I yearn for you constantly. I wish we could be together so I could see your goofy grin (you do have a goofy grin, don't you?) Soon my divorce will be final and we can marry. Wouldn't it be great if we could meet first? All my love.
Can this be love? According to Esther Gwinnell '75 the answer is yes. Judging from the growing number of her patients who have reported having internet love affairs, the Portland psychiatrist believes that people are falling madly in love in cyberspace every second. Day in and day out, 24 hours a day, romantic web surfers all over the globe are pledging life and limb to people whose limbs they have never seen.
Gwinnell thinks romance conducted by email is a phenomenon to be taken very seriously. Thus, she has written a book, Online Seductions: Falling in Love With Strangers on the Internet (Kodansha International). Gwinnell included her web site address (www.nocouch.com) in the book's introduction and since April, when the book came out, she has received enough messages from readers to start a file for a possible sequel.
"They write, 'This describes my experience,' or 'My husband left me for someone he met on the internet and now I understand what happened,'" said Gwinnell from her office at Emanuel Hospital's Project Network, where she is medical director. "I've heard some very sad tales and some charming tales about relationships."
Gwinnell had been a psychiatrist for 13 years with a general adult, outpatient practice, when in 1996 she started taking notice of the internet's effect on her patients and personal friends. More and more patients were telling her about falling in love with total strangers and building romances through email, or even becoming addicted to cybersex and spending hours exchanging erotic messages with people they would probably never meet. But some of her patients were actually considering leaving their spouses in order to make an internet fantasy a reality.
"The icing on the cake was when friends of mine who had been married one year told me they were divorcing after the husband fell in love with someone on the internet," said Gwinnell. "I began asking myself, 'How on earth does this thing happen?' My book is a result of that question."