The Opinion Engine 2.0:
Can you truly love someone you have never met?

Question asked by Tonia via her friend on Facebook.

Life  Of all the questions I’ve been asked in this past couple of weeks, this is the one which has really caused me to stop and think. Not because I don’t have an answer. To save some time, my answer is no. What’s created the difficulty is how to frame that answer over five hundred or so words, because it’s also an answer for which the complexity is in the working out, and I didn't want the result to be covered in red pen.

So you’ll forgive me for dropping the artifice (assuming that dropping the artifice isn’t an artifice in and of itself) and structure and go with my gut (see what I mean?). What my gut says is that to an extent I don’t have the emotional maturity to really understand why. My lack of emotional maturity has become a useful prop when trying to explain why human beings are generally so awful to each other. I don’t understand because I don’t have the “emotional maturity”. But it’s true. For various reasons, I don’t.

It was much simpler for the pubescent version of me, the one who kissed his poster of late 80s Kylie each night before he went to bed, who compiled scrap books about the Minogue and in those pre-YouTube days filled VHS tapes with interviews and pop videos but who’d also travel one stop on the bus so that he could smile at the mysterious tall girl in the brown uniform so that she’s smile back when he alighted just outside his school, early enough that his friends wouldn’t see. He’d say, yes, yes you can.

Fiction also suggests that yes, it is indeed possible to truly love someone you’ve never met. Apart from courtly romance, there’s the famous scene in City Slickers, a film that is otherwise becoming increasingly relevant the older I become. It’s the famous “one thing” scene in which Jack Palance’s old cowboy Curly explains to Billy Crystal’s Mitch that the secret of life is the “one thing”, a “one thing” which is different for everybody.

But the earlier part of the scene, the preamble, is more pertinent here as Mitch asks Curly a question which is particularly pertinent.

Mitch: You ever been in love?
Curly: Once. I was driving a herd across the panhandle. Texas. Passed near this little dirt farm right about sundown. Out in the field was this young woman, working down in the dirt. Just about then she stood up to stretch her back. She was wearing a little cotton dress, and the settin' sun was right behind her, showing the shape that God had give her.
Mitch: What happened?
Curly: I just turned around and rode away.
Mitch: Why?
Curly: I figured it wasn't gonna get any better than that.
Mitch: But you could have been, you know...with her.
Curly: Been with lots of women.
Mitch: Yeah, but you know, she could have been the love of your life.
Curly: She is.

I’m thirty-seven now and know it’s not that simple.

For one thing in social networking, which I think is the context of this question, where the idea of meeting someone becomes more ambiguous, can you have “met” someone if it’s not in real life? Dictionary definitions suggest an acquaintance is enough and you can certainly become acquainted with someone via Twitter or Facebook. Many are the relationships and even marriages built on an initial web friendship, but have any of those people really been in love before they’ve met in real life?

I’ve "met" people online, perhaps even become a bit infatuated with them. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in love with any of them. For all the ways in which we’ve connected, I’ve always had the niggling suspicion that they could never be that perfect, moreover that the person I’m speaking to is unlikely to be the person I’d see in real life, largely because I’m sure, I think, the person typing these words he isn’t the person he is real life.  The people who have met me are best placed to judge that.

I have been in love. A lot. I don’t know if anyone’s ever loved me back, but there’s something I do know. That if there are any women I’ve truly loved, it was always because I’d become friends with them first. When I have been truly, madly, deeply, although they’ve been objectively attractive it’s not that which has made me love them. It’s been about how they’ve made me feel both while I was around them and all the seconds in-between.

Someone asked me recently if any of them where the love of my life. My answer was that I hoped not, because I knew they didn’t love me back, at least not that way, at least as far as I knew, and that would mean I’ve nothing to look forward to. But I’ve also been horrible at noticing the signs which explains the qualifications. If someone had loved me, truly loved, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

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