Yes, I think too much

It’s not real

with 9 comments

In the previous post, I mentioned that I used to be part of an on-line newsgroup community. I was heavily involved in this group for about 4 years, possible more, and developed a status and a “celebrity” of sorts. This sort of fame that one can derive from being a big fish in a little pond is gratifying, if your life is unsatisfying and something is missing which it fulfills. People knew my handle and tended to respond to any post I wrote whereas “newbies” or lesser-knowns often found no one replied to the threads they began. It was like being in a room full of people and having everyone listen to and acknowledge you when you spoke, while they didn’t attend to others so assiduously.

Since I live in a foreign culture which is sometimes hostile toward me for my alienness, I needed what this community gave me and that was being surrounded by people who shared my common interest and who related to me in the easily casual and familiar way that people of my own culture had related to me before I went abroad. It was a community that embraced me (such as I showed myself) and did not perceive me as an outsider.

In such groups, inevitably, there are character clashes among various parties and those who see you in a certain way or misread your intentions based on their interpretation of your message rather than your intent. This is the nature of communication. One must expect that something as inadequate as words on a screen will fail to carry intent accurately, and that the emotional status of the listener will color their outlook. The more mature parties would communicate outside of the newsgroup via e-mail about misunderstandings, clarify them in the group in the politest way possible, or simply shrug off their worst interpretation Such mature people choosing the best course of action were exceptionally rare.

The most common response to perceived slights or character clashes were personal digs, snide comments, sarcastic remarks, emotional outbursts, or outright accusations. One particular man was a lightning rod for dislike among some members of the group and he aggressively fought back when attacked. He was accused of lying about his wealth, his possessions, his experiences as a soldier, etc. The testimony of those who claimed to have met him in person did not dissuade his detractors from saying he made baseless assertions about his lifestyle. Once people harbored a grudge, they held onto it like a dog with a rag in its mouth.

I tended to be rather diplomatic most of the time, and tried to nurture new members so that they would feel comfortable posting and taking part. I went out of my way to respond to people who others ignored because then their threads would get responses as a result of my participation. However, this was a very active group and I didn’t have time to deal with every person’s post, and in particular I tended not to jump in and reply to the posts from “old timers” who already had friends who replied to them all of the time unless I definitely had something to say. My “neglect” of one of these old timers created an unexpected situation in which one of them grew increasingly hostile toward me for my lack of attention. In his mind, he had created a scenario in which I was willfully ignoring him and he imagined some sort of tense or antagonistic relationship existed. It was purely in his head. The person he imagined and the person I was, and the relationship he concocted were not real. Nonetheless, he eventually attacked me and asked me why I “ignored” him. The oddness of this was that he did not target anyone else in this entire large and active group for their lack of a response. He had created an imaginary bond with me, so only my attention was of interest to him.

During my involvement in this group, I had some times when I was so upset, angry, or involved that I would be brought to tears by the frustration or mistreatment I was dealt. I took it all quite personally because this group and the relationships I had in it were very important to filling a hole in my life. In the end, I left the group because I realized that this focusing of my energy in this place where the people were real, but the relationships largely imagined, was not good for me. In such internet-based groups, the reality is but a bare frame in which we paint a picture of a community that we concoct in our own minds. It has no substance though, and indeed the whole group eventually was “destroyed” by spammers a few years after I left, proving how ethereal and transient in nature the “community” was. The perceived bonds did not survive the loss of the fragile frame that formed it.

I mention this at this time because I am reminded of it after reading several posts by kind folks who followed my former blog about weight loss who have written lately that turmoil in the weight loss blogging sphere is causing people to back away from their blogs, and I think (but am not sure) some of them misunderstand my abandoning my weight loss blog as being a result of an attack by a certain hostile and aggressive blogger (who attacks many people so it’s hard to take it too personally). The truth is that that party’s actions were a catalyst for my realization that I was cured of my dysfunctional relationship with food and that it was time to move on. I left my former blog because I don’t want to spend every day of my life thinking about weight and food now that I no longer need to spend everyday thinking about weight and food. People likely don’t believe that is really true that I am “cured” since so many people lose weight, pronounce that they are “cured” and then later regain weight. It’s important to note that none of them have done what I have done (moderation, a focus on psychology and behavior modification), and that I am not yet at a healthy weight (but I continue to lose). Their criteria for “cure” was a number on a scale. Mine was a mindset and control around food. The number will eventually follow, and is of lesser consequence than the what I consider a true “cure” for me personally.

