Online relationships are just as real as traditional counterparts - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Online relationships are just as real as traditional counterparts

I received a Christmas card from a friend in Germany, and was touched. I’ve known her for 13 years, consider her one of my closest friends, yet I’ve never met her in person; never had held in my hand an object she had handled.

I met her on a chat site, Lifestylers, back when these were popular. She approached me because of the screen name I had chosen, Erik Satie, a French avant-garde composer whose music she also loved.

Since then we have emailed, Skyped, chatted on Facebook, and talked on the phone. We have a beautiful friendship made possible solely by the Internet. There’s no way we would have met, much less become close, if not for the Internet.

I have other friends I’ve met online around the world, but none so close or with whom I communicate so regularly. I’ve read many stories online and in print about how the Internet is degrading the concept and the depth of personal relationships. Proof of this, it’s often mentioned, is the fact that people have hundreds of friends of Facebook, and it’s stretching the meaning of the word to call them all friends; that online friendship is just a shadow of true friendship.
Just as real

online-loveThis may apply to most such relationships, but I can state with authority that friendships and romances conducted solely on the net are just as “real” as their traditional counterparts. In fact, according to one researcher, Liz Hoggard, journalist and author of Dangerous Women: The Guide to Modern Life, “A third of all new relationships start online. It’s our best matchmaker. Among my friends, gay and straight, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t met online.”

The author is speaking of romances and dating sites, but the same holds true for lasting, rewarding friendships. Psychologists have studied online relationships, and found that people are just as emotionally invested in these as they are in their real world analogs.

A few warnings

The point I am making is not a new one. That is that the Internet is changing and expanding and facilitating our social lives. It allows people to transcend mere geography and meet and grow close to others a world away.

Studies I have read state that people are quicker to open up personally online than face to face. They are inclined to intimacy faster online. But there are also dangers inherent in online relationships, most of which center on deliberate misrepresentation of one or the other party in the relationship.

Who hasn’t heard horror stories of meeting an online correspondent face to face and found they have lied about their appearance (the most common of such cases), or some other crucial aspect of their lives? The worst I’ve heard is from a woman who met her “athletic, handsome, outdoorsy man” only to find he was morbidly obese, wheelchair-bound and a one-legged amputee.

OnlineRomanceOf course there will always be such cases. But my point remains true nevertheless. It is possible to meet friends and prospective life partners on the Internet, and a little common sense on your part, along with developing and relying on a trained gut instinct, will protect you from scammers, stalkers and other predators.

Signs of the latter include pressuring you to leave the social site you’re on and switch to instant messaging or other chat services; they send too many pictures of themselves too soon, and want more pictures of you; they give endless excuses of why they can’t meet you in person; they want your email address right away (which they can Google to get your Facebook page and other personal information); and they mention an emergency for which they need your assistance, usually money.

In other words, use caution and common sense.

Somebody for you

You can find romance and rewarding, enriching friendships online. My experience is testament to that. In the case of my German friend, my gut told me immediately that she was the real deal. She was forthcoming about herself, inquisitive about me in just the proper fashion, and the only thing she ever asked from me was a handwritten note so that she could hold in her hand something I had touched.

My world is a better place with her in it, and I have the miracle of modern telecommunications to thank for it. You can make friends too, and I suspect many if not most readers of this article have.

130213164455-man-woman-laptops-story-top“The lines stitched into highways;
the never-ending seams,
on roads that are less traveled,
dividing you and me.

I wish I could unravel,
the fabric in-between,
and tear away the distance,
to bring you close to me.”
–Lang Leav

About the author

Paul Croke

Paul Croke, former newspaper editor and longtime Washington DC area freelance writer, has loved gadgets and consumer electronics since he saw his first Dick Tracy watch. He writes about consumer technology. Contact the author.

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