Online relationships and the epistolary tradition

We’ve seen the raised eyebrow that greets us when we talk about a relationship that is conducted online, with a person whom we rarely or never meet face-to-face. And we’re all familiar with the part that folks sometimes have trouble accepting: that you can have a healthy, substantive and fulfilling relationship with someone purely through the exchange of text-based messages.* Mixed into that skepticism, I think, is also a sense that an online relationship is faddish. Newfangled. A new manifestation of technology for its own sake. Bound to fail or inherently misguided because it’s contrary to the way people have always naturally talked to each other.

It’s not any of those things.

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Couples, online interactions and boundaries

What does it mean if a couple decides that online interactions must be mutual—specifically, by rejecting individual email or Twitter/Facebook accounts in favor of a joint account?

“It’s not a matter of distrust,” said Ronda Hodge, 53, of Amesbury, Mass., an ice-cream maker who shares an e-mail address with her husband Tom, 60, a landscaper. “We really don’t have anything to hide from one another. We were friends first before we even dated so we’ve got that level of openness there.”

The article cites two very different scenarios in which a couple might decide to share an account:

  • The couple uses their online presence mainly for mutual projects, and having the same account makes this easier.
  • The couple has concerns about trust or fidelity, and fears that private online identities could lead to secrets or betrayal.

In any case, this speaks to a larger couples issue. In any relationship, there are parts of your life that move into the shared, common space of the partnership, and other parts that you reserve for your individual, private self. Some of these couples are deciding that online interactions should be in the couple’s space, not in the individual’s. I’m not saying that this choice is good or bad per se, but it’s important to have a larger conversation about couple space vs. private space when this type of issue comes up.

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