An apology for Internet relationships


Thousands of years ago, our ancestors drew onto cave walls; that was their way of sharing feelings and aspirations. Communication methods have evolved since, but some things never change. Love still is the greatest feeling, when it's not the worst.

Just ten years ago social networks didn't exist in the extent they do today. Friendster, MySpace and Facebook didn't launch until 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively — just to name three from a myriad offerings available. The foundation of these websites is the ever-present urge to stay in touch with friends, relatives and lovers. Online dating also saw a tremendous increase in user base over the last years. At first, one has to wonder how dating can work without the essential flirting. On a website you don't flirt; you simply click on the potential partner and perhaps write an affectionate message. Principally though, the selection process is no different than in a real-life situation. Beauty, character traits and hobbies are still the criteria that determine the eventuality of a relationship.

Instead of wooing a woman with lustful gazes, a few well-chosen words could express one's passion with equal persuasiveness. Rejection still occurs, though. When you walk up to a lonely girl, sitting at a bar, sipping a cocktail with ennui, you either lure her in or not. From the perspective of the female sex, it certainly is a different story, since women often expect us, the desperate men, to start a conversation. The outcome of the ensuing dialogue is always inevitable; either it's a success or the two people continue drinking their drinks alone.

The first step to a successful internet relationship is to stop labeling it abnormal. We must agree on one point: to have friends on the world-wide-web means also to diverge from the norm. The thoughts of fellow Neowin staff members imply the ease of reconnecting with long-lost friends as the true appeal of social networks.

Weird people do exist in this yet so small world. The advances of technology have only made it simpler to meet these creepy characters. However, let's not dwell on possible negative outcomes. Blame yourself if you get hurt online; when one purchases an item on Ebay, the same rule applies: caveat emptor.

To make a case for the benefits of internet relationships, allow me to tell a story. Five years ago, I signed up in some geek forum, wanting to connect with other Star Wars fans. I recall having lots of fun chats with anonymous avatars. As weeks and months passed, often burning the midnight oils, I began to develop a bond with one user. I'm meeting her in person for the first time in November.

Oft-times it's so hard to look someone in the eye and speak the truth. An online friend, who is just remotely aware of your condition, can provide useful and objective advice. To be unemotional is impossible for close friends or relatives, for that matter. They care too much; now, this shouldn't imply that online friends don't care for your troubles. Yet they do in a dispassionate and controlled manner.

It will be captivating still, to finally see her in real-life. After five years of chatting and speaking on the phone, we may think we know one another. The knowledge of our pasts notwithstanding, there's still so much more to a person of flesh and blood, than there is to an entity that's made up only by your imagination and whatever you choose to believe. Beyond the stories we shared and fun chats we had, there is a real person yet unrevealed.

The breaking point for online acquaintances is whether one chooses to meet in person. That's when everything can go wrong, or even surpass expectations. It seems to be a matter of choice. What decides the outcome of an online relationship is what you choose to do with it. Either you simply want an uncomplicated relationship, to be able to talk about all kinds of things, personal and general; or, you look to meet new people, intent on making new friends in real-life, too.

Sitting in front of the computer, wherever you are, limits your vision. For that precise moment the world exists within the confines of your computer screen. It does diminish your awareness of what's around you, and suddenly this online friend becomes real.

We must reconsider the meaning of the word 'stranger'. A stranger is someone you might talk to on the street, when asking what time it is. A stranger is the one waiting in line in front of and behind you at the local grocery store. A stranger is everyone mingling at the shopping malls. A stranger is also everyone you meet online, in point of fact. Yet, the definition of a word can change. It's wrong to declare someone a stranger, just because you meet them in a virtual chat room or a website.

Thoughts, dreams and aspirations can unite people. There are of course other reasons which are less philosophical. Since the advent of MMOs you can complete quests together with online friends, and this adds a whole new layer of complexity to the idea of online friendships. This also gives the word 'stranger' a new meaning — internationality has become the catchphrase of the Internet.

Computers, iPhones, and other mobile devices ushered in an era of incessant connectivity. Anyone who doesn't embrace this new way of life risks being excluded. The push forward, both in business and personal matters, relies on our ability to stay in touch with relatives, friends and colleagues. To cut a long story short, online relationships don't have to be motivated by sex, but can simply be an exercise in collaboration. Who hasn't teamed up with fellow students, to work on a joint project? Our own Neowin Linux distribution Shift was also created by an enthusiastic group of developers around the world. It was a communal effort, and it resulted in a functional Linux distribution that could be downloaded by anyone.

