Modern Love: Understanding online relationships

Online relationships are a polarizing topic for most people; either you think they can work or you find them unnerving. I grew up using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) as a kid and transitioned to figuring out MySpace during middle school; online socializing was a part of my everyday life. I’ve had a couple of online lovers as the years have passed, but they came and went with each summer, and when high school came around I was much more interested in “real” boys.
In 2013, during my junior year of high school, I bought my very own laptop. I now had the social freedom to do whatever I pleased … under the supervision of my mother. With this luxurious new-found independence I decided to join Steam, an online gaming network to connect gamers across the world. This was a much better waste of my time than what most peers were up to at my age, so my parents weren’t too pestered by it (although I still got a good amount of crap for staying up until three in the morning most nights). Garry’s Mod (Gmod) was my first Steam game. It’s a sandbox physics game without objectives, but lists “modes” you can play on such as “Prop Hunt” or “Murder.”
As an online workshop, international users can manipulate and create fun games for everyone to play on. When I first started out I loved Prop Hunt. I would choose random servers and play with handfuls of random strangers to survive with props like milk cartons or traffic cones against hunters with guns and crowbars. I played for a few days solo until I met Cayman and MonkiiC. Cayman was a 16-year-old Canadian guy and MonkiiC was a 15-year-old boy from New York. These were my go-to partners when I wanted to play Gmod and I became close with them very quickly. As junior year progressed, I took a break from playing to focus on work and my studies, so I left behind Monkii and Cay for three months.
Monkii was always my favorite to play with. He knew all the quirks to the game and could always find the best hiding spots. Although he was younger than I was, there wasn’t a block in our conversations – we were on the same level. When I came back to Steam, Monkii was still there, but Cay was too busy finding himself in Canada and never got online. I started up our adventures once again, and we played almost every day. He made some new friends while I was away, and they soon became mine, too.
Playing online was my great escape. Work was tough and tiring, school was soul-sucking and home wasn’t relaxing either. Monkii was one of the better friends I had, and he was the one I told all my troubles to. He listened and offered perspective when I asked, and I did the same for him each time we Skyped and played together. I didn’t know what Monkii looked like or sounded like until the summer of 2014; he was a total mystery. But once I saw him and heard his voice, Monkii became Jake, and Jake became a reality. After that we Skyped face-to-face and had weird karaoke sessions with our friends on weekends. It was funny and weird and a wonderful release. I liked him, little by little, as time went on.
In December of 2014, I lost my mother. I didn’t want anyone to be near me. I wanted to crawl into the deepest and darkest cavern and feel empty all by myself, but I was forced to keep living. I developed a mild form of insomnia and was on Steam more often than not, so Jake became my shoulder to cry on, lean on and just forget the world on. That December was my darkest time, but Jake didn’t mind that I needed to heal myself; he was right there trying to help me do it.
In January, I fell for him, and one could say he fell for me, too. We both would slyly flirt with each other, but when our friends teased, we just brushed it off with a “yeah, whatever” or a “sure, okay.” It was a hesitant love because I wasn’t sure if he wanted to be anything more than friends. I was in Texas, and he was in New York.
However, after I knew I would be going to Williams, the idea of us being together wasn’t so far away. It could happen! I could visit him and he could see me when time permitted, and he even lived in the same city as my sister so I could kill two birds with one stone! One thing kept us from pushing forward: We were both too chicken to move the friendship into a relationship.
The fear dwindled by March and Jake finally broke the barrier; we were together. In all my life of online relationships and “real life” relationships, I have never met someone so perfect for me. We’re best friends, we’re compatible partners and we each have traits the other lacks. At first I just really liked Jake after we moved into a relationship, but now, I love him, and he loves me too. And when I feel empty and lonely on the inside, he’s always there to look at me and see that I’m going to be more than okay – and I believe him.
As far as relationships go, online ones can be the trickiest to maintain. You have to be able to hold conversations – only conversations – for months or years at a time and love every non-physical aspect about them. You discover their personality before you know them as a physical being, which can be a little overwhelming. Your curiosity is what keeps the relationship fresh and vibrant. You want to know what their favorite restaurant is and what kind of songs they listened to that day, and you wonder what they say when they speak about you to their family and friends – if they do.
Because online relationships have a social stigma against them, it’s hard to come out to those around you about your online significant other. Even though you know your online partner probably more than you could know a local one in the same amount of time, your relationship is criticized as “fake.”
As of today I have met Jake in person, and we’ve gone on several wonderful dates, and I still love him tremendously, but knowing how much I already loved Jake, I can’t stand comments that debunk online relationships as insignificant.
In a socialized, connected world like today’s, online relationships are slowly breaking the status quo of what it means to have a relationship. All that couples like Jake and I are waiting for is for everyone else to understand the bigger picture of what it means to love.

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