I decided to start online dating recently because I have not had any luck with women face-to-face. One day I started talking to this woman who seemed pretty interested in me, and we hit it off right away. She liked everything I liked and believed in everything I believed in. It was unbelievable. After a few weeks of talking I asked her to be my girlfriend, and she was thrilled with the idea and said yes. The next day she told me how happy I make her and that she wanted to be with me. Well, she also said she had a difficult decision to make and said we would see each other soon.
Right after she said this she deleted her profile on the site without telling me anything. The site didn’t allow the exchange of personal information so we couldn’t exchange e-mails or anything. A week or so later, without any word from her, I found her on this other group of dating sites, and she had that she was single. What does this mean? Was it all a scam? Did she really mean it when she said she was in love with me? I am so confused right now! What should I do? Should I message her on the site and tell her it’s me? Please help. I have no idea what is going on.
Thanks, John the Confused
My Dearest John the Confused,
I hear your confusion, and I understand why you’re questioning yourself in light of what happened to you. The first thing I want you to know is that when you have feelings for somebody then you, well, you have those feelings. No questions asked. Nobody can take that away from you, OK? You say she believed in what you believed in and that you wanted to be with her. I am of the belief that that’s never a bad thing. However, this time your ability to feel affection seems to have gotten you into a bit of a bind.
The two of you seem to have connected mentally and emotionally on a very intense level. Feeling like somebody matches you in that way is positively intoxicating. Sometimes it’s especially seductive in the form of letters or messages. When we share ourselves with other people in the written word we present controlled chunks of ourselves. It’s like giving little gifts to each other: “Here is this little fact about me.” “Oh! How cool! Thank you! Here’s this little something about me!” “Oh! That reminds me of this other thing about me–” “–which reminds me of this other thing about me.” And on and on forever.
Textual exchange has a deeply personal, intimate history. The poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell shared one of my favorite literary exchanges. Tom Paulin, a poet who wrote about their correspondence, notes that Bishop’s prose to Lowell “leaps out as if she is an actor or dancer, inspired by the intelligence and attention of her audience of one.” (Words in Air, xv) It sounds like your lady also provided a particularly captive audience for you and you for her. The two of you had an intimate connection via the written word, albeit in the context of an online dating sight.
The intimacy of your correspondence is real. However, it is also seems like you are looking for a kind of relationship that is not merely in the form of text. This woman is not giving that to you and so you need to reframe your boundaries for yourself, your relationship to her and perhaps also to this world of online dating.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS BOYFRIEND GIRLFRIEND THING
You say that you asked her to be your girlfriend. What does that mean to you? Did that mean an agreement that you two would continue corresponding indefinitely? Did it mean that you would eventually meet up and integrate physical intimacy into your affectionate relationship? I sense that you need to define for yourself what “girlfriend” really means to you, then ask yourself if that is something you can commit to, having never met somebody in person.
DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING, BUT THEY CAN’T TREAT YOU LIKE TRASH EITHER
Digital spaces provide moments of tremendous intimacy. I can present you with any version of myself I want. I can put any pictures up there and say that they’re “of me.” I can write anything I want about what I do or what I believe. I can tell you I’m any age, any weight, any height, any ANYTHING. That is the power that the digital space gives us, and it’s our choice to do with that what we will.
Some people choose to abuse this power. It sounds like you were trying to represent yourself pretty accurately online. Good on ya! This woman may not have been. I would encourage you to use this experience as a reminder of some of the perils of the digital space and reaffirm that you don’t deserve to be ghosted on. And why would you want to be with somebody that ghosts on you? You’re cooler than that.
WHAT’S IN A SCAM?
You’ve asked me if you’ve been scammed. A scam is a dishonest scheme with malicious intent. It doesn’t sound like this person was trying to extract money from you, which is what I usually think of when I think of online “scamming.” However, she may have emotionally scammed you.
By this I mean she may have been using you for attention, not being entirely forthcoming about her current relationship status or perhaps dipping a toe in the online dating world without ever having the intention of meeting somebody in person.
None of these things are generous or fair on her part, but they don’t constitute a scam. So, what do you do with that? You can assure yourself that you were indeed wronged, you can forgive her, and you can move on.
You can also set a boundary for yourself where you decide you don’t reveal certain things about yourself or make certain commitments to people until you get to know them better, have seen their homes, their lives, their friends, etc. Generally, the more involved we are in others’ tangible lives the harder it becomes for us to simply disappear.
SHOULD I MESSAGE HER: THE ULTIMATE QUESTION
If, after some reflection, you still want to see her, then yes, sure, message her. If you want to communicate something to her about how you miss her or would like to meet her or are still interested in meeting up with her, then yes. But please do know that she very may well not respond.
I don’t know if she is “real” or if she is who she says she is, but I do know that she has not treated you very well. I guess I don’t really believe that anybody is “real” until you meet in person, and even then they may not be who they say they are. You can spend a lifetime trying to make somebody “real.” What matters is not whether or not they are real but whether or not you trust them and love them and vice versa. This woman has not shown that to you.
NEXT STEPS: IRL INTERACTION
I’ve been dancing around this throughout this column, but I will say it outright: I think it’s really important that in the future you meet people you chat with online in person. Even Bishop and Lowell met at a dinner party in New York before they started writing to each other. You’ve said that you haven’t had much luck meeting women face-to-face. I get that. You seem very comfortable in the written word, and that’s probably a more comfortable space for you to engage people at first. Perhaps this experience serves as a lesson for you to attempt to transition from initial textual introduction to face-to-face interaction. Suggest grabbing coffee within the first day or two of correspondence, if she’s not into that, see it as a red flag and move on. You deserve to correspond with an audience who wants to listen virtually and in person.
Good luck, my friend. Your confusion is merely the curtain that shades the dawn of clarity.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.