Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Online Relationships and Family

Mark J. Kline | 8 Mar 2012 09:00
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Dear Dr Mark,

Throughout my years online, I have made important friends. Recently, I wanted to tell my sister about an interesting conversation I had with one of these people when I suddenly froze up. I was embarrassed to be discussing someone I've never met. I felt ashamed to have shared secrets with this person, to have talked about personal family issues with him. My parents recently separated and I talked about this to a much older man who was divorcing his own wife. I never talked about it with anyone IRL.

I feel bad for having friends that my sister doesn't know. I feel guilty that I don't talk about personal things with her. I never have deep philosophical exchanges with my family. I don't even know their religious views or their opinions about any serious or inflammatory topics, but I know all this about many of my online friends. They know important things about me that my own family doesn't.

I'm disenchanted with reality and often retreat into fantasies-- my family have suggested that I see a professional to check if I have Asperger's Syndrome and I can see why. I just can't interact in any meaningful way with them. I feel terribly guilty about this because its seems like I'm cutting out my family while I share so much more online. Why can't I talk to people I've known my whole life? It's even hard for me to do Skype where I have to look people in the face and I'm very uncomfortable touching others, even my dog.

You're bringing up some interesting things here that may well be related. You feel guilty about a way you have found to connect with others that works for you. Telling your family about this would bring them into your world, but embarrassment and shame holds you back. Perhaps you sense that they will feel disappointed or betrayed..

Yet you also yearn to bring these pieces of your life together, you "wanted" to tell your sister about your online conversation. You want to know and be known by your family. Something makes this feel so strained and complicated, so you've held back.

Then, there is a more global issue. In-person, face-to-face contact feels quite uncomfortable to you. If you have a hard time looking at others, touching them, even touching your pet, it makes sense that you'd find real-life relationships most difficult. You're troubled by this and it seems that you want to understand it better and do something about it.

I give you lots of credit for using online relationships to make meaningful connections. It's totally understandable that you would need help dealing with your parents' marital issues and you found someone with perspective to offer. I'm assuming you have enough experience with online socializing to make decisions about whom to trust and how to protect yourself. While the risks of online relating are often trumpeted, many people have learned to manage it.

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