Bravo, Joe Offer! Your post echoes many of my thoughts.
The Internet is a fine place for exchanging information and opinions but it is a poor substitute for friendship.
I have seen people ask for "hugs" in these threads, and I have seen others reply, "((((((((hug))))))))" -- and I must admit, I marvel at this. I think, why do they even bother? Assuming ANY kind of hug would really help, wouldn't it be a lot better to ask a REAL friend for a REAL hug?
While I admire several Mudcatters for their wisdom, knowledge, helpfulness, and humor (Joe is one of them), I don't think of any of them as friends. I find it hard to think of anyone as a friend that I have never met face to face.
I assume a lot of you HAVE met one another, maybe even frequently, and maybe that accounts for much of the apparent intimacy that I sometimes stumble upon in these threads. But frankly, I find it a little embarrassing -- sort of like walking into a room at a party and finding a couple making out. At least the thread format allows me to escape without anyone noticing I've been there!
But it's less embarrassing than puzzling, because "intimacy" over the Internet is kind of like trying to French kiss through a screen door. All that comes through is the sloppiness.
So, I agree with Joe: save your sympathy for people you know. Furthermore, when you need sympathy, turn first to those close to you: family, and the friends you see often. If, for some reason, those people are not sympathetic, consult a pastor or counselor.
Given a choice, choose a face-to-face meeting rather than the telephone, and choose the telephone rather than the Internet. Choose a friend who has proven his faithfulness over a stranger. For serious problems, choose a professional over an amateur. Choose privacy instead of a public forum; it will make both of you more honest.