Internet love…real or not real? That is the question.

As more and more people live a large percentage of their lives in virtual space, we have begun to see more Internet romances bloom. But what are these romances really?

The feelings are certainly the same. That heady, I’m-in-love-and-can’t-get-enough-of-you yearning is there, but usually, the visual and tactile components are missing. So, with that in mind, how can it possibly be real?

Some people, particularly those who are relatively new to cyberspace, will tell you that they know the object of their affection better than they know most people in their real lives. They will argue that, when all you have is text, there is more deep discussion of values and moral principles and an opportunity to find out what makes the person really tick.

All that is certainly true.

Those who have been around the cyber block, so to speak, are more jaded in this area. They will tell you that, while that is true, the lack of visual and tactile stimuli also removes the ability to see through a lie. It is also certianly true that those of us who communicate online often present the person we would like to be rather than the person we really are, so that also has to be taken into account.

That said, I have been witness to several Internet romances that worked out well in real life. in 1994, I and 20 other cyber friends attended a wedding of two friends who met on the Internet while working in AOL’s guide program. These two, who were both in thier 50s at the time, met and worked together online for a couple of years before they set up tentative real life meetings, and it was those few real life meetings that led to their engagement and subsequent marriage. Happily, they are still together today.

I’ve seen the other side of that coin, though.

Case in point - NoogyMnstr and So Sexy Lisa, who met and lived in AOL’s Flirts’ Nook chat room for years. Noogy was a handsome ex Navy lieutenant with a heart of gold, and Lisa was his paramour, beautiful with a voice like honey and a body to match. Or, so Noogy thought. The two spent hours together on the phone and in the Nook each night, sharing their lives and falling madly, deeply in love. Though they both lived in Chicago, they never met in person, because, Lisa said, she had been sexually assaulted and had to take things slow. So, Noogy waited patiently, falling more and more in love with this beautiful, fragile girl. Eventually, they became engaged, even though they still hadn’t met, and Noogy began insisting that the meet in real life. After all, she had agreed to spend her life with him. They set up meetings, but something always happened to prevent them.

The other Nook regulars (who were all close cyber friends) became suspicious, and one had a relative who worked for the Illinois DMV who ran Lisa’s real name through the database. The picture that came back was not the one we had all seen of sweet, young Lisa. Instead, the picture returned was of a 40-something woman who looked more like Roseanne Barr. When all was said and done, we learned that Lisa was a married woman, and the picture she’d sent to Noogy was of the 18 year old Swedish exchange student living in her home. Needless-to-say, he was devistated. That was the day we all learned that Internet love can be a complete scam.

Real or not real, I suppose then, is on a case-by-case basis at best and depends on the honesty of the participants. Some people get lucky and meet someone they can spend their lives with while others get nothing but disappointment and heartache. In that way, I guess, it’s like any other relationship. Sometimes you strike gold, and sometimes, you get the shaft.

Whether it’s good or bad, one thing is certain. It’s fun while it lasts, and it feels great. Everyone can use a little romance now and then, whether its just private chats with someone who cares or a late night seranade of your favorite love songs, designed especially for you. I’ll take a night of seranading over late night TV any day!