Ask Dave-Instant-messaging problems
I sent an instant message to my girl, but it was actually her cousin. I accidentally outed her to her family!
I need counseling. I met Kate online weeks ago while we were both chatting via IM. She is lovely, we communicated a lot every day, but something happened and I want your advice. Kate and I didn’t chat for a few days because she was out of town. Then one night, I was online and saw that she was, too.
It turned out that Kate wasn’t online. Her cousin was. Apparently they share a computer, which I didn’t know. Initially I’d written “Hi sweetie” and
a few affectionate things like that. Then when I realized it was her cousin, I apologized and asked to send my greetings to Kate.
|Apparently they share a computer, which I didn’t know.|
A day later, Kate sent me an email, which upset me a lot. She told me that I had to be more careful. She said she wasn’t prepared to let her family know she was a lesbian, and she wanted to know exactly what I’d said to her cousin. Her cousin had asked her a bunch of questions and Kate had lied about my role in her life.
I sent her an email telling her how aggravated I am getting blamed for this, and I included the exact chat conversation, which I had saved.
Dave, I guess I know that computers can be shared, but honestly, I didn’t know anyone else would sign on with her ID. Next time we chatted, I explained that I thought it was dangerous that someone had access to her instant messenger ID. She excused herself by saying, “I don't know about computers.” It was an awkward chat that ended with Kate saying that she “wouldn’t annoy me any more,” and me apologizing for being such a problem in her life. So there’s where it stands. I am confused, but I do love her and I think she loves me.
What’s your advice?
- Confused Online Chatter
Emails, online chat and telephone conversations are fun, convenient and useful. But when it comes to solid communication tools, nothing replaces live interaction. This is especially true when there’s confusion like what you are experiencing.
Ostensibly, Kate was upset that you instant-messaged her cousin by accident. “Proceed cautiously with instant messaging” is a fair point to make. Despite the fact that most people sign onto email accounts using individual screen names, you found out the hard way that this isn’t always the case. This, however, is an easily solved problem. Be more careful and clarify the identity of your instant message recipient before typing your heart away. It’s not fair to fault you for this first time offense—an unintentional mistake that any of us could make. Unfortunately, it sounds like there’s more in the way of your relationship with Kate than just computer confusion.
Your last exchange sounds like a classic case of defensive crossed wires made worse by your chosen means of communication. She may have annoyed you
that very minute, but you love her. She probably doesn’t think of you as a problem in her life, but you felt hurt and responded in pain.
|You can learn much about a person through emails and online chat.|
So let’s start with the downside of online chatting. It’s important to understand when it makes sense to communicate online vs. in person. When you send someone an email, chat or even talk on the telephone, she can’t read your facial expressions. So much of communication is non-verbal, such as assessing tone or reading body language. Before sending Kate an email response to the one she sent you, I would have opted for talking to her in person, or at least on the telephone.
Second, I don’t know the background of your relationship with Kate. But have you spent much time in person with her? Be careful of falling too hard for someone you’ve only communicated with online. You can learn much about a person through emails and online chat, but the mind is a powerful tool. You can project onto that person attributes and a connection that might not exist in reality. You are able to do this since you are one step removed. Are both of you hiding behind the safety net of your computer screens? Not that anyone blames you. Chatting online lets you divulge your hopes, passions and fears from the comfort of your home without the pressures of a real relationship. But it doesn’t replace the real thing.
Finally, the biggest relationship roadblock is the closet. It’s hard to have any semblance of a healthy relationship with someone who isn’t out. As long as Kate is closeted, your feelings will always compete with her fear of being found out. Fueling that fear is self-hate that many gays and lesbians internalize due to negative messages from family and society. When you talk to Kate, why not tell her that you care about her and want to have a healthy, open relationship? I realize that big changes are not made overnight. The road to coming out begins with one step. I wouldn’t want to offer you false hope that Kate will have an instant epiphany about coming out. But your chances for improving your relationship with Kate start with coming out from behind your computer screen. Once you’ve talked with her face to face, you’ll be one step closer to determining if this is a relationship worth pursuing.
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Visit Dave’s website and send your dating questions and comments to him at email@example.com.