I walked away from that blog the same way I walked away from that newsgroup and for the same reason. There comes a point where you do more damage than good when you invest your energies in such pursuits. In the newsgroup, I realized that the imagined relationships others had with me were no different than the imagined ones I had about them. I didn’t need this fantasy supported by the bare bones of reality. I needed something real. Similarly, I don’t need to ruminate on food or weight anymore if I don’t want to be the person who loses weight by making it the centerpiece of her existence. I have to stop focusing on it if I don’t want to be that person. I need another life and another direction.

Because of my experiences with that newsgroup, and some other online activities and communities, I know that all of this isn’t real. The relationships, the drama, the perceptions of friendship and who other people are and are not are much more imagined than real. Yes, there are real people out there and the personas they offer online are facets of who they are, and they do care or hate or feel kindly toward you, but that is the “frame” and there is no picture in it. Until and unless you go a step further (meeting personally, for instance), it’s almost all imagination. It’s internet shadow playing.

The great beauty of the lack of reality of these dynamics is that they cannot touch you unless you let them touch you. You don’t have to fight with angry people because they want to fight. He’s not your neighbor next door who keeps trampling your flower beds because he doesn’t like your dog barking. You don’t have to take the imagined observations of your personality or character as a reflection of who you really are because people are inventing “you” in whatever image suits their purpose or needs. It can be hard not to take such things too seriously or to heart because sometimes the observations are so flattering and kind and the support so seductive and badly needed, but they are no more “real” than the negative ones. It’s still people connecting unnumbered dots to create the picture of you that they want to see and that they believe is true. Granted, some people are better at it and more accurate than others, but it’s dangerous to think that just anyone out there is your friend or enemy because of what they say to or about you online.

In the end, we’re all people sitting in our homes, offices, etc. typing on our keyboards. We are, essentially, alone. The connections we feel are real to us, but they are not true bonds of friendship or enmity. They cannot touch you, unless you imagine that they do.


Written by yesithinktoomuch

October 9, 2010 at 8:16 am

Posted in reality, relationships

9 Responses

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  1. I have a close friend who disapproves of the time I spend online. (Even though it doesn’t impact our relationship as far as I can tell.) She too says the online relationships are not “real”, and therefore the time I spend is a “waste.”

    Her negative opinion doesn’t bother me–she simply has different needs and values from mine, so she cannot understand what I may take away from these interactions. That’s okay. I’ve learned to ask her, first, if she is in the mood to hear about “that world” before I bring up some tidbit of information that wasn’t gleaned from a book or “real” (f2f) person.

    I know there will come a time when I am more involved with other activities and will not want to spend much of my time discussing ideas with strangers. (I anticipate more offers of employment in the near future. *fingers crossed*)

    But for now it is like having conversations with parts of myself of which I was previously unaware or less aware. Quite gratifying. Quite “real”. Just not “real” in the way my relationship with f2f friends are real.

    And. Yet. Online *friends* aren’t wholly imaginary. So, that’s kind of interesting right there. πŸ™‚

    Even with f2f friends, however, there are always layers of imagination and interpretation going on. I suspect I *know* some things about my best friends that they do not know about themselves, and I’m sure they could honestly say the same about me.

    Also, I don’t apply the same rigors of literal honesty online as I do in f2f relationships. I keep much hidden about myself even as I sometimes appear to reveal accurate details. I’m sort of like a journalist (who can’t spell and relies on her editorial staff) that changes extraneous details but remains true to the heart of the story.

    As for the online skirmishes. I do understand how people get caught up in the clashing personalities. I find myself sitting back in judgement at times, but without the emotional charge, and without actually entering the fray. They are like children who need to be left alone to work things out between them. So they can grow up and mature.

    Human beings–all of us–are vulnerable creatures. Our brains have evolved far beyond our capacity to use them with discrimination.

    Most of us are playing catch up.


    October 9, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    • “But for now it is like having conversations with parts of myself of which I was previously unaware or less aware. Quite gratifying. Quite β€œreal”.

      I think this is a good way of putting it because it illustrates that your conversations are a way of extending yourself, not building a real relationship with another person. This is one of the great aspects of online interaction. The main difference between face-to-face interactions and online ones is that far more gaps are mentally filled in by the individual because so many more holes in their persona exist.

      My post isn’t to deny the value of this sort of interaction to people (as I engage in it as well), but to put it in its proper place emotionally. It has value, but not enough to allow it to harm you or make you throw away some work you have done which is of value. The latest skirmish had a woman saying she was going to delete her blog because of what happened. I think that if one understands that these relationships are not real, but the clash of extensions of the imagination of two parties, then perhaps she can abandon the blog, but not remove it so that something of value remains.

      As always, thanks for commenting!


