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By: Jin Ronaldo

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Monday, 13-Mar-2006 00:18 Email | Share | | Bookmark

Identity can be understood as our own theory of ourselves, created from many sources.

Monday, 6-Mar-2006 12:24 Email | Share | | Bookmark

Are You an Emotional Cheat? 7 Telltale Signs

Wth emotional affairs so prevalent, psychologists studying the issue have finally drawn some lines in the sand. You may be emotionally unfaithful, they say, if you:

    Have special confidante at the office, someone receptive to feelings and fears you can's discuss with your partner or spouse.
    Share personal nformation and negative feelins about your primary relationship with a "special friend."
    Meet a friend of the opposite sex for dinner and go back to his or her place to discuss your primary relationship over a drink, never calling your partner and finally arriving home at 3 A.M.
    Hummiliate your partner in front of others, suggesting he or she is a loser or inadequate sexually.
    Have the energy to tell your stories only once, and decide to save the juisiest for an office or Internet friend of the opposite sex.
    Hook up with an old boyfriend and girlfriend at a high school reunion and, feeling the old spark, decide to keep in contact by e-mail.
    Keep Sexret, password-protected Internet accounts, "just in case," or become incensed if your partner inadvertently glances at your "private things."

Saturday, 4-Mar-2006 21:25 Email | Share | | Bookmark


She was the first girl Brendan ever kissed, the first he made love with, the first he truly loved. They'd lost their virginity together on a magical trip to Amsterdam. He felt they were soul mates and believed that their bond would never be severed. But she had suddenly broken up with him after eight months, and they lost touch until 2000, when he paid her a visit. Their exchange was unremarkable, but they traded e-mail addresses. At first, they merely sent an occasional message, chatting superficially. But the correspondence became more frequent and personal. It was easy - she was sunnier and more passionate than Brendan's wife, Lauren, who was bleary-eyed from caring for their sick son while working full-time to pay the bills. Without the burden of these responsibilities, his old love divided her days between visits to the gym and e-mails to him. Yes, she had a husband; but while Brendan was "witty and creative", she said in her lustful notes, her husband was a drone. What a high it was for Brendan to see himself through this complimentary lens after Lauren's withering view of him: hypercritical, angry, money-obsessed.

At the same time, Lauren found herself drawn to a love interest with roots in her past: a man she met through a Web site devoted to the neighborhood she grew up in. In short order, Lauren was deeply involved in an Internet relationship that kept her mood aloft throughout the day. In every was, her new companion was superior: While Brendan had set out to be a novelist, he now worked for a little health newsletter. It was Lauren's online friend, a research biologist, who spent his free hours writing novel, and what a gifted writer he was! While Brendan talked about bills past due and criticized everything from her clothes to her weight, her online partner was fascinated by her thoughts and the minutiae of her day. He abounded in the type of wit and imagination Brendan had lacked for years. Sure, her online partner was married, too; he described his wife as remote and inaccessible - a scientist like himself, but so involved with her work that she left the child-rearing to him and almost never came home.

The New Anatomy of Infidelity

Brendan and lauren never slept with or even touched their affair partners. Yet their emotional involvements were so all-consuming, so blinding, that they almost blew off their marriage for the disembodied fantasies of online love. Infidelity, of course, is older than the Bible. And garden-variety cheating has been on the rise for 25 years, ever since women swelled the workforce. But now, infidelity has taken a dangerous - and often profoundly stirring - new turn that psychologists call the biggest threat marriage has ever faced. Characterized by deep emotional closeness, the secret, sexually charged (but unconsummated) friendships at issue build almost impercebtibly until they surpass in importance the relationship with a spouse. Emotional involvement outside of marriage has always been intoxicating, as fictional heroines such as Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary attest. But in the age of the Internet and the egalitarian office, these relationships have become far more accessible than ever before.

The late psychologist Shirley Glass identified the trend in her 2003 book, Not Just Friends. "The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing they've crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love," Glass wrote. Eighty-two percent of the unfaithful partners she'd counseled, she said, had had an affair with someone who was at first "just a friend". What's more, she found 55 to 65 percent of men and women alike had participated in relationships she considered emotionally unfaithful - secret, sexually energized and more emotionally open than the relationship with the spouse.

Glass cited the workplace as the new minefield for marriage; 50 percent of unfaithful women and 62 percent of unfaithful men she treated were involved with someone from work. And the office has only grown more tantalizing, with women now having affairs at virtually the same rate as men. Factor in the explosive power of the Internet, and it's clear that infidelity has become an omnipresent threat. No research exists on how many affairs are happening online, but experts say they're rampant - more common than work affairs and multiplying fast.

The Slippery Slope

AN EMOTIONAL affair can threaten any marriage - not just those already struggling or in disrepair.

