Virtual relationships in a broader sense aren’t a new thing at all. The term is currently used to describe the romantic online correspondence between two people. Pen pals, however, have been around for ages, and plenty of things stand as proof of that. Books comprising love letters between famous writers have been published in multiple editions, and if we’re lucky enough, we may find some old letters at our grandparents’ homes.
Now maintaining a virtual relationship is not only easier, but also more fun. That’s largely because the Internet is a game changer in more than one way. Not only we can now form a connection with someone across the world, but we are no longer limited to writing, not to mention we can talk in real time instead of waiting for letters to arrive. Beside the chat window, online lovers can use video, photos, and a bunch of apps that can draw them closer together. With all these tools at hand, the big bugging question we all have in mind is whether love between people in virtual relationships is, as they say, real.
As with most changes brought by the Internet, attitudes towards virtual relationships range from harsh skepticism to curiosity, and to moderate enthusiasm. That the world didn’t believe in virtual love from the get-go is no wonder, as it happens with most ideas that seem out of the ordinary, progressive even. Before rushing into conclusions, let’s better take a look at how virtual relationships actually work.
Is Virtual Love Real?
The most striking opinion against relationships between people who haven’t met each other in person is that such love is not real love. In other words, that the feelings of affection online lovers have for each other are misguided, that it’s impossible to know someone without having lived together. True, anyone can pretty much make up a persona online, easier so than with face-to-face connections.
On the other hand, the impression that virtual relationships are based on so much deception work that they amount to nothing at all paints a rather gloomy picture of humans in general. Starting from the assumption that we’re all after each other, and at the same time so insecure that we’re going to lie about significant parts of our personalities and looks isn’t too realistic. Let’s face it, most of us on the dating scene are looking for someone to share thoughts and affection with, and that is especially true in the case of virtual relationships.
As for the impression that love (or any deep feeling for that matter) can only be real between people who meet in flesh, that’s a little exaggerated too. We, at East Loves West are more tempted to believe the opinions that favor fun. People who exchange messages and fall for each other are having a great time, while skeptics are sitting around discussing the true meaning of love. In this sense, we’re all for everyone finding their own cup of tea in the fun department. And if a virtual relationship makes someone’s day brighter, then so be it.
How Virtual Are Online Relationships?
While not longer than 15 years ago looking to meet a future lover online was nearly unheard of, these days more than half of the people looking to date in the U.S. have an online profile on some site or another. There are two kinds of virtual relationships: those who eventually meet and start a relationship as a conventional couple, and those who, for a number of reasons, keep their relationship online and never meet in person.
Odds are in favor for the former type of virtual relationships, where the partners meet after several weeks or months of conversation. According to recent surveys, relationships that started online are beginning to last longer than those that started more spontaneously.
A study made at the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences shows that the divorce rate among couples who met online is lower than among those who met through friends, family or work. It looks like almost 6% of online married couples ended up breaking up, compared to about 8% of the offline married couples who divorced.
One reason for that could be that dating sites are good at finding relatively matching people, then the future lovers are putting in extensive time to get to know each other. Frankly, that may be the most selective matchmaking strategy since parents were choosing partners for their offspring. Only, you know, with the wonderful benefit of people now actually getting to choose whom to get into a relationship with.
When it comes to studying the so-called platonic relationships, namely between guys and girls who don’t get to meet in person, polls and science are rather silent. This is likely a bias about how people in general define the meaning of the term “relationship.” For most, it is strictly related to people hanging out in person, and that’s a pity because we could surely use more insights about how people fall in love online and their virtual relationships.
A Futuristic Story of Virtual Relationships: the movie “Her”
Speaking of new types of love, and particularly about virtual relationships, you may remember Spike Jonze’s beautiful movie from a couple of years ago. “Her” tells the story of a man who creates himself a girlfriend and starts – doesn’t get more literal than that – a virtual relationship with her. She (Scarlett Johansson, voice) is an OS designed to learn and develop with time, and gets to fulfill the human character’s need for affection.
The movie is very good at pointing out the preconceptions about virtual relationships. Same as in the case of human-only online couples, the guy in the movie gets a nasty reaction from his ex-wife when he tells her about his relationship with an operating system equipped with artificial intelligence. The relationship, however, is a deep one: they have insightful conversations, share affection and even find a way around Sam’s body-lessness to have sex.
We won’t give out any spoilers, but the film shows a beautiful case of how human emotions work, and how real virtual love actually gets.