12 December 2007

Should I develop a relationship with someone I met online?

My question is about being in a relationship with a person you met online. About seven years ago, I met a boy on a forum and since then we have talked every single day for hours, we watched each other grow up, we know each other’s flaws and strengths and for the most part we can accept each other’s differences. Over the past two years this has developed slowly and gradually into a very deep relationship, even past the crush stage to something closer to love. We have no way of knowing until we meet each other. Is this a good thing to do? Should we go for it even with the societal stigmatization that comes with it? And even if our families may not think it is the best thing to do?

JP Duc

Hi Shiela,

Thanks for your question. Many issues about online relationships have come up in the past few years because the majority of the population now regularly uses electronic web based messenger services to communicate. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, telephone chat services, ‘party lines’ and ‘telephone dating’ were part of everyday lives. Further back, pen pals were a common occurrence and people even used to put adds in the personal section of the newspapers…

As computers and internet connections became available to private homes starting around 1995, people started e-mailing and text chatting on IRC chats. Then came the era of high speed internet connection allowing the use of graphics, emotions and pictures. Now web video chatting is quite common in large centers with most laptops being sold with integrated web cameras… and who knows what will become available in the future. It is now evident that web-based communication is here to stay, and that we will be able to communicate on a daily basis with friends, classmates, teachers, colleagues and other loved ones using this medium.

Some people believe communication is 75% physical/body language and 25% verbal. Therefore it is difficult to predict whether the virtual relationship you have will work out or not until you actually meet that person. According to me, this has little to do with physical appearance and much more to do with emotional attachment. What is important to remember is that an online relationship is just that … virtual and online. Human relationships are very complex: they include many tangible and intangible factors such as physical, cognitive, visual, hormonal, chemosensory, communicative and many other attributes that are intermingled and uncontrollable.

Establishing real life contacts is important, so indeed meeting an individual in person remains the best way to establish the foundation of a relationship. The internet, chatting, and other modes of virtual communication are important and offer great advantages, i.e. it has helped many individuals with common interests to find each other, talk to each other and communicate their knowledge, values and feelings. For example, it has helped thousands of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and other questioning youths to communicate and get information in a semi-confidential manner. It has also helped transgendered and transitioning youth and adults communicate with each other even if they are far away from each other.

This meeting may be difficult for you and your friend, but if it is possible to meet in person it remains the best option according to me. Stigmatization and what others -including what your family- think should not impact this decision, particularly as you have reached the age of majority (18 in most places, or 19 years of age). If you do live with your family or within a culture or religion that frowns upon unmarried or same sex relationships, then you will have to make important decisions in your life and decide what combination is important or even possible within the context of your life. You and only you can decide what will give you happiness and contentment in life. Also, although short-term some things are not possible; to accomplish them in the long-term remains possible.

The volunteers at AlterHeros have seen many situations where young adults of diverse cultures and backgrounds who have reached their University studies and/or age of majority, decide to establish themselves in countries where there life decisions and plans can have a possibility to flourish.

So good luck, and contact us again if you have other questions…

Jean-Pierre for AlterHeros team