Internet relationships, in the broadest sense of the term, are weird. What’re the rules? How much do you owe someone on the internet? There used to be some separation, when everyone used obtuse screen names and created an online identity. The character only existed in the mind of the person on the other end of the connection. If you wanted to, you could just change your handle and/ or go to another room. With the option of virtually killing yourself whenever you wanted, there was no sense of risk or consequence; if things got too real, just close the lid. Now it’s not uncommon for people who know each other via Tumblr to add each other on Facebook and otherwise treat the internet like an extension of their real life. The divide between the internet-self and the ostensibly more-real-life-self has never been smaller.
It’s easy to fall in love via the internet. Read Twitter, you see a portrait of a good-looking person next to some clever, pithy banter. Read Tumblr, you see a similar thumbnail adjacent to an impassioned rant. It can still be somewhat nerve-wracking to ask to add someone on Gchat but much like real dating, it becomes a lot easier once you get over the pressure of making the first move.
Here’s what to expect when you decide to admit you have Feelings for someone you know exclusively via the internet: they’ll either respond favorably and seem open to the idea of developing a relationship online, the ultimate goal tacitly being you’ll visit each other if things take off; or they become uncomfortable and distance themselves, calling you an “internet weirdo” to their friends. If the former occurs, things will be great. You’ll reblog each other’s posts with references to private jokes, take screenshots of chats, and RT each other’s inane tweets. You will be so deluded by affection that mutually kissing your webcams will seem normal. You will contemplate updating your Facebook relationship status. At some point, you’ll use the phrase “internet husband/wife” and people will think you’re joking moreso than you are.
You will feel the intimacy, vulnerability and acceptance of a relationship and the thought of being somewhat not-single will make you feel better about the inescapable solitude of mortality. It doesn’t matter that you can’t have sex, you think, because the emotional intimacy is enough and avoiding the self-consciousness of a sexual relationship makes you feel safe. That said, the person you’re in this unorthodox relationship with is really hot so you bring up the fact that maybe you should visit them. This is the second hurdle: they will either feel weird while subsequently making you feel unsure if the relationship is as balanced as you thought, or they’ll be totally game for it.
Flights are still expensive enough that there are considerable stakes to the real world visit; either what you had will be utterly destroyed as it doesn’t meet either’s astronomical expectations and you learn a lesson (find love at local bars rather than in other countries) or it makes your relationship even stronger and eventually the two of you move in together. The alternative is not making the trip, becoming increasingly embittered by the distance and the fact that they’re not online as much as they used to be and it’s been a month since you last Skype’d, until you both decide to “take a break” and unfollow each other.
Ideally the internet relationship is something to do when you’re lonely between relationships. It’s a cynical perspective, but having to deal with the issues of geographical distance plus the regular pressures of a relationship make it difficult to have one successfully. Treating it only half-seriously allows you to feel a sense of intimacy without having to worry about the overwhelming odds against you and like any half-serious relationship, it has the potential to last as long as you want. Except there’s no such thing as an ideal relationship, so good luck. Hopefully you’ll come out of it with more followers.