“On the Fringes of the Physical World” by Meghan Daum is about a woman in her late twenties who dives into the cyber world to explore a romantic relationship, “I was involved in a well-defined structure, a neat little space in which we were both safe to express the panic and intrigue of our mutual affection.” She found great comfort exploring a different side of herself through email and instant messaging. But over time that comfort confused her, she couldn’t understand why she was giving this man so much of her inner self, so many more chances than she had given anything or anyone. After meeting him things were never the same as they were when hiding behind their screens. She portrayed such an illusion of not only the man, but the affection they shared for each other, for the cyber relationship. The people they were when emailing is what she desired and that distaste for the real world person was difficult for her to grasp.
The relationship if they ever called it that, died the moment they became real, the moment flesh and heart was something you could see and touch versus a sound of a message and the urgency to type back. This was my “catharsis” moment, “he stood before me, all flesh and preoccupation. The physical world had invaded our space. For this I could not forgive him. Everything now was for the touching.” This over powering need to be desired and to desire yet not wanting to touch or see the person who gives it forced her to see such an ugly part of not only herself, but how she viewed love.
I have heard and used the quote from William James many times, “a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him” and yet right now in this moment of reading Daum’s memoir, I get it. I am a different person to everyone I meet, or rather a different form of me to each person. Daum’s experience at that time with physical people was “going through the motions of real life,” but this cyber experience gave her “awareness” she didn’t have before. Her ego was stroked by a single character and she turned that into love. She believes these two things are “intertwined” and that was not easy for her to admit. For me, this story taught me just the opposite. You don’t listen to ego stroking compliments and fall in love, you fall in love with the thousand different sides of a person and the compliments they bare are just one side.