      October 9, 2010 at 11:34 pm

      • I forgot to mention 2 things: First, I never thought for an instant that you quit writing your weight loss blog because of anything another blogger said or did. You strike me as someone who is quite sensitive to the actions and words of your loved ones, but not at all caught up in internet drama.

        Second, I’m really happy for you, that is, it pleases me to know that you feel cured of your eating/food issues. I hope I can feel that way more often. I was at a birthday party today where it seemed strange to me to watch almost everyone around me overeating, smoking, and drinking a lot. It was interesting, as if I was seeing *my own* culture through new eyes.


        October 10, 2010 at 2:27 am

  2. I have often “helped” family and friends with problems, real or imagined. I always thought I was solving problems and heading towards a greater good. After examining my behavior, it was always about me. About me needing to avoid my own life, and my own problems. Its so much easier to be involved with and “fix” someone elses problems….that way you don’t have to examine, worry and fix your own issues. For myself, I often found myself ready to type some legnthy “you should” response only to realize the hubris involved…and ended up stopping myself. The online practise of “being still” has helped me gain tremendous insight to my my “real” life behavior. I no longer get involved in others behaviors. Healther for them and for me…


    October 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    • I think that there is value in helping people, if they want help, or if they ask for it directly. I think that offering advice is fine as long as the parties it is directed at are under no obligation to follow it and no negative resentment results on the part of the advice giver if the advice isn’t taken or followed (as is so often the case).

      Motive really is important, of course. Like you, I think I tried to “help” people more, and it wasn’t to avoid fixing me in my case. It was because I thought I had experiences or “wisdom” and wanted to help them get to the end sooner. What I learned was that people won’t accept information, let alone advice, that they aren’t yet ready to hear. They can’t skip the steps and accept what I have to say because they need the experience to know that it is true. If I tell them too soon, they merely reject it out of hand.

      People have to “fail” or “suffer” or have bad experiences before they can accept the truth in many cases. It’s like when you are a kid and your parents tell you that something isn’t possible (like pouring liquid from a can with only one hole poked in it). You don’t believe them until you try and fail because you’re stuck in your own logic and thinking.

      Thanks for your comment. πŸ™‚


      October 9, 2010 at 11:44 pm

  3. Totally agree with your reply to my comment. In my own case I also came to see that by my helping, I was helping others potentially avoid struggle which in turn leads to their own personal growth. That truth coupled with my realization about my need to avoid my own problems helped me kick the habit of reaching out “inappropriately.” I still love helping others and doing good deeds for a greater cause, I just do it more appropriately.
    As always, thanks for stimulating my brain cells to be active!


    October 11, 2010 at 6:19 pm

  4. I think you are cured, it’s why I read. Life is about moving on.
    I know I’m cured. It’s neat to be able to put words, terms, definitions and theories to what I was able to accomplish. Framework is helpful for understanding… and allows me to truly cement my belief in own ability to change. The details may be different for you and I, but well, you read my blog. I do not live breath & think food. Most normal skinny folk don’t either and I for one am happy to have that head space back. Time to think about other things.

    Interesting what you say about community up there. Met my husband on a message board back in the infant days of Survivor. (yes the TV show). It was a year before we met in person (I was 100 pounds heavier then) and we’ve been together ever since. Our departure from that board (he was a mod) still stings, how quickly people perceive negativity… it will get you banned and blocked too quick to even retrieve virtual love letters!

    I love the internets but I want to help people in person, too much to misconstrue via the written word.


    October 16, 2010 at 3:21 am

  5. Very interesting post. I am on a path rather similar to yours – no longer being at war with my weight or my food, and trying to find a saner path. I still need to work it out, and that’s what I’m using my blog for, but like you sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off if I just could put that part of my life behind me (but I actually know I’m not ready, which is why I blog it out).

    I do think that a lot of the online weight loss world is not going in this direction and while I think a lot of people need to get to a gentler place I’m not sure how well it resonates – more people seem to want to “lose 3 inches off your butt in 3 days” than anything else…

    • I’m sorry that it took a few days to get to your comment. I’ve been sick and haven’t had much time for anything other than doing my work and looking after myself.

      It’s interesting that the whole competitive quick fix thing is so pervasive when it’s obviously so dysfunctional. It’s as if we as a culture have simply decided that the only way we’ll be happy is immediate gratification so we only pursue that path. The irony is that this is the path that gets us in trouble in the first place.

      In many ways, it’s dealing with symptoms rather than seeking an overall cure. Rather than address the psychology which pushes us, we address the seeable biological consequences. Fixing one would fix the other, but people only care about what they can see. I can understand the impulse, but the cycle of lose and regain should eventually force more rational heads to prevail, but, obviously, it doesn’t.

      Thanks for your comment!


      October 20, 2010 at 12:45 am

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