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Digital Relationships

The face of relationships is changing. Once upon a time, all our relationships were face-to-face. Sure, some people had pen pals with whom they corresponded and others had long distance relationships that were conducted mainly by telephone, but for the most part all of our relationships began in person.

That is no longer the case. Most of us have digital relationships, friendships begun and conducted online on social networks like Facebook, MySpace and MyYearbook. Some of these relationships we’ve held onto for a decade or more, without ever having seen the person face-to-face.

There are those who question the validity of these relationships, their objection being that those relationships conducted ephemerally are less stable, less secure than those that have a handshake or a hug in the ingredient mix.

Certainly, many of our online relationships are of the acquaintance nature, friendships that develop out of game play or as friends of friends. They come and go and we miss them about as much as we miss our baby teeth. However, it also must be said that those sorts of acquaintances come and go from our offline lives just as easily; it’s just that they’re more plentiful in some ways, as well as more easily charted.

However, some online relationships are more lasting. Some evolve just like offline relationships do; some even become offline relationships. More and more, couples are meeting online and developing romantic relationships, and a good percentage of those are turning into marriages – and not just off of dating services like eHarmony and Zoosk, but off of Facebook, AOL and World of Warcraft as well (among others).

So are those romances that develop off of online services as valid as those that develop in more traditional ways? I can only tell you that my own marriage began as an online relationship in a trivia group that began its life on America Online, and my wife and I have a very strong marriage that is well over ten years in length and still just as strong as ever.

Part of what makes our relationship strong is that we began as online friends. We had similar interests – a love of trivia, music, movies and Sharks hockey – and things went on from there. We were able to get to know each other well even before we’d met face-to-face (which we did at a Trivian party several months after we’d met online) and develop a mutual respect for one another which continues to this day.

I will admit, however, that our relationship accelerated into the romantic territory only after we met face-to-face. There is always that unknown X factor, that feeling of completion that can only come in person. Don’t get me wrong; one can fall in love online but for the relationship to truly become serious there has to be an offline meeting. Sometimes what seems hot and heavy online can cool off in person; maybe the physical attraction isn’t as strong in person as it is online. Photographs, after all, can only capture so much of the physical presence of a person.

The key to a good online relationship, as in any relationship, is honesty. If you want to have online friends and even online romances, it is important to be yourself, to present yourself as you are, not as who you think that other person wants. Yes, sometimes that leads to rejection but quite honestly do you really want to maintain a relationship with someone who doesn’t appreciate you for who you are? I know that I don’t.

Digital relationships can be relatively low maintenance; after all, if you don’t want to deal with someone you just switch off the computer and if you get tired of someone’s crap, you just delete them from your friends list. Hopefully, you’ll let them know that you’re doing it and explain, in a nice way, that you don’t think things are working out, either romantically if it’s that kind of relationship or as friends if it’s the other kind. After all, even digital friends have feelings too, and you’d want to be treated with respect if someone found your crap too much to deal with.

Many people who will be reading this are people I consider close friends who I have never met in person, people who I’ve cultivated relationships with online, some going all the way back to America Online and Triviana. Those are relationships of more than ten years apiece, and relationships that are treasured despite the lack of physical proximity. I did not grow up in the digital age, as my son did, and I think our children will have a better time of it navigating the often treacherous waters of digital friendships and romances than my generation has. Certainly in many ways we are the trailblazers; we’re the ones who discovered many of the pitfalls and heartaches that develop in online relationships.

Of heartaches and pitfalls there are many and most of them come out of lying about who you are or what your intentions are. Sad to say, most of those who do that kind of thing are men, who are basically offline as well as online all about sex, and that can come at a price to the women whom they show a different side to than the one that is truly them. The worst part is that some guys actually get off on using people and inflicting pain, and there’s no doubt that there are women like that as well, but far fewer in number.

I’ve had my share of online heartache with friends who had different agendas than I did, or who dropped me like a rabid raccoon once they’d gotten what they need from me. Does it hurt any less just because the relationship was entirely online? Feelings are feelings and it doesn’t really matter if you’re online or not, it hurts to be used or abused no matter what the source is.

However, those are not just the pitfalls of online life, they are the pitfalls of life period. Anyone who puts themselves out there to be liked runs the risk of not being liked the way they want to be, or of running into someone who doesn’t mind using them or hurting them. That’s just the way the game is played unfortunately; if you don’t want to get dirty, don’t play in the mud and human relationships are full of mud.

But the rewards are worthwhile indeed. I have several people in my life whose friendship I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have a wonderful wife who is the love of my life and will be by my side for the duration. I’ve established business opportunities and have been able to hone my craft of writing for an audience of friends. I’ve reconnected with people who were in my life in the past but have moved on, or from whom I’ve moved on – schoolmates, work colleagues and so on. My life overall is a better one because of the relationships I’ve been able to forge or re-forge online, and I treasure every friend, both serious and casual, that I’ve been able to cultivate online. There isn’t a one of you that I wouldn’t be proud to give an offline hug to, or invite into my home, or share a meal with, or all of the above. After all, isn’t that what friends do, digital or otherwise?


4 Responses

  1. Another wonderful piece of writing Carlos. I am currently involved in an online relationship that like that of you and your wife started as friends with a mutual interest. Over the past few years we have discussed things we both admit we would not discuss with others and find ourselves needing to talk for hours everyday and share our joys and our pain. Personal reasons hold us both to the country we are in but within a few months he hopes to come to Australia to be with myself as he is in a country that does not require visa’s or sponorship. Will it work? Like any relationship one does not know but we feel that first and foremost we have built a relationship closer than that of a face to face one as we have had to work hard to share from a distance, with a time difference as a challenge.

    • Thanks for the comment Jennifer and best of luck in your relationship. I hope everything works out for the two of you.

  2. Human beings have always needed close contact, physical contact; being a pack animal. Online is good if words only tell us who we are. Sadly words can lie by intent,but also by not intent. This is where facial expression, body language human intuition come into play.

  3. Wonderful blog!!!! I’ve been lurking over the last month or so….I too met my husband online in a yahoo chat room. We’ve been married 8 years and have 3 amazing kids. So I’ve had the good and the bad. I think with online relationships, time is the key. Whether it be on or offline you have to take the time for someone’s true colors to shine through!!!

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