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Virtual Valentine

Mark Gorkin, LICSW

The Doc pens a "Virtual Valentine" for a cyberfriend who has ebbed and flowed through his life for the past couple of years. Is it real, is it romance...?

Shrink Rap: During my four year active presence on the Internet, a number of friends and fantasies have entered my cyberlife and beyond. A few have led to face to face encounters and relationships. Some folks drifted off into the ether; other engagements ended on a sour note, virtual and otherwise. Still, a relatively small yet hardy bunch remain ongoing sources of intellectual stimulation and emotional kinship. And, of course, in those cyber correspondences where there seems to be some online chemistry, yet you haven't actually met, be aware...A virtual intimacy fueled by an ever-growing curiosity sparks the existential love-on-line question: "Is it real or is it "romantasy?"

One woman who certainly fits the latter category recently asked me to help her out with a "Creative Writing" class assignment. (Have mercy...please don't inundate me with assignment requests. ;-) Donna needed three biographical sketches written by friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. Why not! Based on our mostly virtual relationship, seasoned with a few infrequent phone calls, I penned this bio...a "Virtual Valentine" as it were. And while specifically about one woman, the spirit of the essay is dedicated to all friends -- past and present -- who have graced, disturbed and expanded my conception of self, of other and of cyberspatial possibilities.

That Divinely Darlin Miss D

What can one truly say about a woman never encountered face to face? Well, in this electronic, virtual age quite a bit. Let me start at the beginningreceiving an email from a "strange" woman with the subject line, "Hiya Darlin" (and its not some Triple-X membership offering). No, Donna Darlin simply uses our mutual Southern/Louisiana roots to justify her very friendly opening. (Its clear this woman has been perusing my Web Site; she knows about my extended "creative exile" in New Orleans; my "American in Cajun Paris Years.")

Within a few paragraphs this mystery lady has totally captured my interest (if not other anatomylike my heart. Please, keep your x-rated thoughts to yourself ;-). She shares using a number of my America Online and Humor From the Edge essays for a "standup" presentation in a public speaking class. And "stand up" is the right term. With her honey-coated Southern accent and her Cajun storyteller gift for exaggeration and absurdity, Im soon punctuating her telephone performance with head shaking, eyes rolling LOL laughter. This woman knows how to charm a male ego.

At the bottom of the screen, I notice this bold lady has listed both her work and home phone numbers. I screw up my courage and sense of adventure and reach for the phone. And instantaneously, the email comes to life. This email/phone connection is the start of a two year correspondence, as yet unrequited, at least measured by a live encounter. (Miss D living in Idaho and me residing in DC has something to do with the virtual-real gap. But theres more to it.)

The frequency and fantasy has ebbed and flowed throughout our electronic connection, paralleling the many changes and challenges in our respective lives. Yet, whenever we do connect, the communication is open and honest; often playful, sometimes poignant and always palpable. So what have I learned about Miss D, Donna Darlin? Let me count the ways:

  1. The Princess and the Player. Donna is one of the few people I know who has a genuinely and seemingly unconditionally loving (as much as humanly possible) connection with her family. She was raised, to quote Miss D, an "Oilfield Princess." And while Donna may have a touch of a superior air (well-deserved, I may add) this is a down to earth and earthy woman who laughs easily and is open and warm-hearted with all.

    Well, not with all. If you are arrogant, one of those, "You dont seem to realize I really am as important as I think I am" types, this mentally sharp and agile Princess has an uncanny ability to skewer an inflated ego. While not sure of the details, I recall Miss D at work tactfully confronting and humbling a pompous and pushy Washington bureaucrat, transforming this legal regulator into a blabbering, apologetic blob.

  2. Loyal Friend. Donna is an incredibly devoted friend, maybe to a fault. When an old boyfriend experienced a series of adversities, Donna was there for him (despite her ambitious schedule as a working single parent and student). And when he wanted to renew the romance, Donna gave herself time both to help her friend and to sort through her feelings about rekindling the past. This lady would determine her own path, based on heart and head.

  3. Loving Mother. The wellspring of love from her family roots pours forth and showers her cherished offspring, her son Brandon. Despite being a teen, the kindred bond and connection is vital and two-way, evidenced by Brandons fondness for hoisting his mother up and giving her this bone crushing hug. And recently, the relationship's strength was tested and affirmed.

    About a year ago, maybe more, Brandon decided he wanted to live with his father (in another state, I believe). Initially, Donna was fairly distraught; Brandon was/is her son and moon. Shes been doing all the child rearing stuff on a one-parent income. (Being the sole wage earner has definitely tempered her idyllic, "Oilfield Princess" days with hard-earned reality and wisdom.) But like the gutsy, loving person she is, Donna fairly soon knew she had to "let go," to allow her son to bask in (if not be seduced by) the greater material resources at the fathers command. I also believe mother understood it was vital for son to more directly and genuinely know his dad strengths and warts.

  4. Courageous Self-Explorer. Donna's integrity and courage truly emerged after her son left. Miss D would periodically send me the most vulnerable and heartfelt emails. Donna would acknowledge at times feeling Brandon "let her down" or that he didnt appreciate sufficiently what he had with her. But this only revealed her humanity. Once vented, she would always return to her admiration for Brandon, her "young man" of decency and integrity. No matter where he was living, mom was there for him.

    Still, Donna was grappling with unprecedented levels of grief and periods of depression. There was a depth of hurt and loss that heretofore had been shielded by a loving family and her own strong and self-assured, core sense of self. But grapple and growing pains are the passwords. As with any meaningful experience that she encounters or generates, Donnas passion and integrity invariably prevails; her loving wellspring revives and bursts forth.

    Though phone conversations and emails are intermittent, through Donnas sharing Ive reached an unprecedented level of understanding of a pure loving connection. (I, on the other hand, have enhanced her awareness of neurosis and dysfunctionality. A Yin/Yang complementarity, obviously.) And while this bond is between parent and child, I have little doubt of Miss Ds ability to bring this soulfulness to man-woman intimacy.

  5. The Unexpected Deep Dimension. And finally, just recently, I discovered that this virtual Wonder Woman is also a certified deep sea diver! I guess her oilfield pedigree transfers to a variety of subterranean and underworld explorations.

As Miss D has declared numerous times, "No matter what happens (or doesnt happen) between us, you will always have a friend that loves you." And coming from Miss Donna W., Donna Darlin, "Your Gumbo Gal," my Miss DI know what a rich gift this is!

And to all, heartfelt wishes for Valentine's and, of course, Practice Safe Stress!