I Met My Boyfriend Online and Lied About My Age, Now I’m Feeling Guilty

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Reader’s Question

I am a girl from Lithuania. I am a teenager, sixteen years old. Actually, I’m turning seventeen next month.

I have always been on the social sites — since I was eleven or even ten! One day I signed up on a dating site and I chatted and talked with a lot of people. I made good progress with my English skills. Of course, I also spend a lot of time out, but more and more time online, because I met a guy! We spent time talking and chatting with each other, and we communicated well. I really liked him and he liked me too. Every day, after every single event in our lives, we came back on Yahoo or somewhere to talk about it and just have fun, because we really enjoyed it. One day he asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes. We were the happiest people. My friends and his friends were too … and our parents, of course!

But there was a little problem — he lives in Florida and I live in Lithuania. And then another problem: I lied to him. When we started talking I thought he was just another maniac or crazy guy, so I said that I was 18 years old. Then I forgot about it because we didn’t talk for a long time. When I remembered, I was too scared to say anything about it. I have been living with that lie.

We were a couple for eight or nine months. But then I couldn’t lie anymore, so I just disappeared. After a while I realized that I couldn’t live without him, so I came back to ‘virtual life’ again. We talked and everything was fine. We really loved each other.

Then one day I saw that he had a girlfriend! I was shocked and I ended it. I didn’t tell him why; I just ignored him and didn’t talk to him for about 5 months, until he came back with kind words like “wondering, where on this earth you are” and “I’ve missed you”. I was hurt, but I felt bad too.

I don’t want to lie anymore, but I am afraid. I can’t tell him I am almost 17! By the way, he is 20. We talked a few days ago. He told me that he still loves me and I said that I loved him too, but that I can’t do this anymore, sorry. “Just leave it” was all I said. Of course, I am sad that he cheated on me. He knows it. But, ah, I feel bad too. He doesn’t know one of the most important things. It is so silly. Love hurts. Just, please, tell me what to do! I feel I can’t live without him.

By the way, my mum doesn’t know the truth either. She thinks that he knows my age. It is just a big weird circle.

Psychologist’s Reply

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You are asking a question about a phenomenon that appears to be becoming more and more common: online (or Internet) relationships. There is a wide variety of ways to connect with others via the Internet, from tweeting on Twitter, to commenting on someone’s blog, to posting a dating profile, to chatting privately one-on-one with someone. These different connections obviously offer different levels of intimacy, ranging from very public to very private. You mentioned that your relationship began with your posting a dating profile and then progressed to daily communication and an exclusive, albeit long distance relationship. As you said, you did not know him. It sounded from your post that hiding your real age was initially an attempt to protect yourself, in a way. But then the ‘rules’ shifted as you moved from chatting informally or publicly to intimate conversations over time.

One of the tricky aspects of communicating and relating with others online is that, unlike real life encounters, you are in almost 100% control of how and what you present of yourself to the other person. You can choose not to open a chat window when you are feeling grumpy. You can end a conversation online in any way you want, whenever you want. And you can post or write information about yourself that cannot be confirmed or denied without an in-person meeting. In real life, you might have been questioned about your age at this point, which would have led to a conversation much earlier in the relationship. It might have been easier to disclose your real age when you were not yet so attached to him. I imagine that the guilt you feel about it and the fear of losing him make it quite difficult to initiate a discussion and tell him the truth.

I usually advise people to listen to themselves with regard to decisions such as this one. You could, of course, try to continue the relationship as you did before, without telling him how old you are. But the fact that you wrote to me about the extent to which this is bothering you suggests to me that there is a large part of you that wants to get this out in the open and would be quite relieved to do so.

My other thought is that no one is perfect, including this guy. You mentioned that he deceived you (e.g. having a girlfriend) and you indicated that despite that, you want to work through things with him. I wonder if he would feel the same. Relationships that make it through difficulties such as these can sometimes emerge even stronger on the other side, because two people learned that they and their relationship have what it takes to tolerate pain, conflict, and deception.

Finally, sometimes it is easier to say difficult things when there is less of a stake, or less to lose. You might feel more able to tell him about your age now that you have ended the relationship. If he decides he does not want to be with you, you will be no worse off than you are now. I cannot predict how he will react and only you know what the best next step is for you. But if you are not together, then it seems as if you risk little (or nothing!) by telling the truth.

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