Last week when the episode of Anthony David Weiner, the US Representative for New York’s 9th congressional district’s inappropriate telephone and email conversations with six women came into light, there was a public shock and outrage. Weiner apologised last Monday for his behaviour.
Here is what we’ve been dealing with:
We’ve been dealing with four sad, grainy photos of Anthony Weiner, looking pathetic in the pathetic way exclusive to men who are trying their best to look sexy. He sat shirtless at his desk. He sat shirted on his couch. In one particularly artful photo, he sat next to a picture of a dog in a sweater and held up a piece of paper with an arrow pointing to his own face. It said, "Me." He apparently sent these photos to a single mom named Meagan Broussard, who responded with her own grainy pouts.
He was guilty, but of what? We are dealing with the gray space where fidelity meets Facebook and with the boundary between our real lives and our online lives, which is constantly being pushed, and never where you expect it.
Weiner claimed that his actions were contained entirely within his personal computing devices. There was no touching. It was a virtual affair. It was — and here is an insufferable term that will become popular if it’s not already — an e-ffair.
Objectively speaking, what Weiner did wasn’t so different from married men who, on their way home, stop at a bar for a drink and flirt. The real world, however, does not come with screen-captured evidence. The confusion comes when we mistake people for the shorthand, social-networked versions of themselves. When we assume we can read someone based on their curated Facebook profile, or when we cannot decide — as many online commenters could not whether Anthony Weiner was unfaithful to his wife. (His typing fingers were unfaithful, but his guy parts weren’t?)
We treat our virtual lives as if they have the same depth and repercussions as our offline lives. But there is a difference. In his excruciating news conference later, Weiner described his texting partners as "women I had met online." Later, in the same session, he said, "To be clear, I have never met any of these women." Was it a contradiction? Yes. And no. He had met these women online, which means that he simultaneously knew them very well and not at all.
Cheating or not?
Does online flirting amount to infidelity?
Here’s what the experts say:
A physical reality
“Sending titillating pictures online or explicit messages is same as two people locked in a room who may not touch each other but visually stimulate each other. Even if you’re typing out sexually charged messages, the order comes from your brains. You are being dishonest to your partner that moment.”
Dr Avdesh Sharma, Psychiatrist
It’s a vicious circle
“An e-affair often culminates in a meeting. It’s a vicious circle. It could begin with chatting, go on to meeting, touching and having sex. Your partner would soon be able to guess that something is being discounted and given away somewhere else. An e-affair can also be for an indefinite time as the chances of being found out are pretty low.”
Dr Kamal Khurana, Relationship expert
It can wreck your marriage
“Even a virtual bond that consumes your time, attention, energy and emotion can wreck your marriage. You can’t say that it doesn’t matter because you are not physically present. You can’t deny that you have broken your partner’s trust, and there’s lack of transparency in your real life relationship.”
Dr Samir Parikh, Psychiatrist