There’s no shame in meeting your partner online. In fact, it may be better that way.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (and funded by eHarmony) has found that more than a third of recent marriages (recent being between 2005 and 2012) began online and that meeting this way was associated with a lower rate of divorce (5.96% online versus 7.67 % offline).
Over the past decade or so our social lives have become increasingly entangled with the Internet. A lot of the stigma associated with meeting people online has dissipated; almost everyone I know has “Twitter friends” or at least one meaningful friendship that started in a virtual community. (Like our comments section!) Online relationships aren't just for “nerds” or gamers anymore.
I met my husband on Myspace. I used to tell people that we met at Coachella, because I found the Myspace thing embarrassing, but the truth is that I added him on the site (we had a mutual friend and I thought he was funny) about eight months before we ever saw each other at LAX.
Shortly after I added him, we became pen pals, then we talked on the phone every night for a handful of months, then he flew out from Florida to attend Coachella 2006. (Which I guess was our "first date.”) Our anniversary is kind of a floating holiday; we celebrate it whatever weekend Coachella happens to fall on. (Though the advent of double weekends has made it slightly more complicated, we usually go with the first one.)
Meeting your boyfriend this way was still a little weird in 2006, but we persevered, doing the long distance thing for a year before I finally packed up and moved from Los Angeles to Florida. Many people advised me against it –- if it didn't work out I would be stuck 3,000 miles away from my family and friends -– but the risk was worth it; we've been married for almost three years now.
Our marriage is a happy one. I used to think it was because we were just that awesome and good at this adult relationship thing, but apparently the deck was stacked in our favor due to the nature of our meeting.
Lead author John Cacioppo, a psychologist and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, says dating sites may "attract people who are serious about getting married," but that only addresses the couples that met on dating sites (about 45% of the couples surveyed) and doesn't account for the other 55% that met on other types of social media. According to Scientific America: "The study wasn't designed to address what that “something” might be, but possibilities include access to more potential partners online and the fact that communicating electronically has, in other studies, led to greater self-disclosure and liking of the other person."
The study is getting some grief for being funded by eHarmony, making it hard to view the findings as impartial, but it does bring up an interesting conversation about how we meet people these days and how social media has changed interpersonal relationships.
My personal experience doesn't qualify as a scientific study, but there are three main reasons I think my relationship with my husband benefited from an online start:
1. The focus was on communication.
I am a firm believer in the importance of open, honest communication in every type of relationship, but especially in romantic ones. The first eight months of my relationship with Sean were firmly rooted in words, whether in the form of online messages, handwritten letters, or phone calls. The lack of physicality allowed us to be bolder in our initial conversations; we felt safe behind our computer screens.
2. Personality played a larger role initially than it would have otherwise.
I’m not saying we wouldn't have hit it off if our first exposure to each other was “IRL,” but being online made us both bolder. Sean was a pretty shy guy in his early twenties, but several years of playing MMORPGs had made him comfortable interacting with people online. That, coupled with the fact that there was no pressure for there to be any physical chemistry, allowed us to get to know each other’s personality without worrying about physical attraction. From my end, it was less stressful never having to worry about “looking cute” during our multiple-hour phone calls. All I needed to do was talk, and this guy enjoyed talking to me enough to stay up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. (The time difference between California and Florida was tough on him, but no tougher than his Everquest addiction had been.)
By the time we were finally occupying the same room (or baggage claim, really), I was already so attracted to his intangible qualities that his physical make up didn't matter all that much. I was relieved to discover that I wasn't being catfished, and that he looked like his pics, but any superficiality there may have been on my part was rendered null by how emotionally and intellectually drawn to him I was.
3. There was no real pressure for this to go anywhere.
Anytime I talked to friends about Sean (which was rare), it was always prefaced with “This is insane, but,” and was presented as something that would never amount to anything; we were just two people that enjoyed talking to each other every single day. To plan on marrying someone that lived 3,000 miles away was insane, and I was not an insane person. Neither of us planned on moving and never initially planned on our strange relationship developing into anything other than a long-distance flirtation. There was literally nothing to lose, which made it easier to be myself without worrying about “scaring him off” or “ruining a good thing.”
Of course how you meet someone is only a small factor in the success of the relationship as a whole, but it's interesting that there's any correlation at all. I think that my marriage to Sean would have been successful no matter how we met, but I do think that our relationship was somewhat accelerated by the somewhat strange circumstances.
How has the Internet shaped your interpersonal relationship? Have you ever become romantically involved with someone you met online? Should I still be embarrassed about meeting Sean on Myspace?