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Online Romancing

The internet is a great place to hang out. There are people around all the time, from all over the world, and there are enough of them that it’s not terribly difficult to find ones with interests similar to your own. I started chatting well over two years ago, and started using IRC about a year and a half ago. It’s a fun place to go to just talk about things without real consequences.

In the last six months, though, I’ve started noticing people develop serious relationships online. And that is literally something that I could never do, not just because I’m shy. Chatting is a good way to develop acquaintances, but I can’t even consider someone a real friend of mine until I’ve met them in person. And I have now friends who I’ve only met once. The short of it is that though there are interesting people online, there’s too much subliminal information that simply doesn’t get passed when you’re not face to face with a person. This is why I don’t go in for telephone conversations, either. You just don’t transmit nearly enough information to really know somebody.

And that’s something that really bewilders me. I see all these people developing relationships, through a medium that as far as I can tell doesn’t even let you get to know a person. I’m sure that there’s extra communication going on, but still…

I see Squinky and AMIB. Soleta and Sylverfyre. Lin_chan and Miles_foxxer. Midnight Wonder and Nyren. And at least one that I know failed: Siece and someone, who announced their engagement last fall on the CRFH forum and then later announced that it was no longer a going concern. I would look up the full names, but the CRFH forum is currently down and I therefore cannot search it for the appropriate messages.

I lived with Nyren for most of a school year; one of the things he told me more than once was that there was really no difference between a relationship online and a relationship in real life. I didn’t bother arguing because there’s no way to win that argument; it is entirely his opinion against mine, and I don’t mind his opinion that much. But I disagree. For me, at least, there is a very significant difference between talking to someone online or on the phone, and talking to them in real life. There are so many nuances of body language, of tone of voice, of gestures and phereomes and who knows what else, that make a conversation real and tangible instead of an impermanent thing, automatically logged by the medium, for review later when I want to resume the conversation without perceptible interruption.

Perhaps the central issue here is that I really don’t consider conversations held not in person to be real. As much as I get into them sometimes, I don’t mind the people afterwards. I see the chat room in my mind, with porcupines hanging from the ceiling and anthropomorphic wolves, foxes, and cats wandering about pouncing people with love, but it’s the same sort of involvement as in a D&D game: these are characters, not real people. What they say isn’t to be taken seriously in the same context as real life. When I read my friends page, it’s like reading a magazine that updates continuously. There are many different authors, with many different things to say, but even when I know the author, or have something to say in reply to their discourse of the hour, this si in the context of an article. It’s not aimed at me, so it’s not talking to me. Even on the telephone, I prefer brief, informational messages as opposed to indepth conversations. Because how can you really be talking to someone if you can’t even recognize their voice?

Obviously, none of the people I listed three paragraphs agi feel the same way as I do about this. They see chatrooms not as a place of fiction, contact between avitars, but as a place where real people go to have real conversations with one another. But how can that be? I’ve been in the position, while roleplaying, to have my character and another character feel attraction for one another. Both characters were leading the party, both had good charisma scores, what happened was logical, interesting, and fun to roleplay. It didn’t matter that the players were two teenage guys with other committments; my character was male, the other was female, both were twentysomething adventurers. That situation in gaming certainly didn’t affect my friendship with the other player. If chat rooms are to be a place of avatars instead of real people, and they always will be while they are unconstrained by physical laws or limitations, how can interaction between your avatars affect the relationship between the players?

All I can really say for sure about this is that I would have a very difficult time developing an online relationship. By which, when I say ‘difficult’, I mean ‘not going to happen’. As for other people, while I hope for the best for their relationships because I know the majority of them, I can’t help but think that a relationship founded on the relationship between two characters won’t last. Because there are always going to be differences between a person and the character they play. People play characters who they want to be, they act the way that they wish they could act in real life. And though you can tell a lot about a person by the character they play, I don’t think that you can tell enough to develop a good friendship, let alone a real relationship.

I want responses to this one. Especially from the people who developed a relationship online. Because I really don’t know how you feel safe, trusting someone that much, with this amount of contact.

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