21-year-old Concordia student Heidi (not her real name) came home late, slightly tipsy, one night when she heard the recognizable “pop” of a message on Facebook Chat. She didn’t recognize the name, or even remember accepting the friend request, of the boy who had messaged her, but after a short conversation she figured out she had gone to high school with him, but they had never been formally introduced.
Impressed by his pictures and the links he had posted on his profile, they exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. Within days, the two began texting, emailing and sending each other private Facebook messages daily.
Heidi was enjoying her budding digital “relationship” and happy to be part of this modern day phenomenon. “He used vous instead of toi. I know it isn’t much but it melted my heart,” she said. “His writings were so passionate, beautiful.”
As the messages turned into steamy love letters, it came time for the obvious impending question: would she like to meet up in person?
For Heidi, the decision to meet up was easy, seeing as they had such a successful digital connection. Now you can probably guess what happened next. True love? Not quite. Apparently, the transition to a relationship in person from one online can be rather disappointing.
According to United States-based marriage and family therapist Karen Gail Lewis, when two individuals meet face-to-face, it doesn’t always live up to their expectations. She describes this situation as “pseudo-intimacy.”
“People are able to share more when they are not face-to-face,” said Lewis. “But that then prepares the other to expect the same type of closeness when together.”
This is what happened between Heidi and the boy she had been communicating with online.
“There was no connection,” said Heidi. “He was unattractive [in person], awkward and so different than the guy that made me smile every day.”
GisÃ¨le Baxter, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia, feels it’s much easier to meet people online than in real life. She also believes that digital relationships have “ironically” encouraged real life representation.
“It is based on the assumption that people will use this method to maintain connection with real people already known to them, and reconnect with real people previously known to them,” said Baxter. “However, it is also common that for [Facebook to work] the same way as other internet communities, people “friend’ each other on the basis of shared interests.”
Regardless of whether or not people are keeping relationships on or offline, individuals’ perceptions and their level of comfort when it comes to meeting someone online seem to have changed.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington in early January that “people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”
Barbara Mitchell, a researcher and faculty member who specializes in intergenerational relations at Simon Fraser University, said the Internet gives individuals the opportunity to find people more suited to their desires and personal tastes.
“You can very efficiently screen people with respect to their hobbies, values, aspirations, and personal characteristics such as age, gender, education, and marital status,” said Mitchell. “In a bar, for example, you are more reliant on physical appearance right away.”
This online forum means that ladies can wear sweats when on the prowl, and that guys don’t need to worry about shaving. Moreover, individuals now have access to literally millions of fish in the sea through the web. But is digital dating just a cover for utter laziness?
Mitchell isn’t convinced this is the case.
“One can argue that these new forms of communication can allow for stronger bonds because it is faster, cheaper and easier to maintain relationships,” said Mitchell.
Baxter also points to the ease of use, along with convenience, to explain why so many people are looking for relationships online.
“Young people are under a lot of pressure from school, work, and activities that are very goal-oriented and while they might constantly put them in situations where they meet a lot of people, it doesn’t give them a lot of time to relax with those people,” said Baxter. “Internet communities can be accessed whenever it’s convenient.”
Though there is a fair share of sketchy online dating forums available, Baxter says, Internet dating websites are used a lot more often than one might expect.
“A broad variety of people are using them for everything from casual hookups to the search for a marriage mate,” she said.
In fact, sites are often tailored to very specific groups and their particular wants or needs, such as JDate aimed at Jewish people looking to meet fellow Jews.
Regardless of whether you consider the Internet to be your ticket to love or if you view it as the death of romance, there’s no denying that it has opened up a wide variety of dating options that had previously not existed. As prevalent as digital dating forums have become, the decision is ultimately up to the individual and what they feel comfortable with. Still, it never hurts to keep an open-mind. Who knows, perhaps you will find your next romance or friendship in the online realm.