The closest I get to online dating is helping friends find a good match, write an eye-catching profile or recover from a bad date. Having picked up my husband the old fashion way, in a bar, my knowledge of online dating etiquette is quite limited. While our long distance relationship forced us to do a fair amount of “courting” through email, we did not have to wrestle with common online dating dilemmas: who to write, what to say, when to wink, if to take the relationship “off-line”, and how to meet in person. In the past I used to think that online dating was a passing fad, but the large number of my friends navigating the complex world of Match.com, eHarmony, Yahoo! Personals, Chemistry.com, DateMyPet.com, Millionaire Match, and a host of other websites is proving me wrong; online dating is probably the most common dating tool among the tech-set these days. I cannot help but wonder, with the millions of people meeting people online year after year, has the overall rules of dating changed?
It is obvious that how people meet has changed, but ultimately “real” relationships should not have transformed with the onslaught of dating and social networking websites. Whether you met online, in college, at work, through a friend, at the gym, on an airplane, or at a bar, there is a certain point in every relationship that how you met no longer matters. It is at that point that the rules of internet relationships get replaced by the more traditional tenants of any friendship, romantic or otherwise: respect, honesty, trust, loyalty, admiration, understanding, shared interests, and open communication. Unfortunately it seems like these important pillars of strong relationships are forgotten in a technology age where people have “friends” they never meet, and where everyone can all too easily lie about their backgrounds, looks, personality, interests and dreams.
It is easy to develop very casual relationships online and make “friends” on Facebook, MySpace, Multiply or any other social networking site or chat board, but this same casualness with a group of people who might share your love of underwater basket weaving should not change how you handle your flesh and blood friends. When I say handle I mean not replacing meaningful conversations, face-to-face meetings, heartfelt phone calls, and the delivery of important news through impersonal measures like email or, god forbid, text messaging. It is one thing to have an online relationship, but once you have developed a true bond with a person and started seeing, or having sex, with them outside of cyberspace, rules that govern relationships should adhere to the wisdoms of traditional tried and true friendships. It is okay to start a relationship online, but once the relationship develops into something serious it is not okay to end it that way. Breaking up with a friend or lover through email or text shows a lack of courage, respect and character, even if you met over email in the first place. Technology might change the way we meet and connect, but it is so important to remember people are more then profiles and avatars who can be “de-friended” with a click of a button. We must each fight the urge to take the easy way out of hard conversations to ensure a future for what truly keeps humanity together; love and friendship.