The Nature of On-Line Relationships

Thursday, January 10, 2008




I had lunch with fellow Hot Chick and commenter Anne yesterday. We both live in the Denver area, and wanted to meet face to face. I'm delighted to report she's as charming, intelligent and fun in person as she is on-line. And she's a geek, which is just Bonus Material. We're planning on getting together again soon, which I'm looking forward to.

I have to admit I didn't know what to expect when we made our plans. I'm a neophyte when it comes to the whole on-line relationship thing, and I've never made the transition from an on-line to face-to-face relationship. I decided on cautious optimism, and I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I love nice surprises. Anne has also posted about the experience here.

All this got me to thinking about the nature of on-line relationships. How well do we really know our on-line "friends?" Is it possible to have a meaningful relationship with someone if all of your interaction is on-line, and you never get a chance to meet face-to-face?

I think the answer is as varied as the people who try and answer it. On the one hand, it's much easier to misrepresent yourself in an on-line relationship than in person - visual cues are missing, and without daily, personal interaction, it's harder to determine what kind of person someone is. There simply isn't enough opportunity for people to show you who they are.

On the other hand, the on-line experience gives us the opportunity to "meet" and get to know people who may have similar experiences, but whom we may never get an opportunity to meet. Take Jim Wright, for example. We've never met, but our shared experiences as Senior NCO's in the Navy give us a foundation on which to build a friendship. I think he's a pretty cool dude, and I'm pretty sure I'd like him just as well in person. However, there is the possibility that he's a secret axe murderer chopping up the tourists for sausage meat up there, and I'd never be the wiser, unless he made the news. (Anything you want to tell us, Jim? Just askin'...)

If both parties are straight-forward individuals, I think lasting friendships can be formed. But because I'm a newbie, I haven't really formed a firm opinion on this topic, and I'm interested in what other people think.

47 comments:

Anne C. said...

I love that we were both looking forward to blogging about the experience. True geekdom. :)

As for online friendships, I've various kinds. The ones that have been long term have been the ones with shared experiences/personality traits/values, and the ones I've met have all been pretty normal people (they could have still been axe murderers, just very charming ones). The interesting twists have come from online dating. The one time I tried it, a majority of the guys who contacted me were long distance. Friendships I can do long distance. More intimate relationships, not so much.

Janiece Murphy said...

Anne, I never did any of the online dating services. I don't have any negative feelings about it, I just started dating my Smart Man before they became popular, so it never came up. But I do know several couples who met that way and are now married, so woot! for them!

I think my interest in on-line relationships is partly driven by the fact that I've been V.O. full time for a couple years. I'm a natural recluse, but I do sometimes miss the personal interaction that comes from working in an office. I think my on-line community has filled that void for me.

Nathan said...

I'm a noob, too. I guess I started lurking in 2005 and took a few months before I commented anywhere. Now, I'm just blurting everything and everywhere. :-)

As to the whole on-line relationship thing, I think it makes a huge difference "where" you meet the folks you're talking to. The vast majority of us here (and in each others' sites), all found each other through Whatever. I'm not sure why, but I'm pretty sure we're all (mostly) genuinely who we seem to be. As opposed to a dating site, none of us have a real agenda other than trying to amuse each other. And since we all came from Whatever, I think everyone just naturally follows his rules for posting (which are probably the best set of rules I've seen on anyone's site.)

Having said that, I haven't met anyone in person that I talk to online, so its entirely possible that you're all ugly, smelly and repulsive. :-)

I'm cute as a button and have "new baby smell" (Watch the soft spot when you kiss my forehead.)

::apologies to Jeff H. for stealing his line::

Michelle K said...

I've actually made several on-line friends and then met those individuals in person, and they were pretty much as they seemed.

Of course I used to be on the BBSes back in the day, and I think they had a different atmosphere. Since they started locally, you could have a "fake" personality, but everyone knew it was a fake, because it least one person on the boards knew you in person. So you tended to default to who you really were, and saved the fake personality for joking around and flame wars.

