There was once a time in my life where I would have done almost everything online happily not thinking it was different than other ways of connecting. The internet is no longer the shining star in my life instead being relegated to a bit part in the play of my life.
In the beginning, being online felt glorious. I could dip into a chat room and speak to WHOEVER I wanted without fear of rejection. Every question could answered without fear of unfair judgement. I could be a brimming sex pot one moment and the next a highly intellectual gamer. As a young gay kid in the south I saw life a very specific way: act as straight as possible, go where you're wanted, and keep safe by staying home (usually in my room). I wanted to be outgoing, sexual, and popular. The internet was teaching me that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted and those goals felt more attainable than ever.
I didn't really date much in high school being closeted and all, so the internet really blossomed for me when I left home for tree-lined Tallahassee and my first year at Florida State. I met my first boyfriend online in the AOL local M4M (male 4 male) chatroom over the lead up to the school year. It was just as I had always imagined with jaunts around campus, meeting his friends, and staying over at this place. A few months later I was walking aimlessly around campus with tears streaming down my face because he had been fooling around with some other dude we both knew. Shortly after, I was right back online to start it up all over again.
And I definitely kept it up. For almost two decades. All along the way I would think to myself "Why do I keep doing this when it makes me feel like shit? They don't want what I'm offering and there don't really seem to be people who are looking for what I'm looking for" ignoring the fact that I was putting myself in environments that weren't aligned with what I wanted. Couple that with low and misinformed self worth and you've entered my old pattern of dating. The ignorance of youth told me that if something wasn't happening the way I wanted than it was my responsibility to right it. I had to communicate differently, open up more, close up more, be more intellectual, less intellectual, more sexy, more "interesting" whatever the hell that means. It was even more exhausting to live it than it was to just type it.
This need for a more perfect conversation permeated into my offline relationships and friendships that began online. The more I dug in to connect to the people around me the further away from myself and what I wanted I seemingly became. I was constantly editing my thoughts and actions to keep people around even if I felt they weren't right for me, doing more for others than I would consider doing for myself, and stretching myself so thin all I could do when I was alone was lay on the couch and mindlessly watch TV. I could be standing in front of someone I cared deeply about and couldn't say the things I most urgently needed to say because I didn't want them to leave me even if that would have been healthier for both of us.
The struggle continued for years while I came to grips with the information my voice inside was shouting. First, I learned to hear the voice. You'd think it wouldn't be hard because of the shouting, but somehow I thought the yelling wasn't for me. I am reading now how nonsensical that is but it's where I was at. Slowly I began to trust the voice in small situations while also building my own self confidence.I would still actively ignore the voice drumming up plans to work around what my inner knowing was telling me so I didn't have to walk the bumpy road it was laying out ahead of me. My first big moment of listening 100% to that voice was when I left my job of over ten years, and after that the realization hit me like a tsunami. You CAN listen to that voice and you CAN also trust it, so I began really leaning into trusting myself deeply.
So here I am rounding third base nearing the end of my third century on this planet. I am actually aware of the "this isn't right" feeling in all my relationships: inner, familial, platonic, and romantic. Trusting myself urges me to say things that I've never said before and to act in novel ways. I listened to this knowing as I deleted Tinder from my phone about six months ago. I was listening when I deleted Hinge a couple months back finally realizing that online dating was only exacerbating my negative patterns of throwing myself at men to make them love me even in the absence of any sort of return on that affection.
I've continued hearing my inner knowing when I decided to stop having relationships based around texting and to cultivate a deeper and more thoughtful level of interaction with those I care about. To put in work motivated by not fulfilling some requirement on what I was told a relationship should be like but how I wanted to have a relationship. Texting feels on the opposite side of this somewhere near a monologue that I probably didn't sign up for and a subject no one asked me if I cared about. My tendencies to create stories around what is said is minimized because I can actually interact with who's talking and clarify if I'm spiraling out.
When I take the opportunities that are presented to move from text into something more personal, like phone or video chat, it's still shocking to me how much more engaging and fun it is to talk with the very same person I was just begrudgingly texting with. We both feel it. I can be open in my most authentic way and others have a tendency to respond in kind if they can meet me there...and paying attention to who can, or tries, to meet there tells me where I should spend more of that precious phone, video, or in person time. The era of the internet star known has Henry has ended.