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The Internet and relationships

The Internet and relationships

Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one on the internet and relationships.

Are people being more public about our relationships because of the internet/ social media?

Yes definitely.

In what ways?

Social media encourages us to be more public about our relationships in both explicit and implicit ways. Social networking sites like facebook ask users to say whether they are in a relationship and lists that as part of their profile – suggesting our relationship status is a major part of who we are. Such sites also encourage people to list who they are in relationships with and to mark occasions like weddings, so it becomes public when people get together and if they break up.

There are also a proliferation of dating and hook-up websites like grindr, tinder, OKCupid and match.com. Those mean that the internet becomes part of how we get together with people as well as how we signal our relationship publicly.

How is this affecting relationships?

It’s not as simple as the internet being either a good thing, or a bad thing, for relationships. Instead it opens up some possibilities whilst closing others down.

On the up side, perhaps, internet dating moves away from previous ideas about falling in love at first site on the basis of physical appearance, and enables people to meet folk who they have things in common with and who share their values. Hook-up sites also remind us that long term monogamous relationships aren’t the only way to have an enjoyable sex/love life. Being open about our relationships on social media might help people to realise that most of us struggle in this area some of the time, as we see our friends getting together, breaking up, and finding that ‘it’s complicated’.

At the same time, social networking can encourage people to present an entirely positive side of themselves which other people can then evaluate themselves against unfavourably. If all you see on your facebook wall is pictures of happy couples celebrating anniversaries and going on picnics then it’s pretty easy to feel bad about being single, or about having tough times in your own relationship. Also break-ups can be particularly painful if you’re constantly drawn to checking how an ex partner is doing through their blog or twitter feed. Ads for internet dating sites can exacerbate the sense that everybody should be searching for a partner, and that anything less than a perfect match won’t do.

For myself I’d like to see a wider range of relationships being presented online: different ways of being single, and having different kinds of relationships, including friendships being valued as highly as romantic relationships. I’d also like to see people being more open about the difficult stuff of relationships as well as the good parts. Social media has the potential for such diversity and openness if we’re up for taking the risk and using it in that way.


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