Are relationships over messenger even real?

Modern day relationships have taken many strange twists and turns - perhaps one of the most noticeable being the introduction of technology. Emma Tonny continues her column with an exploration of what relationships online are like, BDSM dynamics and how frightening it can be when a partner makes you doubt yourself.


When I first graduated, I was intimidated by the blank lack of interest that most of the world has in you. Perfect grades, work experience and founding a company all fades when standing in line with an army of other impeccable candidates. Along with a group of friends, I returned briefly to uni for the first freshers after we’d left. We wanted to see the old gang that remained and swap horror stories about interviews.

It was on that trip that I met Harry. Harry was a halfway house for me. A bridge between two worlds. He hadn’t been there when I completed my undergraduate course, had worked briefly and was now completing a masters. He was a part of my new world of young-old adults, but also part of my old world of students. He was in the place where I studied, but only temporarily. We almost hooked up while I was there, before being sucked back into my old patterns and choosing a guy I’d had a fling with whilst at uni.

For some strange reason though, I was drawn to Harry. He had a palpable and, it turned out, toxic power over people. We struck up an intense relationship: over phone. Can intensity really exist if it’s only imagined? It certainly seemed to, as I returned to my home city and we continued to talk every day. The problem with forming a ‘relationship’ over message, is that so much is imagined. You have the words on the screen, but a lot of it is pure imagination about what the other is really like.

In retrospect, there were warning signs that he was bad news very early. He sent bizarrely intense messages and complained of a ‘toxic’ ex- who I chose to defend because my instinct is always to side with women, and I was already losing trust in him. For some strange reason though, I didn’t lose it completely- something kept me pulled in.

After 18 months in a relationship I’d questioned, and six months not feeling attracted to my partner, it felt great to be sexy and explore that side of my personality again. I was fascinated by BDSM and what parts of it might appeal to me. He loved dominating and again, this blurred the line about where the boundaries lay. It’s such a shame, because BDSM can definitely be fun, dom’s can definitely be exciting and those dynamics can definitely exist consensually. Unfortunately, that’s hard to manage though and things can sometimes turn toxic without you noticing.

He went quickly from flirty and attentive to making me feel shit. Or, at least trying to make me feel shit. In a weird way, it seemed almost amusing at first that someone could be trying this on with me. What’s scary though, is that there were times he really did make me feel unreasonable or as if I were imagining things. It wasn’t until a year later, when a friend bought me book on Fierce Fairy tales that I recognised it for what it was: gaslighting.

It took me weeks longer than it should have to realise something was genuinely off. The guy was a creep, and this was weird behaviour, but I was lucky: it took me weeks not months. At first, it seemed so insane to think that anyone could make me doubt myself that I was almost fascinated. Until that is, I really did start doubting myself and I cut him out. Several months later, he managed to find a way to get back in touch- but that is a story to tell off the back of another dating disaster. At the time, I was left shaken and bruised by an experience I’d had the arrogance to imagine I couldn’t fall prey to.

Don’t: let someone dominating you in bed, mean they can dominate your life.

Do: have the confidence and trust in yourself to cut toxic people out.

What I learnt: my instincts and normally good and I should learn to trust them earlier.