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By "Today" contributor
TODAY
updated 1/27/2005 11:12:59 AM ET 2005-01-27T16:12:59

Q: I’ve think I’m in love with someone I met on the Internet. We’ve never met (and probably never will). Is this cheating?

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A: In a word, yes.

A committed relationship is all about intimate emotional involvement with another. If you are feeling passion toward someone besides your partner — if you can’t wait to get to your computer to e-mail with another man — you are taking time and energy away from your current relationship.

And, chances are, it’s all a fantasy!

With someone you haven’t met, you imagine all kinds of wonderful traits and no horrible ones. You think you know him well from your frequent notes, but it’s easy for anyone to sound terrific in an e-mail. People can edit their words to make themselves convey any kind of impression they want.

You haven’t been with him when he’s grouchy. You have no idea how he deals with bad moods, or whether he has highly annoying habits. Maybe he talks non-stop, or maybe he grunts more than he speaks. Maybe he chews tobacco or never goes to the dentist or watches sports day and night.

Your feelings are toward somebody who probably doesn’t exist in the fantasy form you have conjured up. (And if you do make the mistake of arranging to meet after your hot-and-heavy correspondence, you are 99 percent guaranteed to be tremendously disappointed.)

Even worse, such a fake relationship is highly likely to erode your current one. Inevitably, you will compare this fantasy man with the man you have, who can’t help but fall short. A real man — with all his faults, lovable or not — can never measure up to a fantasy.

Instead of focusing on your text-based fantasy man, you should look inside yourself and examine why it is you are going outside your committed relationship for passion and excitement. Quite often, such a flirtation is a sign that you are in some way dissatisfied or bored with your partner.

It is a much better use of your time to work on your current relationship than to pursue one that is both unlikely to produce any kind of satisfaction as well as to undermine the bond with your partner. All three of you might end up getting hurt.

I suggest you bid your pen-pal a polite farewell and then block his e-mail address.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line:  However you rationalize it, an Internet relationship IS cheating. Stick a note on your computer reminding you to focus on your real one instead.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com. Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” is to be published in May 2004.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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