Online relationships: the future of all things love and lust

Could love really be at your fingertips?

Last week’s Sex & Love article espoused the dangers of internet dating, and with good cause, too. Do you really know who it is behind the avatar? Can an emoticon truly replace the warmth of holding another’s hand? The internet as we know it is about to reach 21 years of age, and with that age comes an increasingly illustrious history. Like all histories shared by a multitude of people, the internet’s often reads like a horror story. Nigerian ‘Princes’ after your money. Chatrooms darkened by cyberbullying. YouTube adverts you can’t skip. And yes, perhaps the most embarrassing of online woes – the deceitful, even predatory, online lover.

Let us ignores these sob stories for the time being, and instead look at the internet’s history holistically. The web has changed: from purely the domain of scientists and the truly nerdy, to something we can all utilise, to something we can’t live without. This last change is the most pertinent – we used to log on to the internet for a moment, a moment slotted in between any other human activity. Now, there’s no such thing as logging off. The internet permeates every minute of our lives. If you throw a party, and no one uploads photos to Facebook, did it really happen? Is it possible to eat a home-cooked meal without Tweeting a picture of it? If you can sit through a film without looking up anyone on IMDB, I applaud you. The internet has become an intrinsic part of our social reality itself. I think, therefore I instagram.

This change is, in my humble opinion, quite brilliant. But to some, it can seem frightening, likely because no epoch before the internet has ever developed so quickly – Rome wasn’t built in a day; Rebecca Black gained infamy overnight. This fear is what causes your elderly relatives to not use Amazon because “the neighbours will steal my credit card details”. It’s what makes the less bright members of the Occupy movement refuse to use Facebook because “the government could use my ‘likes and interests’ against me, man”. And it’s what encourages the Luddite view that online dating is nothing but sinister. Yes, as we have now reached a stage where you can’t boil an egg without asking Yahoo exactly how many minutes it should take, dating and relationships, like all other aspects of life, are now firmly cemented in the online world.

This is something you can’t hide from. No matter how smugly you may believe that you will never use the internet for romantic ends, let me ask you this: have you never flirted with someone on Facebook chat? Stalked the photos of your crush? Scrolled through an ‘attending’ list to scout any potential pulls? Casually noticed that he, too, has ‘liked’ Pulp Fiction, perhaps to later bring it up in conversation? Don’t tell me you’re not the tiniest bit disappointed when that add turns out to be ‘in a relationship’ – you don’t have to be drawing up a profile for Match.com to have used the internet, in some way, to hook up with someone, romantically or sexually. The future is here, and everybody is sexting.

So get used to it. Why not start a profile with Match.com? To any level-headed person, once you disregard the unwarranted stigma that surrounds internet dating, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. To those who cry, “But it’s dangerous!” – how is it more dangerous than meeting someone in real life? Online, you can block or report anyone harassing you, or even just bothering you. In real life, there is no off button. At best, you have to sit through a boring conversation – online relations give you the agency to flat out ignore a dull or offensive comment, something you couldn’t do whilst sat at a table for two in Esquire’s. At worst, you’re cornered in a club, or in your date’s car, possibly in danger. Surely getting to know someone online before meeting them in real life can only serve to limit the chances of your date turning out to be a creep?

Similarly, defining shared interests before you take the plunge to meet up with someone can save time, money and wasted effort in the long run – chatting online first severely reduces the risk of reaching date three only to discover that your would-be-lover is a card carrying BNP member/Nickelback fan. A friend recently told me how he took a girl out to eat and ordered steak, later finding out she was vegan. This wouldn’t have happened if they’d met in a PETA forum. Hooking up with someone you met online means you end up with someone pretty much tailored to suit your wants. This sounds better than being with someone because they, wholly randomly, ended up in your halls, your lectures, or happened to be in Klute that night you were feeling especially drunk and lonely.

But of course, your cyber beau could be someone totally different to who they claim to be, as the cautionary tale goes. To this, I retort that being able to spot a fake identity on the internet is a skill that is common and pretty much necessary to anyone with internet access. I hate to break it to you, but that YouTube commenter doesn’t have “one weird old tip” to instant weight-loss, and there are no hot babes in your area looking for sex NOW!!!! Besides, the motivation for faking an entire personality on a dating site is somewhat lacking: what are they going to do when you meet up, claim they had a sex change and aged twenty years since you last IM’d? Unless you’re sending naked photos to people you are yet to meet in real life, the risks are relatively low: If, when first chatting, you keep both your wits and your clothes about you, you should be okay. I would argue that the unfortunate individuals mentioned in last week’s article who liaised with scammers and predators were likely to be in some kind of vulnerable emotional state for such tragic events to unfold – the vast majority of well-intentioned people on dating websites shouldn’t be ostracised because of such experiences.

That isn’t to say that people don’t tell a few white lies when courting online. But is this really such a bad thing? An online profile is the one opportunity you have to totally control how others view you – you get to be the best version of yourself. This is both a bonus for you, and for the users who get the pleasure of interacting with this bright, shiny version of you. Slight faults are swept under the rug whilst better traits are magnified – isn’t that what romance is all about?

In 2005, three million Americans had entered into marriages or long-term relationships with people they met online. eHarmony claims that 2% of Americans who married in 2008 met through them – even if we accept that this figure is likely skewed, cutting it in half still leaves 1 in 100 Americans blissfully clicking their way to conjugal bliss. The future of dating may be password protected, but it’s worth it to be your own Cupid.

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