Q. My heart is broken. I had a wonderful relationship that lasted over 2 years. We spoke daily. Sometimes two or three times a day. Every important thing in my life was shared. I don’t understand how it’s suddenly over.

The hardest part is my dad has no patience with me. He tells me I’m moody and I need to “get over it.” The problem from my dad’s point of view is that my relationship was online. Dad says since we never met in person it meant nothing, but that’s so not true. This person and our relationship were the best parts of me. We did see one another because we (used FaceTime) a lot after a while.

It started with us as friends, then grew into something more. We always, always, respected each other. We talked about everything. This is the first person I’ve ever loved. This is the first person who ever said “I love you” to me and I said it back and meant it. I try to just pretend it wasn’t a big deal but it was. Is my dad right? Just because our relationship was online doesn’t mean it was nothing, right?

17-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: With respect to your dad, I agree your relationship had meaning. You connected with someone and your connection was long-term and mutually respectful.

You’re going through the grief of a lost relationship. Grief is unique. We each react differently to loss. Despite the online nature of your relationship, you’re experiencing loss. A huge part of your daily life is gone. Processing this life change will take time. Be patient with your feelings.

Many adults never experienced an online relationship. Neither have I, but I’ve listened to countless young people describe online relationships like yours. While they do not happen in a physical space, they do fill a need for connection, belonging and affirmation. I’ve heard young people call their online friends or relationships their lifeline during times when they feel isolated or confused. The other teen in such a relationship typically feels the same way, so there’s mutual fulfillment.

One of the challenges of an online relationship is the reality of continued isolation from people in your life. If one spends most of one’s time confiding to and listening to someone online, it is less likely a solid connection will be made with peers at school or in activities. Our hearts remain with the person with whom we spend most of our time.

I often see online relationships falter when one of the people becomes more connected to other people in their daily life. Adolescence is a time of searching and growth. Young people get jobs, they get involved with different activities, they take classes outside their immediate interests as they prepare for life.

Meeting new people in all of these situations opens doors to communication. As these connections are made, some online relationships weaken. You may never know why this relationship is suddenly over, but I doubt it was something you did. It’s a lot more likely life made changes happen. In time, those kinds of changes may have affected you as well, and you would have ended the relationship. Growing apart is common in many teen relationships, online or not.

Try talking with your dad about your sorrow. Show him this column. Explain your emotional connection to your online relationship. Share your feeling of loss. Tell him you can’t just snap out of grief.

The end of a relationship can evoke intense feelings. Accept and honor those feelings as you try to find other interests. Talk with a counselor at school. Share with friends. We learn from every failed relationship if we are open to growth.

I’m glad you said “I love you” and meant it. We are able to love many, many times. You will remember the good things about your relationship in time. Right now, be kind to yourself. You deserve joy. You deserve a wonderful relationship. I want you to feel better. I want you to remember your worth.

I connected with a peer educator alumnus who experienced a similar relationship while in high school. I hope the wisdom gleaned from that experience will be helpful. Good luck.

Peer Educator Alumnus response: I know what you’re going through. I was in an 18-month online relationship when I was exactly your age. I’m in my mid-20s now and in a long-term relationship with someone I met in college.

It’s a healthy one and mutually respectful. We care for one another. But, my first “I love you” was with someone I knew online. My parents also thought I didn’t have a real relationship because we didn’t meet.

They were wrong.

I now know, looking back, the pros and cons of my online relationship. I was lonely. I felt alone. We both felt the same way. I was afraid of a relationship with people from school. Online was safer. There was no drama. We kept to ourselves. While my online relationship sustained me and gave me someone who cared about me, it also kept me from interacting with my peers. It was good in some ways and not so good in others.

I wouldn’t undo it.

I grew from the relationship. I’m sharing because I trust Mary Jo and I want you to hear her words. You are deserving of a great relationship. All relationships take work and communication and effort, but they’re worth it. Take time to feel badly and then move on. You’ve got this.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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