Long before I started blogging, most of my online interaction with people was through chat-rooms. The first room that I made myself home in was a room dedicated to cricket fans, and through that room I met a lot of interesting people. It was great- we even did a get-together in Melbourne in 2000 for the one day series at Docklands against South Africa.
Anyhow, I met one fellow from that room in Sydney. Phillip (not his real name) was a nice guy, interested in cricket, a bit too fanatical about the Penrith Panthers for my liking, but, apart from that, as I say, a nice guy. When I moved to Sydney in early 2000, we met up a few times to have a few beers, and discuss cricket, football, and this strange rugby code he loved. And one time, he suggested I come over for dinner, and have a few beers, meet his family.
It was, I can assure you, one of the more curious dinners I have been to. His wife, in the den, was typing away at her computer- in the opposite end of the room, Phillip had his computer. The kids would play in the space between. Barely a word was spoken between Phillip and his wife in the afternoon. We watched a game, had a few beers, did the lads thing, and generally I had a ball. But his domestic arrangements, well, they struck me as curious.
A few months later, I was not entirely surprised to find that Phillip had been given his marching orders. It turned out his wife had decided to evict Phillip in favour of a Liverpool (UK Liverpool, i.e., a scouser, not Liverpool NSW) chap who she had been talking to online. Phillip, however, was quite devastated by this; he had no warning.
I felt sorry for the guy, but I did point out that, well, you know, he’d not looked after his marriage particularly well. Importantly, his divorce lawyer also impressed this point on him. Normally, divorce lawyers do not, I understand, take this close an interest in their clients affairs; but, dear Reader- he married her.
Soon after he was re-married, (by which time I was talking in Melbourne), Phillip informed me that his new bride had come to the conclusion that computers were not a good thing, and that they would not be having one in the house. So I can only presume that they lived happily ever after.
Not everyone has a negative view about the Internet, and its effect on relationships. Increasingly, the Internet is becoming a powerful tool for those that look for a partner. Negative attitudes remain:
Six months ago an old school friend and I were chatting over coffee, putting the world to rights as women do. She was bemoaning her lack of success in meeting the “right sort” of men. I asked her if she had tried using an internet dating service, and the look of horror that quickly appeared on her face gave the instant answer of course not! Internet dating, she informed me, was for the sad, desperate, geeky or freaky.
But attitudes are changing, and increasingly people are willing to use these online services. Newspapers, used to fielding personals, are finding their business diminished by online dating services. The Internet’s traditional advantages come to play in a big way to make it an effective way to meet people. For women, the ability to control the process to a high degree makes it particularly attractive, and as the Net has transformed from a geek’s kingdom to a mainstream part of people’s lives, the barriers are coming down. Lavalife claims to have over 100,000 Australian members. I am not sure how true that number is, but the trend is clearly there. Gianna’s sister used to keep a blog about her adventures dating through an online dating service. (Whatever happened to her, anyway?)
But also, people do meet up in fairly unexpected ways. One blogger was asked out on a date by a reader, and ended up marrying her. Online communities where participants share similar interests can also cause relationships to happen. It is like with work- when you work with people a lot, you can really get to know them.
That, I suspect, explains the appeal of the Net – one can learn far more about a potential partner online then one can in many offline situations.
The Internet is also a boon for people into ‘alternative lifestyles’. Although society is far less judgemental then it once was, many people who have ‘different’ tastes still can feel uncomfortable revealing their identity in their day to day situation. The anonymity of the Net means that people can explore their identity in a secure environment.
Is there a downside to this social sea-change? There are plenty of horror stories- there are even websites that show what sort of responses an online ad can bring.
Sometimes I wonder if this is a trend that makes people less willing to work on their relationships- if people can ‘start again’ it may be tempting to do that rather then work to get the most out of an existing relationship. I do not know though- I have never met anyone through an online agency.
Is internet dating a good thing? I think, on the whole, it is a positive thing. Phillip might complain that the Internet wrecked his marriage, but on reflection it is clear he was not putting enough into his relationship with his wife (and her as well.) The Internet merely exposed what was already happening to his relationship, and sped up its demise. At the end of the day, though, the Internet is merely a facilitating tool. Only a poor tradesman blames his tools; we, as individuals, must take responsibility for how we use it. It can get us into trouble, but men, women and Bunyips can get themselves into quite enough trouble with not so much as a modem in sight.