Lastly, it's language itself which signifies the authenticity of online chats. It's possible to discern the character of a person from the way they express themselves. A cynic chooses different words than a pedophile. One or the other will be more eloquent, and that indicates whether your chat partner is a geek or an academic or some horny guy who can never be a great conversationalist.

Now it's up to you, as a member of this community to share your story and thoughts. Perhaps illustrate also the bad things which can happen. So far, my experiences were always positive; we have all read a few horrible stories, though.


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This is an interesting article, and the responses are even more interesting. I have not had good experiences of any kind attempting to date online, but I have made some good friends... I'm glad to see that dating has worked out for others, so I guess that this does work out for some people...

I laughed back in 1995 when fictional characters on a soap, met by online dating.

Since 2001, I have been trying to date online, been on 1 date from online dating site (she just wanted to be friends, already has a boyfriend) and 1 other who kept her distance for over a year before I quit pursuing her.

Despite 7 years of trying, it was a massive failure. 400 emails sent to girls, only received less than 10 responses. It really sucked dealing with so many no replies.

My wife and I met online playing an MMO game. We just had our first child together and couldn't be happier! We hit it off so quickly we met in person after 3 months of long nights chatting and playing online together. It's been heaven ever since! I look forward to spending every day with her.

I have met my perfect girl with the help of anonymous imageboard and livejournal. We're in love for 2.5 years now.

P.S. The editorial text is good, but I twitched when I stumbled upon "iPhone". Seriously guys use proper words or you start to sound like subliminal advertisment.

I see nothing wrong with meeting someone via the internet. It's probably about as risky for a girl as being drunk in a club with some guy you don't know and can't hear to talk to. The caveat for me is that I think you should meet as quickly (or not) as you would if you had met in any other way, and keep the "relationship" pressure off. Naturally the usual rules apply for relationships. You don't have to meet online to be cheated on and scammed, it's just easier to have that done to you if you don't push for a more "real" relationship or it's long distance.

It's not just relationships, I have lots of friendships with people I've only chatted to online. For me I've little interest in meeting them unless perhaps we happen to go to some event at the same time. I'm happy just leaving it how it is because I get some interesting conversations with people which supplements my real life social contact. A bit like how you have different levels of friendship in the rest of life (people you wait for the bus with, people on your uni course, people you work with but don't socialise with, etc)

While this is very good, and works out for you sir; many people reaching out for a relationship with peoples outside of their country, usually end up being scammed. Take my advice and warning from experience, if they ask for money, run.

I messaged my wife through myspace asking her to dinner and a movie sometime. We chatted for awhile before we actually hung out so I see nothing wrong with meeting through the internet. It the easiest tool to use to contact anyone and everyone. You can use the internet to easily pop up on someones radar that you wouldn't normally run into for whatever reason.

My wife and I met in Warcraft about two years ago. We played together all the time and people thought we were actually married IRL (which we were not at the time). We talked a lot and continued playing the game together when finally she brought up the idea of me coming to visit.

We were in an online relationship at the time I came to visit and I knew from the moment I saw her, that she would be the one I'd marry. We married a short time afterwards and we have been together ever since. My only regret is that I couldn't have met her sooner.

Funny thing is, the exact same thing happened to her sister. She met her husband in Warcraft, he came to visit and they married a short time after. They are still together too.

Thank you, Max. I really enjoyed the article ALOT. The irony is that I too have an online relationship and will be meeting in November also.
Good luck to you on your IRL meeting. I wish you the very best.

I met my wife of 11 years not on the Internet, but on one of those Voice-chat thingies (the old TelePersonals, that eventually morphed into LavaLife). Met IRL a couple of hours after we first spoke on the phone, and moved in together, um, well, pretty quickly (though we at least waited 2 years to get married).

It can work. I think part of why this worked for us was we were able to express ourselves comfortably without worrying about what the other thought of our looks.

I agree with this article, I ended up visiting England (live in the US) because of meeting someone from England online and getting an offer to stay with their family for a week. You do have to be careful, though.