As far as meeting in person, I met several people in the real world after having known them on-line for several years, and maintain friendships with several of them to this day.

And my husband and I initially met through the BBSes, and then met in person for a BBS party. (Like I said, there were advantages of the BBSes being local entities.)

But I think that major influence for developing virtual friendships into fleshy friendships is what you talk about on-line. The friends with which I have remained close, we all discussed serious topics in depth, and argued and debated over many issues.

In doing that, we actually learned more about each other than we sometimes knew about our meat-based acquaintances, and that helped us develop strong friendships in both the real and virtual worlds.

That said, when meeting virtual friends in the physical world (I've apparently run out of meat and flesh metaphors), I'd do it in a public space where other people would be around.

Just in case.

Janiece Murphy said...

All those in favor of pushing a shovel through Nathan's soft spot, say "aye."

I'm just joking you, Nathan. I understand what you're saying. With a few notable exceptions, I'm pretty impressed with the general quality of the Whatever regulars. Even those with whom I don't generally agree (Skar comes to mind) are usually courteous and willing to abide by Scalzi's most excellent moderation rules.

Because I'm a nub, I'm tending toward caution, as Michelle suggests. Even though I was pretty sure Anne wasn't some sort of icky "Notes on a Scandal" stalker-type, we still met at a neutral public place, so both of us could be comfortable. Because she had no idea about me, either.

John the Scientist said...

I've met three bloggers so far. Personality-wise they all seemed genuine, and similar to their on-line personalities. But I tend not to stick around the blogs of people I suspect might be flakes. The only reason I commented so early on this blog was that I'd been reading Janiece's comments on the Whateveresque.

You do tend to make a mental picture of someone, though. One of the bloggers I met posts a picture on the blog so not many surprises (apart from the picture being a two decades old) there. The others didn't really look like what I expected, and they said the same about me. Since I tend to post on scientific matters, they were expecting someone taller, older, and more cerebral-looking.

Janiece Murphy said...

John, I am so a flake! You take that back!

Actually, I was a lurker for a very long time before I began posting on the Whatever. Mostly because I'd never posted on anything before, and I was trying to decide if I really wanted to. Strangely, it never occured to me to use anything other than my own name as a screen name.

Tom said...

I too, am a newbie at the on-line relationship game, and have never met anyone in person that that I first met on-line, but that doesn't say much, because it's only been the last 3-4 months that I've frequented the same place and commented enough for anyone to begin to recognize me. The "e" is what caused me to stop lurking and start posting, and I'm glad I did. Jim Wright's Fooey U thread was the culprit, with a lot of the rest of you here as willing co-conspiritors, so Thanks!

I'm taking my cue
From people like you,
I'll be who I am.

Reading 'bout me
On some blog or three,
You'll find who I am.

I read your stuff,
serious, fluff,
Do I like or no?

If I do, yay!
If I don't, hey,
I can stay or go.

/channeling Making Light

I also know a Boston/California couple who met on-line, didn't meet in person for years, and are now married for 4-5 years, so it can be good.

Nathan's comment about not having an agenda is on the nose. I like the interaction I see on these various sites, and it feels like some of you are old buddies. From your writing I don't think that's necessarily the case, but the feeling is there. If I'm going to have some kind of on-line relationship, I'd want it to be with smart, interesting, polite people like y'all seem to be.

Shawn Powers said...

It was really weird for me to be "recognized" at an educational conference this past year due to people reading my website (and list serv emails, and Linux Journal videos, etc, ad nauseum). It had a slightly creepy feel to it. The people (not masses of them, but a couple) seemed genuinely nice, but since I hadn't "met" online, I was more hesitant than normal.

If a person you've never heard of knows a lot about you, and talks with you about things you've recently discussed online, it's really weird. Again, not all bad, but a unique experience.

As far as people you "know" online, my suspicion is that it's much like knowing/meeting someone in real life. You never know for sure if they're zonkers, but I don't think the Intertoobs make me more suspicious of a person.

