“Is that you in the avatar?”, “Your picture is beautiful”, “I’m a fan of anything you say”, “You write really well”, “You’re super funny!” Our inboxes and mention tabs harbor at least one, if not all of those lines. We smile, energize our ego, reply with a thank you or sometimes ignore the other party altogether. Some take it to the next level and develop a thread of conversation with total strangers to entertain themselves on a lonely night, or to find a virtual companion for a lonely life.
At the beginning of any relationship, virtual or real, one tends to put on the cute, charismatic, curious face, or what I call the 3 C’s. We say what others want to hear more than what we really want to say, we show a face others like to look at even if it negates with our true face, and we ask questions we don’t need the answer to just to appear intellectual and interested. How many times have you used a smiley face to reply to someone when you meant to yell at them? We all do it. Online, our image weighs more than our true selves, because it’s all virtual.
On an optimistic note, studies have proven that relationships over the internet start faster and last longer because they overpass tiny details of a face to face encounter: the perfume they are wearing, the color of their shoes, how expensive their watch is, how white their teeth are and so on. Such long, ridiculous lists of prerequisites for your dream partners collapse when other more valuable qualities surface. It gets too practical online to notice those trivial matters, and it builds up even faster that it can form a crush, a real relationship or sometimes marriage.
Our society is controlled by material things. What you want from me determines the terms of our relationship. The same goes with the virtual world. Some resort to social media to meet new people because they can’t do that in real life, some want to chat the night away and talk about their bad days at work or school, some are looking for a missing piece in their lives, some are just terrible people who want to prove they can make others fall for them even if they never met them. Those kinds of relationships don’t last longer than your phone’s battery. I remember my father telling me years ago: “Meeting someone online is like picking a person from a bar. You spend some good time together, but that’s about it”. I once had a crush on a guy on Twitter because his tweets were always sad and ambiguous. I was drawn to his dark side. It never lasted more than a month because I was older, he was too vague which got scary, and I also lost interest. Some crushes would be more fortunate to step up to the next phase, a date maybe.
I’m one of the lucky people whose marriage succeeded because of the power of social media. I met my husband in real life and we had a long distance relationship for about a year. I had to make a lot of sacrifices and adjustments to my life, and so did he. I had to stay up to really late hours to be able to talk to him when he got back from work, and he had to sleep really late to make sure he sent me morning texts. He had to pay a lot for airplane tickets to visit me at least twice a month and on occasions. We had to resist the temptation of dating other closer people whom we could have had a more normal relationship with. We were invited to parties at work each on their own, and in many cases we had to pass on friend gatherings because we knew there’d be no fun when the significant other wasn’t around. There were a lot of breakdowns and arguments, but we knew deep down that our time will come and we will be inseparable. Virtual was a phase that we had to succumb to given our circumstances back then. We were also thankful that we had this virtual phase. 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be able to carry on a relationship like that without Viber, Skype or WhatsApp. We could share our dinner together through pictures, or check each others’ outfits every morning through Facetime.
However, what if the other side of the story doesn’t turn out as dreamy as it appeared? Appearances are deceptive. They can tell you they travelled the world while they’ve never set foot outside their bedroom. They can claim they are university graduates while they’re actually still in high school. They can even act like girls while they’re boys with some time to waste, or the other way round. How would you know? The answer is: you wouldn’t. Virtual relationships are risky, just like real ones. If people can lie in real life, they can lie online. The only way to figure it out is to invest the time and effort, if you’re willing to, to delve deeper in that person’s life and get to know them better. Don’t wait for a year, not even a month to meet that person. If you’re interested, show it. Go on a date and talk. At least, be sure that the person you’re talking to is who they claim they are, whether they are the right one for you or not.
One’s social media account also tells a lot about them. They can either back their story up or refute it all together. Admit it, you went out with that guy or girl, or plan to, and here you are stalking them on Facebook. Nonetheless, the person sitting behind that screen right now can be a serial killer who’s mastered the art of portraying their life as an adventure. On the other hand, they can be your perfect soul mate, a match made in heaven. Time is the only element that will truly guide you towards the truth, time and your effort to make it
Sara Abdelaziz is a New York based writer and translator. Check out her Twitter account: @SforScorpio