INTERNET and "REAL LIFE" RELATIONSHIPS:
ARE THEY VIRTUALLY THE SAME?
Jerri: So, what do you think I should do?
Dump him or go for it?
Minta: I think you should dump him, after
all, you guys hardly spend any time together anymore.
J: Yeah, but he's been real busy with work
M: I know, and you said he hardly ever
listens to you anymore.
J: Yeah, he talks a lot about work now.
It seems like he wants to hang out with his friends more, even people
from work, more than with me these days.
M: Yeah, so what are you going to do?
J: I dunno, we thought about getting together
this weekend to see if that changed anything.
M: You mean in "real life"? Woah, that'd
be expensive! Where does he live again?
Net relationships are unique yet strangely familiar. I have many net friends,
and if I didn't already have a happy love relationship, I'd probably look for
love on the net, too. Just like "real life", net relationships seem to work
sometimes and not work other times. From talking with friends and from working
with college students who had sought my services while I was with a campus
based counseling center, it seems to me the number one reason that net
relationships fall into trouble is the obvious one: it's the distance, silly.
On the other hand, the net allows us to bridge distances better than any other
method that humans have seen so far. You can meet folks from all over the
world with a few simple mouse clicks or key strokes.
Here are some tips I've gathered from my own observations and conversations
- Talking with a person over a period of time seems to reveal their
personality and behaviors despite any attempt he/she may make to disguise who
they "really" are.
- Some people can effectively pretend to be who they aren't. Of those people
some have malevolent intentions.
- Net relationships seem to develop to an intimate level without some of the
regular barriers hindering the process: i.e., looks, bad breath, etc.
- When people want to get "serious" often times those hidden barriers become
important: i.e., looks, bad breath, etc.
- The more removed from a realistic setting the relationship is, the more
prone individuals are to allow aspects uncharacteristic of themselves to
emerge. For example, an otherwise meek man might show more aggressive actions
in a gaming environment on-line than in a chat room on-line. The context in
which we meet appears to set some of the dynamics of the relationship.
Sometimes this can be a problem when meeting face-to-face, if characteristics
we like in a person disappear.
- Net friends can be found 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. "Real life"
friends can not be that available. This may relieve friends and family or it
may threaten them if they feel usurped by the virtual world.
The two main areas of contention that I have encountered are:
- People who want strictly fantasy relationships and people who want the
real thing run into each other frequently and can make each other miserable
unless they communicate their intentions early and often.
- People who are delighted to meet people from all over the world are
sometimes later torn when they want to move to a context where they can get to
know the object of their affection on a face-to-face basis, and are thwarted by
the geographical distance.
The most common advice on net relationships is also good advice for the rest of
life: Enjoy life and the array of possibilities, but keep your eyes wide open
and your brain engaged.
Rena M. Popma, M.S., is a Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology at Antioch
New England Graduate School, in New Hampshire. She spends at least 50 hours a
month on the Net. Her friends and family report that prior to the Net, she
spent at least that much time reading books and talking on the phone -- so
things about even out!