That said, if any of you knock on my door in the morning, looking for a bowl of cheerios -- I'm going to think that's weird. Because it is.

Jim Wright said...

I'm really a 14-year girl.

And tourists taste just like chicken.

----

Nice picture: I'd say the two of you certainly qualify as 'hot chicks.'

Let the stalking begin.

Jim Wright said...

One thing that puzzles me though, in the picture it looks as if the two of you are inside the same jacket. Not that there's anything wrong with that, you understand, but I'd have to say the you must have really hit it off.

Janiece Murphy said...

Tom you're going to make us blush. I mean, sure, we think we're smart, but then I'm sure the Pakleds didn't think they were dumb-asses, either. It's all relative.

Shawn, I can see why that might weird you out just a bit, especially since you probably don't consider yourself a public person. However, if I make the effort to go out to west-by-God-nowhere for breakfast, I'll certainly expect better than Cheerio's. You need to get up off your ass and cook.

And Jim? What the hell is wrong with you? Of course we're wearing the same jacket. It was chilly in Denver yesterday.

Shawn Powers said...

I'd break out the real milk for ya though, and not make you drink my soy milk.

See how thoughtful I am? :)

Janiece Murphy said...

Shawn, soy milk is a crime against nature. Seriously.

I think I'll stay home for breakfast...

MWT said...

Oh man... where to begin. And me having to go to work and do actual work at work for several hours. I'll probably write something long and windy later (possibly on my own blog so it doesn't take up the entire page here...). The short version of my answer is that I don't think there is any difference between online and offline, other than the nature of the medium between the people involved.

Some blatherings that I wrote on the 'e' earlier

an (obligatory?) cryptic essay ;), albeit skewed to be about a specific event

Shawn said: If a person you've never heard of knows a lot about you, and talks with you about things you've recently discussed online, it's really weird. Again, not all bad, but a unique experience.

On the other hand, it's totally awesome when you both know each other equally well, and when you get together offline for the first time, the nature of the relationship translates out to be exactly the same.

Steve Buchheit said...

Shawn, I got that feeling at World Fantasy when I had authors and other fans introduce themselves to me. That and the people who said, "Hey, you're the Steve on the Whatever." Really true freakatude.

I've met a few people offline that I met online on the blogs, so far I'm batting a thousand that they're all real nice people.

Glad you two hit it off. We've all been rooting... oh, wait, that's the other speech. :)

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, I think people look at on-line relationships over a spectrum of "not real" at one end and "just as real" at the other.

Last semester I took a Digital Age class, and one of our units was on this topic. Interestingly, the so-called "experts" were about evenly split between the two extremes. Clearly you fall into the "just as real" camp.

Like I said, I'm still trying to figure out my own view, but you appar to have the most experience with on-line relationships of the group that regularly posts here.

Thanks for the links!

Janiece Murphy said...

Look, everyone! It's Steve! And he's commenting! Hee!

Nathan said...

Shawn,

Would it be less weird if I look a little unsteady on my feet and ask for beer?

-"qmulumc" is my word verification. I don't write science fiction so I don't have any use for it, but one of you so has to use that. Character name? Planet? qmulumc is the best non-word ever!

Janiece Murphy said...

Hmmm...beer.

MWT said...

Incidentally, soy milk soup is an awesome breakfast!

Especially with those long skinny donutlike things (that are savory instead of sweet), and the sesame buns. Available in any Chinatowns that cater to a large Cantonese population.

Anne C. said...

My dad makes soy milk from scratch (yeah, he's like that) and I had some of that warm with some really good granola. Dang! That was some awesome... breakfast. That's what I want when I come over to your house, Shawn.

Tom, it's funny, but Fooey U. was the deciding factor for me too. I knew I liked and respected the likes of MWT, Jim, et al. but it was Fooey U. that made me want to hang with them.

Re jackets: Obviously, we both have superb taste in outerwear.

Tania said...

