Heartfelt thanks to the woman who submitted this piece, who identifies herself as “One who has learned the boundaries.”

I am one of those women who long before it was popular to be addicted to the internet, fell into its gaping jaws of faux solace and seemingly innocence. I was married, I am no longer. I was financially sound, educated, reasonably intelligent and reasonably happy. My life had some problems of course, but nothing (looking back) like physical abuse, poverty, or mental illness.

I was lonely. I was unfulfilled. I was longing for a connection that I didn’t feel in my marriage or my world. I was introduced to the internet. Day by day my curiosity grew. Week by week I dropped more and more of the boundaries and cautions I had always upheld in the physical world. It was after all, “only pretend.”

Soon instead of just chatting with random strangers, I was making “Friends.” Before I knew it, I was crying with them, laughing with them, and they were giving me the validation, support, and stimulation that was lacking in my role as “merely” a housewife. They thought I was intelligent. They thought I was funny and wise. When I was “online” I was. I liked that person better.

No harm right? Just an innocent pastime while the kids were at school. Wrong. I look back now at one particular moment. My young son was trying to get my attention. My eyes were riveted to the screen. While still typing, I glanced over at his face, and even though it sickens me now to think of it, I can still see the longing, the need for mom to pay attention, but I didn’t. I blew him off. I placated his request with a few words and got back to the ‘important’ discussion I was having with a complete stranger. I am sure he
remembers it to this day, though he would never say so.

Too soon those conversations became private conversations. They turned from innocent bantering in a public chatroom to private messages. Then emails were exchanged, and then, I still remember the night, phone calls. I was up late, as it had become my habit, and I sat there with my finger on the phone button to make certain that when it rang, as little sound as possible was made. I remember feeling like a covert spy in my own home. I listened for clicks on the other side, I whispered and felt the pit of my belly tighten around the deceit that I allowed myself to deny.

Details aren’t necessary, but over a year’s time I “fell in love.” Nothing was as important as my whispered conversations, my private emails and the late-night conversations. They were a drug to me. When one “relationship” failed for one reason or another, there was someone else to quickly take its place.

Words are not innocent. Words are more powerful than any weapon, any photograph, any kiss. They tantalize and validate, promise and wind about your heart and imagination like nothing else can.

What happened? In short, I lost everything. I lost my marriage, I lost my son, I lost my home and my self-respect. Now, ten years later I am recovering. I am still mildly addicted, but I am committed to only visit informational sites, keep every conversation public, and always use my real name. Being hidden and anonymous was the biggest deception of all. I could go on and on, but my summary is this: If you are online and prefer it to any offline relationship, be careful. If you prefer your Facebook, My Space, Twitter or any other site friends over your physical friends, be careful. If your children do not receive your eyes when they need your attention, be careful. If you have a private email account that your spouse doesn’t know about, or doesn’t have the password to, be careful. It is a slow and subtle snake that can destroy everything you hold dear.

The internet can be uplifting, helpful, and an addition to the conversation of faith, inspiration, and education also, but if you ever feel that twinge of “Should I really be doing something else?” – you probably should.

There is a way out, but it is much easier to stay out, than to get out. My journey was long, painful and permanent. My only saving grace, was Saving Grace. I know that as I realized that what I was doing was partly the cause of my grief, I changed my actions. I painfully let go of what I thought was my life- line. I ended relationships I thought were important and I held on to the ones that really do have eternal significance. That of my family, my real friends, and my God. You can do the same.