We found four women who are part of a growing trend of sisters with private obsessions that often end with negative results. Read their stories and the expert advice on how to deal correctly with a cyber obsession
Name: Karen Fisher*, 43, married mother of three
Occupation: Real estate professional
I’ve been married for more than 20 years, but emotionally I don’t feel that there’s anything left to it. People might wonder why I don’t just leave my husband. I’ve stayed for my children and for economic stability. My husband and I have emotional and sexual problems—you name it, we’ve got it. It started so long ago that I can barely recall when. I even suggested counseling, but he wasn’t up for that, so I was like, “Do what you do, and I’ll do whatever.” That’s when I started straying.
For the past five years I’ve been secretly meeting men online. I have a predilection for mind-blowing sex, and I’ve been able to get that with these men. My husband is totally oblivious because I’m very cautious of when, where and how I do things. I meet the men on Yahoogroups.com. If we decide that we want to meet offline, then we’ll exchange cell phone numbers. I never give my home number.
I’ll chat with them and have online and phone sex for four to six months before hooking up in person. I’ll talk to them when my husband isn’t home or when I’m at work. When we finally get together, we have a clear understanding that it’s only about sex.
I’ve only slept with six men, and I always practice safe sex. (I keep condoms in my purse.) These men definitely feed my ego. They are professional, sexy, self-confident and sexually open-minded men who don’t care if I’m plus size. They allow me to live out my sexual fantasies, and I don’t have to make excuses for the things I want to do.
Maybe I should see a therapist for this behavior. It might stem from my childhood, which was very abusive in many aspects. But having these affairs is so exciting, and I’m always like, “I got away with it.” So would I do it all again if I had the chance? Definitely.
Battling the Addiction
Divorce lawyers have noticed an increase in cases involving a spouse who used the Internet to cheat. “Very often, people who live in a fantasy world look at their online addiction as an alternative to the daily rut they’re in,” says Paris M. Finner-Williams, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, attorney and coauthor of Marital Secrets: Dating, Lies, Communication and Sex (RP Publishing). Finner-Williams says that women like Karen need to first recognize that what they are exhibiting is inappropriate and unsafe behavior. “Karen is doing a lot of acting out instead of facing the reality of her marriage,” she explains. “Meeting these strangers online puts her at a significant risk. It only takes one violent person to step in and cause her harm.” These suggestions can help you or someone you know put an end to this risky kind of behavior:
Face reality. “Karen needs to end the affairs and stop all communication with these men so that she can grow to love and empower herself,” says Finner-Williams.
Avoid chat rooms and social group Web sites. Not only are you allowing temptation to creep in but you’re also putting yourself in danger by meeting with men you don’t know.
Focus on your marriage. Finner-Williams suggests marriage counseling if you think your marriage is salvageable, as well as solo psychotherapy to get to the bottom of the deep-rooted issues that are causing this behavior.
Name: Carmen Lee, 41, single mother of one
Occupation: Executive assistant
Hometown: Los Angeles
I find myself shopping online almost every day. I’ll get up at 4:00 a.m. to log on at home, or I’ll log on during my breaks at work. I usually spend about four hours a day shopping on the computer. My favorite sites are Nordstrom.com and Rocawear.com. I buy things for myself, my 4-year-old daughter or family and friends. I’ve purchased everything online, from a microwave dish to a Bible, even to bottled water. I end up spending about $500 to $700 a month, getting a thrill searching for a deal or low prices.
My credit is pretty much shot. I have six credit cards with a total of $10,000 worth of debt. I used to have 15 cards and a total of $15,000 worth of credit card debt. I just bought a new car. I had to get it because my previous car was totaled in an accident, which forced me to cut down on the shopping—but I did get some cute seat covers online.
This is definitely an addiction. I’ve missed my car-note payments four times and my mortgage payment once. I’ve had to take out a payday loan and borrow money to pay my bills. I’m praying, trying to slow down, but I still have to go online. If I see something, I’m still going to find a way to get it. My boyfriend is always saying, “If you didn’t shop for dumb little things, you would have more money in your pocket.” So I usually wait until he’s not around to shop. I’ll buy something and then hide it. But I feel as if my compulsion is filling a void of not having total happiness in my life.
I’m getting credit counseling through my job, but I may need professional help. My daughter and I have a lot of cute clothes and shoes, but I’ve come to realize that you can’t eat clothes. Only my mother knows about my problem. People think that everything is going well, but little do they know that I’m broke as a joke.
Battling the Addiction
According to a 2007 ShopSmart magazine online poll, women devote an average of 1.2 hours a week to shopping online. If you’re logging more hours than that, you may be in the same boat as Carmen. “Women like Carmen may not be able to deal with their problems directly,” Finner-Williams says. “This addiction is her way of escaping reality.” To make a change, consider these recommendations:
Get help. Finner-Williams urges Carmen to go to Debtorsanonymous.org or a similar support group to find someone to talk to who understands the lure she feels when her computer starts calling.
Remove temptation. “You should reduce your accessibility to credit,” Finner-Williams says. To avoid using your card online, freeze your credit cards and pay cash for all your purchases. And cancel your subscriptions to online catalogs and shopping sites.
Think about your net worth. “People need to think of the benefits they get from not exercising the addiction: greater savings, improved credit and more money to pay off their debt,” she adds.
*Names have been changed.