I once knew a girl from work in the Internet heyday of iVillage, Disney, and Weight Watchers. We worked together remotely building communities and commitments and trust. We worked together for many years without ever having met. I knew her. I came to rely on her. And we are still friends.

But with my clients who have “ended it” with a guy they never met, what did they end exactly?

Talking via text every day is definitely something, not nothing. Is it real? Yes. Of course you can learn a lot about a person this way. Is it a relationship? Not sure.

You hear stories of men and women who literally talked this way for years, never met, who say they’re in love. I don’t know. But for the teenagers please learn to demand more, says Lisa Damour, Ph.d.  As scary as it is you have to meet face-to-face some time. Don’t you? You need that spark, that chemistry, that “je ne sais quoi” quality to create trust going forward. Trust needs two ingredients: time and patience.

However, guys seem to be just fine with hit-and-run, ghosting, [Ghosting, for those of you who haven’t yet experienced it, is having someone that you believe cares about you, whether it be a friend or someone you are dating, disappear from contact without any explanation at all. No phone call or email, not even a text] or lowering the bar.  According to a Damour NY Times article, “In the wider culture, it appears we have suddenly come to the limit of our tolerance for the sexualized abuse of power by adult men. A logical next step is to recalibrate some of the toxic norms that have taken hold among teenagers.”

1. You know it’s real if you’re able to express your needs.

2. You know it’s real when it’s a two-way dialogue, preferably face-to-face.

3. You know it’s real when you’re not anxious and scared all the time.

4. You know it’s real when the effort is satisfying and you are appreciated for who you are.

Some men have to be told when is too much and when is not enough. They need to be clear not to ask for nudes or pressure you. They need to be vetted for normal, not deviant behavior. Otherwise all we have is more #metoo’s and less actual romance.

Couples will struggle with trust throughout their lives depending on the bonds of their childhood. Since my parents divorced, my fear of abandonment shadowed me constantly.

Others have attachments that were too chaotic or too careless or just absent or addicted. But the way to build strength in your relationship is to meet, talk, date, fail, and grow. It’s the only way. Hiding behind your phone or a computer is ultimately the loneliest place to be.