Online relationships and me
Back in June, Noctua of Gamers Decrypted wrote a really interesting post about the Online Disinhibition Effect and about developing feelings for someone online. The last paragraph in particular is stuck in my mind.
All of this said I can’t help but wonder how real feelings developed online really are. I would never say they are not real as it is not possible to say that all online relationships are like this or like that. There are many success stories of couples continuing relationships in real life with people they met in-game. One could argue that the feelings experienced by the individual is always real. The emotions are there regardless of whether the image we have of the other person is fictionalised or not. In that sense the feelings are definitely real as long as they stay in this protected environment in your mind, sheltered by your imagination. But would they survive in real life’s light of day? Some obviously do. I think it will often prove tricky however to accept the real life person when compared to the introjected one we built up in our own minds. But I guess I’m just a cynic!
This is one of those things that I have an interest in not only because I find psychology intriguing, but also because I’m one of those people who develops feelings online. A lot. Things are about to get personal, folks.
The people I consider to be or have been the best of friends to me were all met online. I’m also on Long Distance Relationship #3, and again I met all of them online in some form or another. I’m like the poster girl for the Online Disinhibition Effect. But you know what? I’m okay with that.
I’ve mentioned previously that I am a huge introvert. As you can imagine, connecting with new people or just meeting them is a pretty big hurdle for me. Since I have such a small allotment of social energy, I prefer to spend most of it on one or two people rather than trying to spread it thin over a large group, so going to parties is out. I’m also rather picky on who I spend my time with, since an evening out with someone who I end up not really liking means that I’ve pretty much wasted my social energy for the week. So how does one find out if they enjoy spending time with someone without first spending time with them?
This is where the online component comes into play for me. If I meet someone in game, we already have something in common: the game. So we can chat about the game from the start, eventually leading into other games we like or just other things we like in general. It’s a way to get to know someone while still having an easy out if things get awkward or weird. I just have to say that I’m needed by my guild or “gotta go, the dog just puked on the carpet” and the conversation will come to a close. It also doesn’t feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m playing a game at the same time.
Similarly, if I meet someone on a dating site, there’s usually a profile available if they bothered to fill it out. Just by viewing that, I’d have a good idea as to whether we have anything in common or not. If someone’s profile is all about sports and rap music, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we’re going to have nothing to talk about. And if we can’t hold an interesting conversation through text chat, we’re probably not going to be able to do it in person either.
The Online Disinhibition Effect comes into play in exactly the way it sounds: I’m more open and forthcoming online, and in text in general. If instead of this blog was a podium where I would have to go up and talk in front of people, I would never go up there. Ever. None of my “posts” would exist. Because I’m more open online, I’m also more open to connecting with other people. It’s easier for me to make jokes, to talk about my thoughts, to feel more relaxed. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about myself, it’s that being able to relax around someone makes me feel better. Makes me like them more. And yes, sometimes even leads to romantic feelings. Sometimes it’s just a crush, other times it becomes a relationship.
There are people out there who don’t understand it, who think that it’s weird. My mom, who married a man from the same small town as her, once told me that my next boyfriend should be a local one. What did I do? I found one on another continent instead. And believe me, I’ve tried to date locally or to find friends in my city. But so far, it hasn’t worked out. That’s not to say that I’m not open to the idea, but when I experience things like the horrible D&D group from trying to find local friends, it makes me a little more choosey about who I spend my time with.
I wonder if the reason some people don’t understand it or dismiss it is because they just don’t put as much stock in online friendships/relationships. They need the person in front of them to feel connected, to make it feel real. But for me, I value the connections I make with others online. They’re just as real to me as a friend in the flesh. Throughout the years, I’ve seen online friends go through break-ups, divorces, having children, loosing jobs, getting jobs, grieving for lost loved one, and forming romantic relationships with one another. I’ve even had the heartbreak of one of my friends passing away suddenly, someone I had only ever met online. Just because I’m not standing right there next to them doesn’t mean that none of it’s real or I can’t be there for them. Sure, it makes things harder but no one said life was easy.
Then again, I might be something of a masochist. Either way, this is how I operate and I’m cool with that.