In the 5TJT Dating Forum of October 4, a young woman about to get engaged wanted to know how to handle a Facebook relationship she has with a man she has never met in person. Although Baila Sebrow’s advice is usually spot-on, I think she missed the boat this time. Her response would have been good for a 12-year-old girl. Warning of predators and the dangers of the Internet can’t be stressed enough to young children.
As far as a 20-year-old girl is concerned, Baila apparently has no idea of the many relationships that form online via social media. Times are different; the culture of relationships has taken on a whole new angle. These relationships are real. Chances of the guy she is chatting with being a predator are extremely low. Running with the idea that this guy is out there talking to hundreds of other teens and forming relationships with them, and that he will not show up for a meeting and will instead “expose” her publicly, is out of touch with reality. Relationships can form online that are real and sincere. It is a forum to share things that would be uncomfortable to say face-to-face and therefore may become very emotionally intimate.
The likely scenario if the girl takes Baila’s advice and marries the boy she is currently dating will be that the Facebook guy will always be there in the background. When she gets into an argument or isn’t happy with something about her husband, she will begin reaching out to her Facebook friend, telling herself that he is just a friend. The girl says they have been chatting several times daily online for three years! Does Baila think that this girl is going to suddenly stop going online or disconnect herself from all social media, entrenched as she is? Even if they somehow can manage to break all contact, when she is on the computer it is inevitable that eventually she will at least look at his Facebook page.
I can understand thinking that this relationship isn’t appropriate and never should have happened, but by now it is a fait accompli. Three years is a long time to have a relationship. The best thing is for her to put her dating on hold and meet this guy no matter what, and mutually decide to end or continue. Walking into a marriage with this type of baggage is a huge mistake and unfair to all parties involved. She is entering a marriage with a three-year relationship that hasn’t ended, and will never end unless she meets this guy. He will be in the back of her mind, and constant comparisons will be made. We need to understand today’s culture and how very genuine and intense computer relationships can be, and that they are here to stay.
By Baila Sebrow
The media frequently features reports of people who have been seriously hurt as a result of agreeing to meet Facebook strangers. Not so long ago there was the horrific story of a 17-year-old girl—the same age as the writer of the letter when she began her online Facebook relationship with a stranger. This poor girl believed she was communicating with a 16-year-old boy. They expressed sentiments to each other. She agreed to meet him and, tragically, met her death. This purported 16-year-old “boyfriend” (but actually murderer) turned out to be a 32-year-old known predator.
Social media is not only here to stay, but will continue to advance technologically. And yes, there are many relationships of all kinds formed online. Dating sites are a typical example—one of which I am proudly an active shadchan with. Many happily married couples report having met online. Surprisingly, there have even been marriages as a result of Facebook. But the scenario of the relationship played out in the October 4 letter speaks differently.
This guy “friended” an underage girl, forming an emotional connection with her but making sure she knew nothing about him except that which he told her. He never offered to meet her, not even once in their three-year relationship. Yet when she told him of her impending engagement, it agitated him enough to spring into action, and then he immediately asked to meet with her. He became frantic that he would lose what he has with her, and in desperation employed a new tactic.
In mentoring girls through their dating stages, I know of many such incidents, and oftentimes it has been the same guy—at the same time—emotionally hounding countless girls. There are frum singles who relate stories of finding out that the guy who professes his undying love does so to many others. And he does not turn out to be some handsome young guy, but rather an older and sometimes married pervert.
After such a long period of staying hidden, these guys oftentimes do not present themselves. Rather, these phony Facebook boyfriends prefer to never reveal themselves in person to their Facebook girlfriends, particularly when they have been avoiding doing so for a number of years, as in this case. Do you know why these guys tend to remain hidden? Because they are not who they claim to be, and thus are afraid of being discovered. But those are the lucky girls—the ones who never get the chance to meet them.
In a world of fiction, a situation such as that portrayed in the letter would turn out to have a happy ending. But this is not some romantic love story where the beautiful princess will finally meet her prince, lock eyes, and run off into the sunset together. That only works in books and movies, not real life.
Does the remote possibility exist that this guy is a normal person? If the story is as it was related, he likely is not. But on the remote chance that he may be, I recommended that the person who will assist this young woman should try to find out his identity. The other reason for doing so, as I stated in my response to her, is that her curiosity will lead her to go around imagining every guy to be that of the description he gave of himself. More likely, his identity will never be discovered.
This was not a healthy three-year relationship, and it has all the markings of danger—a sad fact that the young woman needs to be aware of. Under no circumstances would I ever advise any female, even if she is 20 years old, to meet with an unknown man.
I am confident that my response has alerted her to the reality of the possible outcome, where he may publicly expose the sentiments expressed when she has poured her heart out to him. She needs to be in touch with this very reality that may threaten her future, because such things have, sadly, occurred. Keeping that likely factor in the forefront of her mind is something that should help her avoid reaching out to him if, after her marriage, she gets into a fight with her husband.
I will reiterate my earlier response, that his young woman needs to move on with her life. Yes, she needs to share her saga with the guy she is currently dating. Along with the help of her parents and anyone else who assists her through this adversity, hopefully she will be able to allow this now normal relationship she is in to flourish in a healthy way. With luck, she will become a positive statistic in the “face” of negativity.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. v
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