Totally FWIW... Taking on-line friendship into the physical world can work, but IMHO we've got to at least acknowledge the challenges & try, whether the goal is to allow us to continue the relationship, or just [I HATE this cliche] to become a better person, should we decide it's not worth pursuing.

Our on-line personae is most often who we choose to be -- who we would be if unencumbered by the physical world, with both it's demands and constraints. We might be several people, each with a different voice, & in fact we might even be indulging in a daydream...

If on-line we gain insight into the inner who & what of any particular person, in the physical world we're each defined & confined by all of these layers -- I'm reminded of Shrek's talking about onions & layers in the 1st flic. There's not only our self images of who we are & who we'd like to be, but how we appear, along with how we actually act or behave... everyone's seen folks who believe they're something they're not. Our behavior & demeanor also dramatically reflect our expectations, & we know and rely on this when we see &/or interact with others, judging body language & reading other clues. That on-line person is still there -- somewhere -- but is it on the surface or buried in unreachable depths? Is there garbage on the surface that's just too distracting, so we never dig?

Now I know that all sounds so analytical, & indeed the roots are in behavioral mod, but I think & hope that this sort of reality check can put a hold on our own, too often grossly unfair expectations. If on-line we're each who we wish to be, we can turn everyone we meet into who we wish they were as well. In person you don't want to measure someone against some notion totally concocted by our imagination -- if you're only interested in your own imagination, why leave home in the first place?

This article is amazingly written, kudos to you Max. Even though I'm against the concept of how online relationships are formed and somewhat technology in general, I can see where the author is coming from.

My strong distaste for internet relationships isn't exactly from a bad experience, directly at least. I've simply considered the internet to be impersonal. Humans aren't meant to communicate via text on a screen. We're meant to hear, see, feel each other. Even with the advent of internet phones and webcams, it's still not the same as actually seeing someone.

I know this first hand because I, like many others who were born into the internet age, spent more time online than I did out interacting with people during my youth. That had enormous repercussions on my social abilities. It was something I had to work extremely hard to get over going into adulthood. I've finally weened myself off technology, I can keep eye contact, I can make conversation, I actually have a grasp on what's going on in the world. These are basic things most people do naturally, but for the longest time I couldn't do that unless it was through text online. This is mainly why I have qualms with technology, it's almost like looking back at a destructive smoking addiction.

But I love how Max addresses this. There are some bad apples out there, but you're bound to encounter them whether or not you're online. Although you might throw them off pretty quickly if you were seeing them in person, if you were seeing them online you might hang on a bit longer. And I think as long as you meet them in person and it stops being only an online relationship, everything could turn right.

Humans aren't meant to communicate with text yet here you are communicating with text as a response using an anonymous name.

Yeah true, although you have to admit there's an unnaturalness that comes with technology. I mean, I'd enjoy it much more if we were sitting at a bar or cafe discussing this, unfortunately that's not the case because we've been enabled (or more accurately disabled) by technology. Unless you're arguing for the sake of arguing, then I'll simply flip you the bird.

splur said,
Yeah true, although you have to admit there's an unnaturalness that comes with technology. I mean, I'd enjoy it much more if we were sitting at a bar or cafe discussing this, unfortunately that's not the case because we've been enabled (or more accurately disabled) by technology. Unless you're arguing for the sake of arguing, then I'll simply flip you the bird.

Name a place, date and time and everyone here will simply meet there and you can say your comments around a table.

Interesting article, but you forgot to mention one thing that's crucial besides body language and "chemistry" that happens when you talk to someone in real life. In my opinion, what's worst with "social" networking is that it's by far the most easiest way to take advantage of people, both male/female. Here's one situation: In real life, man meets a woman in a bar. She looks great, she's dressed sexy, she's gorgeous. He just want's a one night stand, doesn't want a relationship. So, he sits, talks to her, but it turns out that they have NOTHING in common. So, woman loses interest and leaves the bar. Now imagine this situation: that same man browses good looking woman on Facebook, that live in his area. Finds one which status is "single", and looks hot as hell. Just by browsing her profile, he finds out what movies she likes, what type of food she likes, where does she go out, what type of men does she like. In one word, EVERYTHING. It doesn't matter if he likes those things, that's irrelevant to him because, as I mentioned, he just wants to bone her. So, he "accidentally" meets her in a bar that he KNOWS she visits, and starts talking to her. Immediately in the conversation he mentions everything that he KNOWS she will like: movies, music, books, everything he saw on her profile. Suddenly, they have EVERYTHING in common, and he gets his way with her, which wouldn't happen without previous "research". Same goes the other way: woman browses for good looking single rich guy (for example), does a little "research" about him, throws all the lies in his face so he thinks that they have everything in common, and voila. See where I'm going?
It's different when you meat a person FOR THE FIRST TIME in real life, and then continue to communicate via social networks (although, lack of face to face contact could make a HUGE difference), but meeting someone for the first time on a social network means nothing,and there's a huge chance you'll end up with a bitter feeling that you've been taken advantage of, in my opinion. NOTHING can substitute a real life, face to face conversation.
Btw, English is not my native language, so sorry if there were some ridiculous grammar errors in my post

