A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

The Great Pretender

Posted by candacewhitehead on April 28, 2008

Some time after my father fell ill, my mother began spending a lot of time on Skype. It was understandable – after almost five months of fourteen hour days at the hospital, she could relax when my father was brought home. She finally grew bored, and became a Skype addict, much to my brother’s and my dismay.


On Skype she met someone we’ll call Bob. They initially began talking every so often, as they had mutual friends back in Botswana. Then they started talking a little more. And then they were still chatting at four in the morning. She’s now in Pretoria with him. And according to Facebook, she is “in a relationship”.


As I said in my last post, the Internet brings with it a whole new set of rules, but a lot of the same problems. Cyber-romance is definitely a whole new playing field.


In 1998, Andrea Baker wrote an article called “Cyberspace couples finding romance online then meeting for the first time in real life”. Her research examines eighteen couples who met online.


Most online relationships seem to move from a public online space (open chatroom, forum or MUD) to a private space – personal messaging and e-mails, which mirrors most real-life relationships. You spot someone at a bar, shove your way through forty or fifty people, and manage to squeeze in next to the person you’d been eyeing. After a while, you might give them your number, or skip the whole polite-courtship approach and disappear back to their place (hey, it happens).


But can you accurately represent yourself over the Internet? Back in Baker’s day (and let’s face it, 1998 is ancient history when it comes to cyberculture) much of the focus was placed on writing, although now visual and vocal stimulation is as important in cyber-relationships as it is in real-life ones. Webcams and microphones are easy enough for anyone to install, and the same rules start cropping up again. Before signing on you check your hair and make-up, make sure your underwear isn’t showing thorough your shirt – that sort of thing. .


This calls up an interesting point – if you do fall in love over the net, it’s clearly because of the person’s personality, right? People forget is that e-mail and chat has the potential to be heavily composed and revised – my mother would fret for hours over sending an e-mail. Even chat gives you those few extra seconds to think about whether or not what you’re saying is going to make you sound stupid. And what happens in real life when you actually have to have a real-time discussion?


Baker only briefly discusses this in her article, and not very well. There can be either great satisfaction or great disappoint when meeting for the first time – the guy who can make you laugh until you cry over Skype suddenly makes you cry from boredom and contemplate drowning yourself in your strawberry daiquiri.


A Pew study on Online Dating revealed concern on the safety of an individual meeting their online hottie (or nottie) for the first time, and says that people really should scrutinise their online partners as carefully as their offline ones for signs of deception.


Despite the potential for disaster, most people seem to have had a good experience with online dating. As much as Bob freaks me out, my mother seems happy. They’ve now (apparently) been dating for five months – after meeting in real life for the first time in December.


And I must admit, this online thing might just take the hassle out of dating – I could lounge around at home in my tracksuit while telling the guy I’m wearing stiletto boots and designer jeans.


Because let’s face it – none of us mind a little misrepresentation. Especially seeing as I can barely afford Mr Price jeans.


3 Responses to “The Great Pretender”

  1. Ines Schumacher said

    My best friend met her current boyfriend over Mxit (a chat application for your cellphone). I personally am completely bewildered at how you can fall in love with someone over Mxit or even the Internet. Between the “cu l8r” and all that crap you’re meant to get a glimpse of the other person’s personality?

    My friend never pretended she was someone else and her boyfriend didn’t either. Faith is hard to come by these days, but when you meet someone for the first time after hour-long chats, you will know if that person lied at all or not.

    I disagree with your argument, Candace. I think only when people are completely honest with each other can the relationship last. It seems your mom found the real deal, because she was herself and shared all of herself online.

  2. Andrea Baker said

    Hi, Candace,
    Thanks for referring to my 1998 article. I have stories from 90 couples, some from the 21st century, written up in my book _Double Click_ (Hampton Press, 2005). In that, I look at factors true of successful relationships vs. ones that don’t tend to last. One of those, as you and Ines mentioned, is honesty vs. deception. Today researchers and writers in the field don’t see as much stigma about people meeting online as they saw in the past. The issues you raise are still worth discussing. All my best to your mom!
    –a. baker, ohio university

  3. candacewhitehead said

    I agree that honesty is an important part of any relationship – but whether on- or offline, there is still a small amount of deception at the beginning of a relationship. We misrepresent ourselves by wearing clothes or makeup we’d normally not wear, and pretend to be interested in things that we’re really not.

    But definitely – the relationships where people are honest with each other are the ones that last, as Andrea says. Even if it is something as silly as “I really don’t like Chinese food, let’s not go to that place again”.

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