissistic, abusive nature became evident in a REAL face-to-face relationship setting.

I learned a painful, but valuable lesson.

While I realize that LOVE is not without risk, I am now more cautious and wise - requiring an in-person confirmation of an online connection.

I hope you find LOVE. And in the process, we all learn to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

LM
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