Dilemmas; You may think your Internet affair is harmless. It isn't

Angela's happily living with her boyfriend. But she's been talking to people on the Internet and has become close to one. They are having kisses and hugs and even more - though they've never met. Is she betraying her boyfriend?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE are two schools of thought about flirting. One is that it's safe, it's fun, everybody does it, and it's harmless, just giving two people a little kick - no more dangerous than sharing a glass of champagne. But the other school of thought is that it's risky, that once you open the door a crack and get a foot inside, you may no longer have any control over the situation.

Of course, if you flirt with an actual person who's present in real flesh and blood there are extra dangers. It's easy to touch and to risk that electric spark igniting between you. But because of the very risk, it doesn't often happen and flirting's kept to meaningful looks and saucy comments. But on the Internet, because the risk of real contact appears so slight, it's easier to get carried away. I think Angela's playing a dangerous game.

For a start, who knows that this man won't one day suddenly take it into his head to get a ticket from Brazil, or wherever he lives, and suggest a meeting at Heathrow Airport? What would Angela do then? After all, safely married men can get divorced and suddenly start coming on in earnest, and even long-term prisoners, who might be thought to be fairly remote, can suddenly get years off for good behaviour and turn up on your doorstep.

I once started a correspondence with a man who lived in Kenya. It wasn't a flirtation but rather an intense friendship. Imagine my horror when he turned up in Dover, demanding to see me. Imagine my greater horror when he got married, went straight into a mental home, and started ringing me up at the magazine where I worked telling me about the strange voices he heard. Imagine my even greater horror when I opened the paper and found he had been had up for a random murder and was now on his way to Rampton. It taught me a hard lesson.

Who knows that this man Angela's involved with won't turn into a stalker, someone who gets obsessed by her? Or, worse, her own obsession with this man may have an effect on her and her boyfriend's relationship.

A friend of mine, who developed what she thought was an innocent, but overwhelming, crush on a father at her daughter's school, was baffled because her own husband suddenly started having violent rages. It didn't occur to her that at some level this poor man had caught on to what was up, and was reacting against her faraway looks, her preoccupation with dressing up to the nines at 3.30pm every day, her withdrawal into herself and her fantasies.

And, finally, Angela should ask herself what she would feel if she discovered her own boyfriend was having an Internet "affair". If she feels she could live with him writing how his body feels when pressed against another girl's, that he gets an erection just at the thought of turning on the computer, that he can feel her tongue in his mouth, then that's fine. But she'd be a funny bunny to feel happy about a relationship like that. She is betraying her boyfriend. She knows it, too, or she wouldn't be asking the question. She should stop at once.

readers' replies

My boyfriend met someone through the Internet and I think Angela's playing with fire. He went to meet her and they had an affair. It came to nothing of course, but by then it was too late. I could never trust him again. He now begs me to come back but my feelings for him have changed. Angela should stop this relationship immediately

Anon

There's nothing harmful in this. It's a normal, healthy way of living, and as long as Angela never actually takes her Internet relationship further, no harm can come of it.

Brian Elder, Edinburgh

I do not think that Angela is betraying her boyfriend. Rather that she might be betraying herself. I would ask why she needs e-mail hugs and kisses. Does her real-life boyfriend not give her enough kisses and hugs? Has she communicated her needs to him?

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon, Wilts

next week's dilemma

My husband works away abroad for a month and returns home for two weeks. I find it increasingly hard to cope. When he returns he insists on being the Man about the House, disrupting my routines, and disciplining the children about things that never bother me.

Last time he was here he insisted on exchanging our big, reliable, old banger for a new one, which doesn't suit me nearly so well as it only has two doors. Having created uproar, he then goes away leaving me to pick up the pieces till next time.

My social life is nil, too, because when my husband's home he wants to see me alone all the time, but when he's away I long for friends but can never maintain them.

If we lived together all the time I'm sure things would settle down. But how can I cope with such a peculiar life? Does anyone else have this problem? - Diane

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments and suggestions to Virginia Ironside at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.

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