Providing you don't look like something out of a horror flick, it's as easy if not easier to spoof in the real world as it is on-line. Manipulative people are manipulative either place. After all, you see actors in a movie pretending very convincingly to be someone they're not -- much more so than on-line where you can't substitute body language & other sensory clues. I mean it didn't take the web for people to figure out how to con someone -- they did that millennia ago.

Yeah, but manipulating someone you've met for a first time is fairly difficult and takes a lot more time compared to manipulating someone who's likes/dislikes/history you are familiar with, from his social networking profiles. Meaning, if your pick-up line for the girl in the bar is "How are you doin'?" , it will not exactly work(manipulate her into liking you) like if it was "Hey, I just watched _________ (insert her favorite movie here) and the actress looked just like you! I'm drinking _______ (insert her favorite drink here), would you like one? "

This is, by far, the best piece of writing I saw on the front page yet. But to be honest, I don't share the same ideas as yours when it comes to internet relationships.

Internet relationships are risky by default, for the simple reason that you are speaking to a "screen name" while the person(s) behind it is/are profiling you, archiving information you give up about yourself (willingly or unwillingly), for God knows what reasons. And furthermore, there are no means to verify if the information given to you by the person(s) behind the screen name is accurate or not. This "screen name" might just disappear at any moment with all that valuable information you've given up; however, the person(s) who were using that screen name, are still out there, representing a potential direct threat to you... because they know too much about you.

You might argue that, a sane person wouldn't give up sensitive/personal information to a complete stranger. But the matter of the fact is, people give up those information as soon as the other person creates a fake sense of trust, which lowers all their defenses.

And that's only if we spoke about basic chatting over e-mail or IM services. Social networks are way more risky, for the simple reason that your life becomes a film everyone is watching. The information a person shares over a single social network is accessible by complete strangers he never spoke to or chatted with: the very people who are running that network for starters, any person gaining unauthorized access to the network, complete strangers they want to get to know... Identity theft has never been this easier.

You could argue that this is too much paranoia, but it's healthy paranoia nevertheless, imo. My viewpoints needs to be elaborated furthermore, but then I would just scare the living hell out of some people XD

Thank you for a good read though max

I didn't saw your comment before posting, but what I posted is almost identical to your opinion My post is below yours, so feel free to read it.

very good article, been a while since i have seen a well written editorial like this here.

anyways, from my experiences, online dating can work. however if you and the person you are chatting/talking with are local, dont spend too much time chatting/talking, meet face to face as soon as you can. like others have stated its hard to tell their body language by chatting or even phone

I've dated two girls via meeting through friends on msn messenger.
(Obviously they were in local area, or there isn't too much point).

With my last ex, it was actually the reverse, she had to move back to the states, we tried online for a while, but it just didn't work for both of us.

This is probably one of the better things I've read on this site in the past howevermany years I've been coming here.

October 1'st was my 5 year wedding anniversary. My husband and I have been together for 7 yrs come this November. We met at about 3:00 A.M. Playing bingo at bingo.com 9yrs ago. I'm happy to say I look forward to spending the rest of my life with this man.

I know where this article is coming from. I've had many online relationships some good some bad, but I'm currently in one that I've been in for 7 months next week and i remember my first time meeting her. It is pretty suspenseful first seeing the person who you've only talked to through technology. However, my situation happened to work out. She turned out to be just as I imagined and we instantly hit it off and now I'm trying to sell my beautiful 95' Mustang SVT Cobra to be able to afford a ring to propose to her next year.