I'm not especially trusting, but I can say that many of my closest friends are people that I've met online, and we have eventually met up face to face (risky) and it turned out we got along even better in person (hurrah!).

I've been online since sometime in 1988/89 (a neighbor had a BBS, and then I went to college and actually experienced the end of BITNET).

People mis-reprensent who they are, internally, all the time, it doesn't matter if you're in meat-space or not. However, I think all y'all would be pretty fun to meet up with in person. But, um, save the soymilk for someone who likes it.

Janiece Murphy said...

Yes, FooeyU was a fun thread.

So far I'm having pretty good experiences with my on-line buddies, but I think I'll reserve judgement until I have a bit more experience, like MWT and Tania.

And Soy Milk? A crime against Nature. And possibly humanity.

Michelle K said...

However, if I make the effort to go out to west-by-God-nowhere for breakfast

(ahem)

It's West (by God) Virginia.

We appreciate the attempts to branch out, but feel that such similar usages may serve to dilute our branding.

And we really don't want that to happen, as the majority of the country apparently slept through the Civil War unit in school and fails to recognize that--Chief Justice Rhenquist's assertion to the possible illegality of the Abraham Lincoln's actions aside--we ARE a separate state, we do get snow here, and we don't live near the f-ing beach.

Thank you for your kind attention in this matter.

Regards, All West Virginians who are sick and tired of everyone else in the country failing to recognize that we were, in fact, the 35th state added to the union, an annoyance second only to that of our friends in New Mexico, who are often believed to be part of another country entirely.

Jeri said...

It's great to see a picture of you two - and a set of awesome smiles to go with it!

I've met several people I've known online. I met my husband online - I wrote about that here.

Most of the people I've met online have been pretty much as they are in person - some a little quieter, and most a little less young and attractive than their blog head shot. (And yes, that's me too!)

A couple have been somewhat different - just not a 14 year old girl or anything. One guy who was bold and cocky online was fussy, methodical and anxious in person. One woman who seemed to be a quirky, rich, traveling dilettante on line was in person a neurotic, scruffy mess.

I think we all have a significant capacity for self-deception and false faces. It's easier to pull it off online - but I agree with some of the others, someone who's going to be deceptive can do it in either arena.

Online friendships do meet a need - like Janiece, I work in a V.O. and am somewhat reclusive otherwise. It's nice to have online acquaintances to mingle with.

And soy milk? By itself, blech. But w/ something strong flavored, like a latte, it's ok.

Jeri said...

Hey - Michelle - a lot of L48 residents still think Alaska is not part of the US. Including Fedex, who won't guarantee overnight, and Amazon, who won't ship anything large or unusual to AK. Sigh.

Nathan said...

and Amazon, who won't ship anything large or unusual to AK.

There's not enough moose (meese?) there already?

Jeri said...

Nathan, it was a moosetrap.

Janiece Murphy said...

Michelle, I am perfectly aware that West (by God) Virginia is a state...in fact, I've been to Morgantown (on business).

I just thought it would nicer for me to say "West by God Nowhere" than "BFE." Because I'm sensitive like that.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I get the picture thing. I'm tempted to present the most flattering face available to the world, too, as long as it's mine.

Unfortunately, in this picture that extra poundage Anne blogged about isn't the result of the camera, or the angle of my chin...I found that all by myself. In Anne's case, though, it really is the angle of her chin - she's very slender.

Anne C. said...

Janiece, the funny thing is that I know that you have a photo on your blog, but for some reason, I kept remembering your "e" avatar, which is Sean Bean (Boromir). I do think he is a hottie, but you are much better looking.

Tania, I grew up in western Maryland and am very familiar with the cultural clashes in the surrounding states. Virginians dump on Marylanders and Marylanders, feeling insecure, dump on West Virginians. But West Virginians live in one of the most beautiful states there is, so ppbbbbtttt! ;)

Tom said...

Janiece, I have a bit of extra poundage myself. I long ago decided that a waist was a terrible thing to mind.

By the way, my CAPTCHA word was pxkcdoz. On ounce of xkcd a day?

