The prevalence of close online communities have brought an issue to light — at least for me — that I believe is becoming almost systemic in nature, and that is an increasing number of people who have serious intimacy issues.

It could be that I notice this because these communities themselves are the perfect haven for emotionally unavailable people, and they are drawn to it because of the safety it provides. Where else can they go to have close relationships with others while still keeping them at arms’ length?

The question is whether these online communities are enabling the issue or are providing an outlet for otherwise pent up emotions.

I tend to think it’s a little of both.

The sad truth is that in the past 16 years that I’ve been heavily involved in the online from:, most of the people I’ve met and become close to fall into this category. They all fit into the same pattern — they’re friendly, witty, intelligent and have no lives. All of their close friendships are with people online, and the people in their “real lives” are relegated to the status of friendly acquaintence.

I, myself, fit into this category. At work, I’m friendly, outgoing, some might even say effervescent. I have lots of work friends who I just love, but when work is over, I pull back. I keep to myself in the evenings and reserve any socialization for my online friends. Life is easier, less complicated and…well…safer that way.

People with intimacy issues often fit that mold exactly. They use wit to avoid having or facing emotional turmoil of any kind. They avoid confrontation and don’t allow themselves to get angry or offended at situations that would normally send someone through the roof. They are extremely introspective and willing to share their viewpoints on intimacy with others like them.

Interestingly enough, these people are very caring and giving to their online friends, where they have difficulty behaving the same way in their real lives. Again, I believe this is because they are “safer” online. Trust is not as much of an issue, because they don’t have to worry about being hurt in the same ways as they would in real life. They can be happy and enjoy their online relationships without fear of betrayal, because they tell themselves that the people they meet online are somehow not as important as people in their real lives, so if they get betrayed by someone online, it isn’t as big a deal.

Sadly, though, it can be.

When people who have never allowed themselves to really love another person let the wall down enough to actually let someone in — even online — getting hurt by that person can be as heartbreaking as any emotional pain they’ve felt in their real lives. And if the wall comes down enough that they actually start getting together in the “real world” with the object of their online affection, the breakup can be devistating. I experienced this first hand when I broke up with Brian, a man I grew to love online and subsequently dated for two years. When we finally parted ways, it was one of the most painful emotional experiences of my life. Luckily for me, I got a great friend out of it, and he and I still keep in contact, albiet sporadically, today.

That said, one of my very close online friends and I were discussing this recently and he said, “Being in love and feeling in love are two very different things.” That really struckfrom: me, because it rang so true, and I think it is the very crux of what happens when a person has intimacy issues. Romantic relationships online allow people with intimacy issues to feel like they would if they were really in love, but in most cases, these people don’t allow themselves to actually be in love. Not in real life.

If you’re a person with intimacy issues, this makes sense. If you’re not, it’s probably meaningless. But trust me, it’s true.

When all is said and done, I’m of the opinion that, for an emotionally unavailable person, online communities and the close relationships they foster are both good and bad. They do give people an emotional outlet where they might not get one otherwise, but they also remove any incentive to get out in the real world and experience real life.

I’m telling you, there’s a book here somewhere. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about this for some time — I’ve certainly done my research, and it continues today. I’d be interested in seeing what other people think about the issue. If you have an opinion, please feel free to comment on the site. Let me know whether you’d like your comment to be public or private, and maybe we can get a discussion going on the subject.

I look forward to hearing from you!