I know where this article is coming from. I've had many online relationships some good some bad, but I'm currently in one that I've been in for 7 months next week and i remember my first time meeting her. It is pretty suspenseful first seeing the person who you've only talked to through technology. However, my situation happened to work out. She turned out to be just as I imagined and we instantly hit it off and now I'm trying to sell my beautiful 95' Mustang SVT Cobra to be able to afford a ring to propose to her next year.

Wait....you havent reached even 7 months and you are already thinking of proposing to her?

powerade01 said,
Wait....you havent reached even 7 months and you are already thinking of proposing to her?

when you find the one it's one of those feelings of just knowing. atleast it isnt a shotgun wedding.

when you find the one it's one of those feelings of just knowing. atleast it isnt a shotgun wedding.

Many divorced people have said this at one time or another.

mbg said,
Many divorced people have said this at one time or another.

many divorced people are weak willed and let the little things in life consume them.

many divorced people are weak willed and let the little things in life consume them.

Are you saying you and your 50% are going to be weak willed and you let little things in life consume you?

It's both true and not accurate. I've been in an online relationship with this american girl for about a year. She lied to me constantly and built this elaborate illusion of affection and intimacy. She expressed her love to me, while still being in love with her ex. We met 6 months ago and got intimate... the fact that she was a disgusting slut only feeds in to the illusion, because I already loved her at that point and was blind to my own intuition. This wouldn't have happened in a real-life scenario. Online you can't see the person's face when he's lying to you, body language which is a priceless factor in human interaction is lost and there's nothing to replace it. I never associated myself with disgusting people like her but online it was easy for her to conceal it, and easy for me to believe her.

Online relationships can, at best, pose as a cheap and temporary substitute for the real thing... and after this scarring experience, I won't soon trust this medium again in matters of emotion. It's too easy to lie, and almost just as easy to believe... the risk of getting hurt is so much higher it's not even funny.

True dat!! Agreed 100%. Been there, done that, got the postcard.

However you say it, I share your experience. I've had a two or three bad experiences meeting someone online who lied, lied, and lied some more but I've also had some good ones. When it comes down to it, meeting someone in person is much better. That's how I met my wife and upon first meeting her I knew she was special and I wouldn't want to let her go. You can't get that feeling in an online relationship no matter how many pictures, e-mails, IM's, social networking sites, or webcam sessions you have.

I've just deactivated my facebook account some hours ago and now here is this topic!! what the hell?! you read my mind?!! gosh

I should say this is a great topic, I'll think again about my decision and will read others' comments too.

Thank You Max...

Uh, no, you don't have to sign up to various *time-wasting* Social Networking sites to fit-in with people. Social Networks are primarily designed to get your thoughts, your blogs etc out to the 'Net community, as well as cheap marketing and communications.

Having all those random followers on your Myspace/Facebook account doesn't mean that you're popular and successful. It's impossible to be best buddies with all the people following your Myspace/Facebook accounts.

Strangers have existed ever since Life began - it's no different on the Internet. I'm sure we'd all go out and meet close friends discovered via the Internet if they physically lived close by.

There's nothing new in this Editorial - leaving the reader with thoughts like 'Why is this an Editorial? Shouldn't this be in the forums, instead of the front page? Are they trying to conduct a discreet survey here?'

The Internet is merely a tool that Enhances our social lives, NOT a replacement.

I thought the article was more about people you actually talk to online rather than just friends lists on social networking sites.

The Jambo said,
=D Well said, it's been 3 years now that I've been in a relationship online.

Do you mean a real life in person relationship with someone you met online or in a online relationship?

Same here! Even my brother married the girl he met online. Me and my current girlfriend met online :)! We've been together for 6 years now.

it's language itself which signifies the authenticity of online chats
I'm happy to entertain the idea that the internet hasn't completely destroyed the fundamental underpinning of cultural interaction, but this quote is laughable. Language is the authenticator? The main problem with social networking and online chats is that they're disingenuous at their very core since they remove most of the liability of normal social interaction.

I don't know. I think sociolect can still be conveyed unintentionally. I've heard of cases where paedophiles have been caught because they tried too hard to seem like little kids. I don't disagree that elements of social interaction that provide authenticity have been removed, but I don't think language should be disregarded as an authenticator.

Awesome piece, good writing. you give hope to those who find online dating useless, and dissapointing, thanks for sheding light on this taboo topic.