I have often got into trouble for telling people their Internet romances are not real, yes there are real emotions involved, yes people can find a certain synergy with people they get to know online, but as I have said often enough, on the Internet, no one knows you are a dog.
And there are dogs. Many of them.
On Internet dating sites we have now a phenomenon I like to call the F.I.P = Fake Internet Personality. This is when someone, through malicious intent or woefully pathetic attention seeking create another personality on the net in the attempt to gain attention.
Sometimes they steal pictures from somewhere else on the net of someone else who is often younger and/or more attractive than they are. They often say they have had a terrible childhood and/or young married life that they were lucky to escape from. If you see a picture that looks like it was taken of a model in a plain professional background, chances are it is stolen from another website.
When they gain interest from a person/s on these sites they tend to agree with everything this person or people say, becoming their ideal partner, this can fool the person courting them into thinking that this person matches them perfectly, in fact, this is a common method of attachment by F.I.P's, they want your attention and so they are going to say anything to make themselves likable, including fitting in with your lifestyle, hobbies, religion, political stance and anything else which you might form an opinion on in conversation.
Often FIPs do not like sending pictures, they either 'don't HAVE any on their PCs' Or they are 'too shy'. You'll find that a video chat will be a no no, there is usually a good excuse at hand for that, but most often it is that they don't have a camera enabled on their machines.
FIP relationships eventually die out once the person/s courting the FIP realise the planned meeting will never go ahead.
There tends to be a lot of sadness left in the wake of a FIP relationship, this is because quite often people make the mistake of getting too involved with people they HAVEN'T MET!!!
I know how easy it is, online it is safe and anonymous, you can express and be open about yourselves, you have your Internet friends who you might discuss issues with that you haven't told your RL friends, this is especially the case in ALT communities when you think that your RL friends might be judgemental about aspects of your life, whether that would be poly, kink or sexuality. People often forget that you are trusting a complete stranger to be honest with you and to be frank, people are not always honest online. They might not be FIPs but they can still be liars, it is worth being cautious until you meet a number of times before letting yourself become emotionally invested. Sadly, people not only get emotionally invested, but create a future with someone who might not be AT ALL the person that they have portrayed themselves to be, so the relationship is entirely created for the selfish pleasure of the FIP to the detriment of the person/people who are taken in by them.
How to avoid a FIP relationship
Firstly, when you set out to approach someone online, always bear in mind that this person is not necessarily kosher just because they have been banging around either a) A forum or b) a personals site, for a long time, they also might be popular and even have 'friends' on that site, on the Internet the rules for friendship differ than in RL, I have had friend requests from people who I have done little more for than welcome them when they joined the site.
Keep in mind that you are getting to know a friend, even if you would eventually like them to become more, put that out of your mind until you meet them in person.
If things are going well by email, move onto a chat facility. Before you suggest it, ask them what kind of machine they use, almost all mid range laptops have integrated web cams, so if they say they are using X machine and don't have a webcam, take that as a red light warning.
Ask to phone them fairly early on, if they don't want you to call them or insist on calling you only at specific hours (for example, only in the day time) wonder why, is it possible that they live with a partner (a surprisingly large amount of FIPs are actually married women and men pretending to be women).
If things are really going well via email and chat and you really want to take things further but you STILL have not seen them, because they 'don't have a webcam' tell them that you will buy one for them, say that you are on Amazon right now and you will order one, it is an offer liable to take a FIP by surprise and they often do not, at first have a good reason to tell you not to do that, often the first thing they might say is they don't want you to buy it because it would hurt their pride accepting money from you. In which case, tell them that it isn't a gift, it is a loan and they can pay you back when they get the money. An experienced FIP might counter with 'I am sorry but I am not ready to give my address out because it is not safe' this is a sensible attitude to take and because of that, it would be easy to give up, however, you can offer to send the money to her via paypal and tell her to buy it herself. If she accepts the money and doesn't buy it within a week or two, depending on how frequent your communications, cut off all contact and consider it a lucky escape, webcams are fairly cheap now and it is totally worth it for peace of mind, do not let yourself be pulled into the 'I just haven't got around to it conversation' trust me, if she was interested, she would want to see you also!
Chatting on webcam has been a huge comfort to myself and my partners during our periods apart these long months, I know of other relationships where it has been important in building a level of intimacy in the early part of a relationship, if they don't want to do this or only want the webcam to be one sided, question why this is so.
FIPs quite often cut off communication very suddenly, you might be having an enjoyable chat session and 'poof' he will disappear quite suddenly and either a) not come back online at all that night or b) Come back on to say that have to go, sometimes without explanation. They might have a perfectly reasonable explanation the next day which doesn't make sense like 'My sister called and was really upset' (really? Do you cut off a conversation for that reason or would you type that at the time and say a nice goodbye whilst still giving your sister her full attention on the phone?).
If on the phone and and he hangs up suddenly, it might be 'someone came to the door'
Again, ask yourself this, would YOU cut off communication suddenly from someone who you are getting to know without an explanation? If it seems to be unreasonable and a fairly lightweight excuse, there is likely to be another reason behind it which is more likely to be that they were taken unawares by their spouse and had to switch off/hang up before the spouse realises what they are up to and especially in the case of the phone, before you hear their voice.
Now it might be that a person might be quite happy to be seen on the webcam and/or talk on the phone, this does not mean that they are NOT FIPs, a person who is married and pretends to be single is still a FIP, but they might not have the insecurity aspect that some FIPs may have, so don't take the fact that you know what they look like as sound evidence that they are kosher. Some FIPs have partners in the military or work long/awkward hours, some FIPs have jobs which allow them plenty of time to go on the net/use the phone, I used to do a sleeping in job which gave me plenty of time to indulge in webchat and phone calls and I was married at the time, were I inclined to be a FIP, it was the perfect job for it!
However, the number one best way to avoid a FIP relationship is to wait until you meet someone in person before you get emotionally involved, visit them, let them visit you, make sure all the things they say add up, make sure that the personality they gave out online corresponds to the person you see before you. I know in this world of instant communication and the feeling that we are living in a small world, it is SO easy to get involved with someone who lives outside of your geographical region and people, especially people keen for a partner and want to rush things, but let caution be your guide, if someone is right for you, than they would be worth the wait until you can meet.
Being taken in by an FIP has its own particular brand of pain, not only for the loss of the relationship but also, the fact that you eventually find out that there wasn't a relationship to begin with, that it was based upon a person that doesn't exist, that it was just fantasy on your part, that can be terribly humiliating especially if you have publicised your relationship.
Until then, no matter how tempting, keep things non emotive and light, FIPs don't have patience, if they think that you are not falling for their act, they will move onto another victim and you would have saved yourself a world of hurt.