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Twidows, it's not cheating … exactly Add to ...


I guess it was bound to happen. My relationship with Facebook had taken a back seat to my relationship with Twitter. I'd wake up in the morning and tweet first thing, maybe while I was making my guy a cup of coffee - which I often do, because I am generally good girlfriend material.

I kept my tweeting in check. I was not a person who tweeted while in conversation, or during movies and the like. But I understood the lure, the itch to tweet. I was pretty sure it released little vapour puffs of good-feeling into my brain. As good as cuddling with my boyfriend? Not quite, but, as it turns out, not far off.

Fast Company writer Adam L. Penenberg recently took part in an experiment in which the levels of oxytocin in his blood were measured before he tweeted and while he tweeted. (Oxytocin is the sexy brain chemical, the honeymoon chemical that doses happy couples and breastfeeding mothers.) The researcher, Paul Zak, measured a jump of 31 per cent, or as much as experienced by a groom on his wedding day.

This explained a lot. At tweetups, my tweeps and I laugh about how our partners don't "get" Twitter. How our partners ridicule Twitter-based portmanteaus, little knowing that they themselves may be twidows and twidowers. There's a world of them out there, men and women who watch their partners' eyes glaze over and realize their beloved is only half-listening while trying to think of a way to describe their sandwich in 140 characters. But our connection with Twitter is a special one.

Last week, I live-tweeted about the G20 protests for three days and had a somewhat scary, soggy four-hour ordeal, during which my iPhone was the only way I had of telling the world what was happening, before its screen crumped in the rain. When I finally got home, I hugged my boyfriend, and, still peeling off drenched clothes, booted up the computer.

It was like my relationship with Twitter had moved to a new level. Through adversity, we kinda tied the knot. All night, I had been holding my iPhone like it was a lifeline. And now I couldn't tear myself away.

After that, all I wanted to do was follow Twitter. Partly for information about what was going on around the G20, and partly for the solace I found in hearing from people who had had similar experiences. When I followed tweets from friends about a protest last Monday that went off without a hitch, my spirits rose.

These relationships (tweerelationships?) may be physically hollow but they're incredibly fulfilling. Our brain experiences tweeting, Dr. Zak said, "as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for." It makes sense, then, that during even minor episodes of turmoil - a bad day at work, a hard time with the kids, a weird allergy - we might turn to Twitter.

There's a chance the oxytocin might even be responsible for charitable online natures. (While one study revealed that students are measurably less empathetic than they were 30 years ago - which researchers tied into the Internet's culture of narcissism - they are also big givers. Fundraising for the Haiti earthquake broke records, with many donations coming by text message, which as a demographic that is typically young and social-media savvy.) Dr. Zak's initial findings indicate that folks infused with oxytocin donated an average of 48 per cent more to charity than those administered the placebo.

So I'm making a case for polyamory. It's never easy, but with a modicum of finesse, it can be sustained. "Love the one you're with," as the song goes - just don't bring one on a date with the other. Don't grope your smart phone when you're lying in bed with your partner. And when it comes to crying on someone's shoulder, let me tell you, an iPhone can't deal with the moisture.

Follow Lisan Jutras on Twitter @lisanjutras

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