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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Ongoing Saga of Trials of My Online Gay Life Part 2: "Net-imacy"

It happened again just last week. Someone I haven't met except through on-line conversations decided he "loved" me.

Sure, it's flattering to be judged worthy of love. But it's also just a bit creepy, too, when that judgment comes from someone you've never met face-to-face.

The internet, with its myriad chatrooms and online personals, gets lots of attention as a haven for men (and its share of women, as well) who are compulsive sex addicts constantly cruising for the next "fix" of sex. But there are also plenty of people out there looking to score their drug of choice: "love."

There's a big difference between "love" found online and the emotional state of being that philosophers and poets have written about for millennia. Real love requires real intimacy ... the authentic connection between two people. Finding love online requires "net-imacy" ... the perceived connection between two people. Real intimacy happens naturally between two people, almost without their conscious awareness. "Net-imacy" happens when a person (or sometimes both people) want it to happen. And when they want it, it happens instantly.

Just as sex addicts can get their "fix" from a sexual encounter, love-junkies obtain their drug of choice by falling in love. And make no mistake, when it comes down to the molecular level of chemical reactions within the brain, there's little difference between injecting heroin directly into the bloodstream and falling in "love."

Consider this from Duke University's The Chronicle:

Like drugs of abuse - which are Dr. [Colin] Davidson's specialty - romantic love also increases activity in the braindopaminemine reward circuitry. "In the brain you've got a number of neurochemical pathways, each not specific for one behavior or emotion," Dr. Davidson says. "Dopamine, for example, is involved in drug use, has relevance in depression, schizophrenia, and lots of relevance in Parkinson's. From a neurochemical perspective, dopamine is involved in drug abuse," he says.

Call me cynical (though I much prefer the word "experienced"), but when someone claims to fall in love based on a few online conversations with another person, I'm more than a bit suspicious. It has a lot more to do with that persons need for self-esteem and his or her need to feel a romantic rush of dopamine than it does with what French romantic novelist George Sand had in mind when she wrote: "There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved."

While the idea of romantic love grew orenaissancesaince tales of chivalry and noble knights and their ladies, it's perpetuated today by our modern troubadours - songwriters. Ever listen to a love song in any genre of music? Chances are the first songs that pop into your head aren't about love, but falling in love ... that giddy, rush of emotions that's equal parts lust and wish fulfillment. Take the old standard "Strangers in the Night" for instance. Two strangers locked eyes across a crowded room and begin "wondering in the night what were the chances we'd be sharing love before the night was through." Suddenly there's the possibility that "love is just a glance away, a warm embrancing dance away."

Had "Strangers in the Night" really been about love, it would have at least given a nod to the morning after ... how one partner hogged all the blankets after a night of passion and the other partner farted in his or her sleep, but they both decided to accept each others' faults and vowed to stay together anyway.

We're conditioned to want to fall in love. It's part of our modern mythology in songs and books and movies. The trouble is that falling in love isn't the same thing as being in love. Falling in love involves picturing your potential partner in your bed engaging in wild, passionate, sheet-ripping sex. Being in love involves picturing your partner's head on the pillow next to you every morning for the rest of your life.

Net-imacy encourages people to fall in love ... continually. And then move on to the next person once the rush is gone. Intimacy, on the other hand, encourages people to grow with one person continually ... and to continually find new ways to be in love with that person.