John the Scientist said...

Anne C. - Where in Western MD? I'm from Leesburg, VA and lived most of my life near Sharpsburg, MD.

Maryland - Confederate by Choice, Union by Force, and Southern by the Grace of God!

Did you know that the Yankee transplants who go to Hood college in Frederick call the locals "Frednecks"? Hah. They need to take a drive on over to WVA.

brenda013 said...

I'm a lurker myself. Even in meetings and family situations. So that evidently translates to cyberspace.

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Brenda. You're welcome to lurk or participate - whatever makes you comfortable. I'll try to keep the yahoo's under control for you.

You hear that, guys? ::poke, poke:: Be nice to Brenda!

Michelle K said...

Did you know that the Yankee transplants who go to Hood college in Frederick call the locals "Frednecks"? Hah. They need to take a drive on over to WVA.

AHEM!

Michelle K said...

I've been to Morgantown (on business).

You have? Cool!

If you ever come back this way, lemme know! We can meet somewhere in public. With bright lights. ;)

Let me guess... when you were here it was raining. And you got stuck and were wondering who the hell designed such terrible traffic patterns.

Janiece Murphy said...

Michelle, I'm not in that job anymore, so it's unlikely I'll return. But if I'm ever there for pleasure, I'll let you know!

John the Scientist said...

"But if I'm ever there for pleasure, I'll let you know!"

I didn't know you were a masochist. ;-)

John the Scientist said...

"AHEM!"

Uh huh. When was the last time you saw a MD, VA, or PA truck with "Farm Use" spray painted on the side so they wouldn't have to pay to register the vehicle? ;-)

Do y'all still let them get away with that? You saw one of those uninsured buggies comin' down the road when I was a kid, and you got the the HECK out of its way.

Jim Wright said...

Huh? I'm glad so many people had fun with the whole Fooey-U thing. It never occurred to me that people would sort of band together (in an online sort of way) over it, and I'm surprised that anybody even remembers it or that it encouraged folks to get involved in the online community. The interesting thing, at least to me, was that those that joined are fun people to know, we'd didn't end up with one jerk in the whole process. Considering the growing number of rather unpleasant folks that seem to be showing on the Whatever and the Whateveresque lately I think that says something (what I don't know, but something).

I've never met anyone in the flesh that I've 'met' on either my blog or on another. Though in a professional capacity while on active duty I spoke to many folks via phone and online, developing a working relationship - and then later met them in the flesh. Mostly with good results, though sometimes distinctly not.

Michelle K said...

Farm Use? In PA? Far more than around here. Not even in Preston County do I see farm use trucks.

Trucks up on blocks in the yard? Certainly. But that's something else entirely.

While western MD is simply a container for the interstate that takes me somewhere interesting. ;)

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed when the FooeyU died a quiet death. I realize it had run it's natural course, though, and it was time to move on to something else.

But you're right - it was a bit serendipitous that all the participants ended up being fun.

Having said that, Science Officer Anne C, please begin immediate research to determine if tourists really do Taste Like Chicken.

And...Pool Boy! Oh, POOL BOY!!

Beastly said...

Janiece I will have to enter a positive with long distance on line relationships. The result of apple butter via the mail has me saying yep! Got it yesterday and enjoyed it this morning... I need to post another bunch of bottle stopper pictures here soon.

Janiece Murphy said...

Beastly, I'm glad you like it. I told you my apple butter is the shit. :-)

Anne C. said...

John the Scientist - Sorry about the delayed reply. I lost track of the conversation here.
I grew up one valley east of Sharpsburg and went to Boonesboro for middle and high school. I loved hanging out at Antietam Battlefield and even went to a big weekend re-enactment shortly before I moved to CO. I went to Hood for a year and a half before transferring to U of MD, College Park. You can imagine how much more diversity that move exposed me to.
I'm familiar with the "Fredneck" description, and the funny thing is, when I was growing up, Fredrick was civilization (where the movies and the mall were).