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Online dating, via websites and apps, is today a massive social trend. How, and to what extent, does this trend affect relations of intimacy?
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Romance with online and anonymous connections marks 21st-century love/ dating stories. Seeking significant others via online dating (OLD) websites (Tinder, Facebook, OkCupid) for purposes of short-term euphoric romance or long-term relationship has become regular. The virtual world provides people with an opportunity to express without any inhibitions- may it be by exposing their vulnerable selves or exhibiting their promiscuous sides (Hertlein and Stevenson 2010). About 1.1 million people spend an average of three hours/day on OLD (SOC315, Lecture Week5). People are trying to develop 'digital chemistry' by connecting online. But the question remains, does OLD enhance the nature of intimacy? Or does it merely create an illusion of intimacy? This essay argues OLD has made relations of intimacy more liquid and fragile due to the absence of nonverbal communication, the presence of an abundance of options and mushrooming of hyper surveillance and jealousy amongst partners. The extent to which, OLD positively or negatively affects relations of intimacy can be elucidated by social penetration theory.
Social Penetration theory suggests, 'Sharing and reciprocating behaviour of self-disclosure is crucial for developing intimate relationships online.' (Homnack 2015: 7). Self-disclosure involves 'interpersonal interaction where one of the partners delve into personal disclosures' which prompt the responder to disclose oneself or ask more questions, thus initiating a cycle of information sharing. Self-disclosure strengthens trust, intimacy and commitment. For e.g. many relationships trace their beginning to Facebook, which has components like- groups, pages, online-profile, and status, conducive to such self-disclosures. Successful OLD includes four dimensions of disclosure- honesty, amount, intent and valence (Homnack 2015: 7). So, OLD can positively influence relations of intimacy with the presence of attraction, an honest investment of time and effort (self-disclosures), and similar intent of joining dating websites which may range from love, sex, self-validation, to peer-pressure.
Intimate relations in the postmodern world have become so fragile that there is a serious lack in the know-how of sustaining long-term relationships. Let’s look at ‘how’ OLD effect relations of intimacy:
OLD lacks nonverbal communication which increases the chances of non-declaration of pertinent aspects of one's identity. In the online world, users are in full control of their identities and can cherry-pick the demographics (gender, etc.). They try to represent a 'superior' self to achieve intimacy. Homnack (2015) contrary argues online medium is better for communication because people are true and straightforward due to the high-level of self-protection. But evidence suggests that this feature of self-protection is often misused. There are often risks of coming across liars, scammers, etc. (Homnack 2015: 8). Another type of communication gap is the different expectations of different genders. Women may want commitment, while men just casual sex or vice-versa (SOC315, Lecture Week5). Wilhelm (2015) shows that the Tinder dating app is not doing any favours to women, but has become a modern compulsion for women to be in-line with trends of being promiscuous and equal to men. Problem compounds when women are socially shammed for being sluts and men are appraised for being studs. It is aptly manifested in Melville's case, where she was publically ridiculed for posting an explicit rap lyric on her tinder profile (Colangelo 2016). It may result in the formation of long-term gender-specific bias and intimacy issues.