By Lesley Knopp
"As soon as someone says, 'Oh, you're gorgeous... Oh,
I want to be with you,' and expressing devotion and love, people
without self esteem, it just gets them," Carla said. Carla
offered to throw her life away and move to South Dakota to be with
this man -- a complete stranger.
REDMOND - Carla was a wife, and a working mother of three young
She turned to the Web for information on parenting and health. Within
a month, she was scouring message boards. "It went really quick,"
She moved to chat rooms, where the people she met no longer talked
about health and children.
"It's amazing how people would get so entwined with one another,"
she said. She found friends, and an online lover.
"I instantly, emotionally connected with him and felt like
I was in a relationship with him. I told him constantly that I loved
him and that I wanted to be with him," she said. It was her
"There were some pretty dark times that still kind of shock
me that I went there," she said.
They broke it off after nine months. But Carla went to an even
darker place. Another cyber-affair became real.
She flew to Kentucky to meet and have sex with another 'cyber-lover'.
"I spent 23 hours with him not knowing who he was or anything
about him. I came out alive, luckily," she said.
"I think those folks have a hole in their heart," said
Redmond therapist Jay Parker, "And they're really just looking
for something to fill up the hole. And the computer is safe and
its in their home and they don't have to go anywhere."
Parker is Carla's therapist. He specializes in online addictions,
and says the Internet makes it far too easy for married people
"It made it affordable," Parker said. "It made
it and accessible and she was anonymous."
In many cases, the marriage is already in trouble, and one partner
is seeking attention.
"People who get into it at first think of it as harmless,
benign and not immoral," Parker said.
But a new study by a University of Florida researcher says many
online affairs are harmful. One out of three married people interviewed
turned their online flirting into a real-life affair.
"I had one woman client who had a hundred ongoing affairs
online simultaneously. She had files foreach man," he said.
Jay thinks addicts get hooked on that new romance feeling --
a rush even without the touch.
"The attention I was getting online kept me going,"
For Carla, the attention of one online lover was not enough.
"(My husband) would go to bed without me, thinking I'd be
in shortly... and then I would get on the computer and the next
thing I know it's 4 o'clock in the morning... or 5 and I need
to go to work," she said.
Eventually, it destroyed her life. Her husband discovered her
secrets, and she lost her marriage and her kids.
Her addiction nearly destroyed her.
"She was depressed... and suicidal," Parker said.
That's when Carla finally got help. After a year of intense counseling
she got her kids back, but not her marriage.
"Throw the computer away... and get help," she said.
It's her advice to anyone thinking of going down the same path
to give up the cyber-world, and come back to the real one.