Had an online, romantic relationship lately? Then you’re probably someone who experiences intense emotions but is also highly cautious. You respond more to your lover’s online words than their physical appearance, maybe you’ve already had an extramarital affair, and you’re not getting the emotional support that you want from your friends and family.
That’s the conclusion of a recent study by two researchers at the University of Wisconsin_Whitewater. Professors Susan M. Wildermuth and Sally Vogl_Bauer examined the online communications of people in romantic relationships via the Internet and published their results in the latest issue of the Southern Communication Journal.
The two researchers used Internet postings to identify people to participate in the project. They asked the 202 volunteers who responded to fill out a questionnaire and provide a detailed narrative of their online relationship.
Most (74 percent) said they met their online lover in a chat room, while a mutual online friend (16%) was the second most common connection. And nearly a third (32 percent) were carrying on the online relationship while already married or in a regular relationship with someone else.
Wildermuth and Vogl-Bauer found five consistent themes in the online narratives. First was the ability of the Internet “to elicit intense emotional reactions, both positive and negative.” They narratives detailed strong expressions of love, passion and attraction, including one person who wrote, “Our love is so strong, I can place my hand on the keyboard and feel his love flowing through each key.”
Many volunteers also reported that the online connection was so strong that physical attraction was irrelevant. “We’ve talked so long that we are past the point where looks actually matter,” one said. “I fell in love with the person inside and not the physical part,” another wrote.
Despite the intensity of their online love affairs, most volunteers were cautious about their online behavior. Their stories included warnings about not giving out phone numbers and reminding others that online writers often lie about themselves. And the messages also included “anger, sadness, depression, and betrayal when online romances failed.”
Many also admitted they were seeking an extra-marital affair, often blaming a lack of support at home as justification. “If I was happy at home, I wouldn’t need to go looking elsewhere,” one wrote. Others felt guilty, with one writing, “The only reason we have to hide our love for now is that we are both happily married.”
Still, many volunteers noted that online romance had its drawbacks, particularly what the researchers called “an unfulfilled need for physical contact.” That led many to seek a face-to-face meeting with their online lover.
Does this mean the Internet is becoming a new source of romance? Wait and see, Wildermuth and Vogl-Bauer advise. They believe the role of the Internet in romance “may evolve over time.” If so, expect it to be mainly a place of initial contact. “Online romances may begin on the Internet,” they wrote, but that’s often followed by telephone calls, letters, flowers, and face-to-face meetings.
In the end, the Internet may be just another place to begin the courtship.
Wildermuth, Susan M., & Vogl-Bauer, Sally (2007), We met on the Net: Exploring the perceptions of online Relationships participants. Southern Communication Journal, 72(3),211-228.