Internet flirtation -- intimacy or futility?
Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS
I fear that our hunger for intimacy is leading many to
imagining qualities in Internet connections that don't exist in reality.
Then again, a medium is only a vehicle for the transportation of society's
"Some enchanted evening, across a
crowded room, you will see a stranger, you will see a stranger..."
These words, ones I originally heard Ezio Pinza sing in South Pacific,
voiced the romantic expectations of my generation.
Young women dreamt of locking eyes across a
cocktail party or crowded lobby with the Perfect Man, who would carry her
off after a tumultuous and passionate courtship to happiness ever after.
Sounds pretty silly now, but many of us actually believed in the concept
of love at first sight. At first SIGHT. There's the rub.
For today, from what I have been told and
have even experienced myself in a minimal way, we don't meet potential
partners through an initial glance or brushing of arms as strangers.
Rather, one's first move in the dating game, at least for those who are
adults in urban centers or workplaces offering few opportunities for
encounters of the close kind, is through applying one's fingers to a
keyboard, opening up the Internet and logging on.
I am the first person to espouse the idea
that real love should be more than skin deep, and that we put too much
emphasis on outward beauty in our culture. However, I think the latest use
of technology in the everlasting struggle to meet partners is fraught with
risk. And one of them, I have come to believe, is that we DON'T experience
the physical presence of a potential date until after we have spent a lot
of time online with him or her.
Something about the discarding of the
evolutionary rites of attraction seems to me worthy of study. I have heard
of far too many people who struck up an on-line connection with someone
viewed as a possible soul mate. Pictures were exchanged, and sources
checked out. Even in very reliable communications between two worthy and
conscientious people, too many real life meetings resulted in acute
disappointment. And I think that is because the participants ignored the
reality of physical attraction as at least a starting place.
As frivolous as it may seem, women wear
lipstick or perfume based on a deep instinctive need to attract a man. And
why do a man's muscled arms or a strong chin serve as attractors for
women? We are heirs to an eternal need to search for visual or physical
clues when in the mating game. We are biological creatures meant to
broadcast and receive sexual signals from each other. To deny that may
lead to disappointment.
I am no psychologist, but I did talk to one
recently about this issue. He has several clients in the Los Angeles area
who are continually crestfallen because of ongoing episodes of what I
shall term real-life encounters versus ones founded on the virtual reality
of on-line matchmaking. Almost every time, with rare exceptions, the real
meetings were duds. The supposed knight was indeed a frog, and the
princess elicited only a flat response. Sparks were not ignited despite
intense anticipation. All those hours at the computer for naught! A young
e-mailer recently echoed the problem. "…The relationship…is just
online anyway. I don't view it as real." It may be that the
difficulty is in moving the communication from the screen to real space.
I have a friend who, in her e-mail
meetings, poses as an adventurous woman 20 years younger than she really
is. The correspondence is extremely exciting and often enticing. The
Internet seems full of zing and promise, and then, of course, the
inevitable time comes to meet in person. One might say that her deceit
leads to this, that she pays for on-line fun with real-time chagrin, but
that begs the question.
What is it about e-mail that is so
provocative and even addictive for many? One reason might be that we can
always hide a little on-line. No having
to look in the eyes, no filling in of empty
conversational space with chitchat, no shy glances, no nervous mannerisms,
no sweaty palms. We are cool. We can even appear smarter, wittier, and
more hip that we might seem after just a single date with someone. I think
it is easy to be covered by the erotic connotations of words. Cyrano de
Bergerac reinforced the same lesson over a century ago.
Another thought: there is something
wonderful about the instant gratification of responses via e-mail. I
myself have been inordinately pleased when someone I like answers an
e-mail within a few hours. No waiting for the mail, driving to the post
office, just the nice message, "you've got mail." The medium is
perfect for our 21st century penchant for sound bytes, for our short
attention spans, for our impatience.
I fear that our hunger for intimacy is
leading many to imagining qualities in Internet connections that don't
exist in reality. Then again, a medium is only a vehicle for the
transportation of society's wishes. All generations have sought love
through whatever means were available. Inevitably, the juggling of deceit
and desire is an old story. I hope this modern technology works out for
the remote and lonely.
I leave you today with another lyric:
"A kiss is still a kiss. A sigh is still a sigh. The fundamental
things apply, as time goes by." Here's to good human connections for