I met a man. Business brought us together. I contacted him about an upcoming project and we started talking. I do a lot of work over the Internet, so informality is pretty common — no “Dear Sir:” and somber punctuation, but lots of first names and exclamation points.
He invited me to chat, and a little magic box became a big part of my life. We slowly got to know each other. At first the conversations were formal, then personal details emerged. Compliments about my work and jokes that weren’t entirely appropriate led to “I like what you say,” and, “I can’t wait to talk to you.”
I never met this man in person, and I don’t know what he looks or sounds like. We only knew each other through cyber-space. There was no physical element, and thousands of miles of safety, so that made it easier to just feel harmlessly engaged in conversation.
I made excuses for my chatting partner’s cute comments that strayed from work — telling me I looked like some famous actress in a photo on my Web site, for example. I didn’t set out to flirt with him, but when I talked to this person I felt special and different, no longer stuck in the mundane tasks that made up my days. His infatuation filled my loneliness.
I knew our conversations weren’t entirely appropriate when I realized that if my husband read them, or looked over my shoulders, I’d have felt uncomfortable. My friend and I ended our “friendship” right where it began, in a chat on line.
I told my husband about this guy who had lots of good advice for me, and about the fact that I’d felt unique chatting with him. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure how or when we crossed the line from working to flirting. My husband didn’t care all that much — the man lived thousands of miles away, and I was upfront with it all. The attitude was no harm done, it’s good you told me, don’t do it again.
I chose to share this experience because it humbled me. I didn’t realize how easy it was to get caught up in something not entirely appropriate. I didn’t overtly seek out attention, but I got it — and since I wasn’t really having an affair, I rationalized it. I was sure that something like this would never happen to me. In my mind, Internet flirting was something that only teenagers did. More importantly, I’ve seen my husband flirt with women in the flesh, and it bothered me, so I told him to stop, and insisted that I wouldn’t and couldn’t do it.
Then I did, without even realizing it. It would be easy to blame a weakness on military life, which truthfully adds a layer of difficulty to the already complex matrix of marital life, but I think it has more to do with human nature and with the fact that commitment takes work. No matter how much I love my husband and how certain I am that I wouldn’t do something, I have to keep my focus on my marriage, even when I’m online.
Anita Tedaldi is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot. Contact her at: