The Match.com ad that appears every time I log onto Facebook boasts that one in five relationships start online. I don’t know how true the stat is because I have plenty of stories to tell from my failed attempts at online dating, but that’s beside the point.
My longest relationship started with a single voicemail. What followed was an intense three-month courtship that occurred primarily online. I went from New Orleans to New York, followed by an extended stay in Trinidad and my love interest at the time lived and worked in New Jersey. After our first date in New York, we kept in touch via e-mail, MSN messenger and phone. Somewhere between that first date at South Street Seaport with the bridges of New York behind me, and marathon MSN conversations, I fell in love.
As outlandish as it may seem, given the advances in communication technology, falling in love online is easy. Human beings are social animals. We need to feel connected to those around us, and technological advances like Skype, Facebook, Google Talk, MSN Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp, have undeniably – in the past five years – become an integral part of the way we communicate.
At the risk of sounding hopelessly corny, being constantly in touch with someone, while sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings, can, and, in many cases, does lead to strong feelings of attachment and attraction. Mark Sanford the former governor of South Carolina, who resigned after admitting that he’d had an affair with an Argentinean woman, said in his public apology, “It began very innocently, in just a casual e-mail back and forth. But then it became much more than that”.
Commentators on the Sanford scandal theorized that “by removing the body from relationships, electronic communication makes romantic love less animal. The lovers’ discourse becomes simultaneously more childlike and more intellectual, more spiritual”.
My own experiences seem to support this theory. It is impossible for me to not feel some form of attachment to someone I talk to every day, regardless of the forum where the conversation takes place. Admittedly, I also feel it is easier to talk about certain key issues from a distance, without the distraction that physical attraction can pose. It’s all too easy to put the cart before the horse when getting to know someone, if you’re always around him/her physically, especially when the chemistry is undeniable. This, of course, is the catch 22 of online love affairs. If you’re not around someone all the time, how can you tell if they’re telling the truth?
Like most women, I use the frequency and quality of a man’s communication with me to gauge the level of his interest, so I’m not sure whether being face to face with someone would help much. Technology doesn’t have to be a barrier to getting to know the essence of someone. This may be especially true for the generation of young people growing up at a time when Twitter, Facebook and texting are established means of communication. For these people, their online presence is a seamless extension of real life, not a made-up alter ego.
Communication ‘apps’ can help bridge the gaps of distance and time that come built into a lifestyle, where we spend the majority of our waking hours at work. After a ten-hour workday, I rarely have the time to chat for an hour plus on the phone, but it is possible for me to get to know someone fairly well, and vice versa, if like me they’re glued to a computer screen for at least eight hours every day, and a phone is almost an extension of your hand. An hour-long conversation can now be broken up over the space of several hours on the go, and – if you’re an adept multitasker, you may be able to cover more ground.
Additionally, the immediacy of text, online conversations and video chats – especially those of a sexual nature – can enhance the physical attraction in a relationship. Sexting is so popular because it makes it easy to create the fantasy of what you want to do to someone, or have them do to you, when you’re not staring them dead in the eye. By the time you do see them, the longing and anticipation has added a significant edge to the seduction ritual.
If you’re still a non-believer, my only advice is don’t knock it, until you’ve tried it. Sexting is awesome, and I have it on good account that strip teases via Skype can help make the time apart in long-distance love affairs less of a burden, and keep some men on the straight and narrow.
Most modern technophiles, myself included, can’t survive more than a few hours without access to the Internet, the devices that keep us connected and the accompanying apps. This only gets worse when you’re in the initial stages of a love affair. We can often be found staring at our phones, checking our e-mails and Facebook compulsively to see if our love interest has responded to a message, or rushing home to make the appointed Skype video chat. Sometimes this is done at the expense of people around us.
In spite of this, I don’t agree with critics like The New York Times reporter Virginia Heffernan, who wrote after the Sanford scandal, “ur current bind is with offline reality — real life. We’ve been cheating on it, all of us, for a long time, living in a wireless fairyland where we r all so giddily hot.”
As social creatures, I think we are biologically programmed to form bonds with people around us. Given that modern life is in many ways inherently solitary, I don’t see the point in mandating that only certain forms of communicating and connecting are valid at the expense of all others, especially if it’s in a vain attempt to avoid being hurt. That’s not how civilization progressed to this point. Loving relationships are challenging to create and sustain regardless of the medium where they are formed, so why not let technology help?