Long-Distance Internet Relationships

by Michael Ditto
August 1996

By request this month, I write about long distance relationships on the Internet. This is an interesting subject for me, as it has taken a great deal of introspection, as well as a hard look at a couple of current situations in my own life.

With Summer halfway over and just having bade farewell to my friend Bruce who was here in Denver from out of town, it is time for me to consider what is next in life. Now I make reference to Bruce by his real name in this article, because we all know that in the gay community there is only one thing more common than a man named Michael, and that's one named Bruce. So in consideration of his anonymity, Bruce, you know who you are, and nobody else does.

Now while Bruce was here, for a month, we developed a rather strong liking for one another, what I would even consider to be love. Now this troubles me a great deal, as Bruce lives about 1,500 miles from Denver. Is there any possibility here? Is there any future to the relationship we have started other than cards at Christmas and on Birthdays and the occasional vacation spent together? Well, that is still to be determined. But what about people like two of my friends from the Net (Whose names are slightly less common than Bruce or Mike, so I shall leave them out) who are too young to go to gay places to meet people, and who are most likely not out of the closet with their parents and other friends?

As most of you probably know, I was in this place not too long ago, and I found it quite wonderful to meet someone who I liked on the net, and call him my "boyfriend." When I was sixteen and surfing the net in the middle of the night from my bedroom in my parent's house, I was not old enough to go to the bars, and I was quite frankly so scared that I would not have known what to do if I actually met a gay person in real life. These are the pitfalls to growing up in the suburban wasteland, I suppose. But I did have the amateur network, and my BBS, where I could meet people and chat with them, anonymously. And I don't mean netsex, what I did was talk with other people my own age, as well as older people about what it was like to be gay, who was on TV that we thought was cute, what movies were out with cute guys, etc.

Granted, long distance relationships over the Internet are not the same things as in-person relationships. Missing is the physical aspect, sharing activities, going to dinner, seeing a movie together, or staying home and cuddling in front of the TV. But Internet relationships offer us a level of mystery that is not present in person. And over the Internet, relationships are formed by a person's word, which is really all that counts in the end. All the hang-ups over physical appearance are gone, and we get to know one another by our true personalities. But it also introduces a level of danger, as it is much easier to be untruthful or dishonest on the Internet, as the physical cues are gone which may make us more truthful in person.

In the case of Bruce and I, I don't think there is much possibility of a long term relationship over the Internet, as we have now met in person and there would be too much missing to make the relationship viable. But we do have a strong connection, and I feel confident that we will always be great friends for a long time. But in the case of my two young friends from IRC, I think their relationship is a great idea. Most likely it will not turn out to be a long term relationship, given their physical distance, but it is healthy for teens to develop relationships. Many of my older friends tell me that they wish they had the opportunity of the Internet when they were growing up. They, and I to a certain extent, missed the chance to experience junior high and high school relationships with people of the same sex.

While Internet relationships are a different dynamic, they provide for some of the growth that gay people weren't able to experience in their teenage years that their straight counterparts were. I think my friend John put it best. I complained about the stereotype of gay men being emotionally underdeveloped. His opinion is that many are, and for good reason. Never having the opportunity to have a relationship until one is in his twenties or even thirties, as is the case for many gay men, sets them behind from straight men who had girlfriends in Junior High by about ten years. Maybe the possibility of the Internet for gay teens is to have relationships, even if only online. This could give them the opportunity to learn the dynamics of a relationship early, and avoid some of the clumsiness of relationships later on.

A footnote:
Last month I got several e-mails about my article on coming out to dad. They were very appreciated, and I invite any reader to email me with their thoughts, questions, comments or story ideas.

Michael Ditto is a 21-year-old writer and activist residing in Denver, Colorado. He is a technician for a leading creator of desktop and multimedia publishing software. He lives alone on Capitol Hill, and is currently single. He is "out" with all of his family, his friends, at work, at school and elsewhere. You can contact him at dittomj@worldnet.att.net.
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