"No one's immune," says Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth and creator of the Web site, DearPeggy.com, where surveys and discussion reflect the zeitgeist. Although those with troubled marriages are especially susceptible, a surprising number of people with solid relationships respons to the novelty and are swept away as well.

Because it is so insidious, its boundaries so fuzzy, the emotional affair's challenge to marriage is initially hard to detect. It might seem natural to discuss personal concerns with an Internet buddy or respond to an office mate having trouble with a spouse. But slowly, imperceptibly, there's an "emotional switch." The friends have built a bubble of secrecy around their relationship and shifted allegiance from their marriage partners to the affair.

Web of Deceit

THE PERFECT PETRI DISH for secret, sexually charged relationships is, of course, the Internet. The new American affair can take place right in the family room; within feet of children and an unsuspecting spouse, the unfaithful can swap sex talk and let emotions run amok.

Often, it's the anonymity of online encounters that invites emotional disclosure. Like stangers on a train who confess everything to an anonymous seatmate, people meeting online reveal what they might never tell a real-world partner. When people reveal so much, there is great intimacy. But the revelations are selective: Without chores to do or children to tend, the friends relate with less interference from practical constraints, allowing fantasy to take hold. Over the Internet, the power of imagination is especially profound.

In fact, it's particularly what's withheld - the "low bandwidth" of the information online partners share - that makes these relationships so fantasy-rich and intense. Comparing the phenomenon to that of transference in psychotherapy - where patients, knowing little about their therapist, invest them with the qualities they want and need. Similarly, the illicit partner is always partly a fantasy, inevitably seen as wittier, warmer and sexier than the spouse.

So is online love real? It has all the elements of real love. Obsessive thoughts of the lover, an urgent need to be together and the feeling that the new partner is the most wonderful person on earth. You experience the same chemical rush that people get when they fall in love.

But the chemical don't last, and then we learn how difficult it is to remain attached to a partner in a meaningful way.

Women in Love

In the history of these online romantic afairs, when people throw everything away for a fantasy, the success rate of the new relationship is very low.

It is women who typically pushes the relationship from friendship to love, from virtual to actual. Women get so emotionally involved they see the affair as a possible replacement for their marriage - even if her marriage is good - and want to test that out.

For men, most affairs are high opportunity and low involvement. For women, an affair is more emotional.

How does this translate to emotional infidelity, where opportunity may be thwarted but emotion reighns supreme? Some men have begun following female patterns, placing more emphasis on emotion than in the past, while women are increasingly open to sex, especially as they achieve more financial independence and have less to fear from divorse.

Even so, women are usually far more invilved in these relationships than men. A woman may languish for years in the throes of her "special friendship," while her male counterpart considers it a nice addition to the life he already has. As a result, men and women involved in emotional dalliances often see the same affair in different ways. The woman will see her soul mate, and the man will be having fun. Sometimes, a woman will feel totally invested in an affair, but her partner will be conducting two or even four such affairs at once. (The pattern holds for consummated affairs, too.)

For women, the dangers are great. When an emotional affair results in sex, the man's interest usually cools instantly. Meanwhile, husbands are less forgiving than wives, making it more likely for a woman caught up in such an entanglement to be slammed with divorce.

Total Transparency?

With easy access to emotional relationships so powerful they pass for love, how can we keep our primary relationships intacy? Let me draw a hard line.. advocating a rigorous affair-avoidance strategy that includes such strictures as refusing to dance or even eat lunch with a member of the opposite sex. Put transparency in our web deaings - no sexret e-mail accounts or correspondence a partner wouldn't be welcome to see.

Others say such prescriptives may be extreme. Some Internet relationship are playful. People may take on different identities or express different aspects of self; an introvert can play at extroversion, a man at being a woman. The experience may be transformative or casual. Someone may want just a chess partner, and the technology allow for that.

But if you're going to permit some leeway in the context of your marriage, where do you draw the line? It's slippery slope, you may set limits with your spouse - no phone contact, don't take it off the screen. But people can break the deal. It is a profound human characteristic that sometimes we cross the line.

At best, a serious emotional affair can alert you to problems in the primary relationship. The injured partner can view it as "a wake-up call" that needs are not being met.

It was perhaps no more than the glimmer of that alarm that enabled Brendan and Lauren to navigate back home. For both, that happened when fantasy clashed with reality - especially when they needed to pull together and care for their sick son. Brendan told Lauren he wanted to take some time to "visit his dad," when his intent was to see his old girlfriend. "I'm so exhausted. Please don't go," Lauren had said, finally asking for help. Using the excuse of a book deadline, she soon began answering e-mails from her online partner only sproradically, then hardly at all.

What had caused them to pull back? On one level it was the need to care for their child, but on another, it was the realization that their online affairs had been a diversion from intimacy, not intimacy itself.


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