Required reading

07May10

This fantastic column from Mistress Matisse at The Stranger on the perils of social networking and the weight we place on it in relationships should become part of the national curriculum. She says, amongst other things;

…if you enjoy suffering, go ahead and cyberstalk your sweetie. Obsess about every casually flirtatious remark and winky emoticon, and respond as if it were all carved on stone tablets instead of something tapped out while riding the bus.

… and I couldn’t agree more. The internet is not real life. Social networking is a fantasy world where we play out our ideal selves — we become more charismatic, more witty, more flirtatious, more courageous; all because we have the protection of our computer monitor to shield us from the repercussions.

There’s as much point in getting mad at your partner for flirting online as there is in getting pissed because they made small talk with someone on the bus, or at the bar… because human beings are everywhere, we must interact with them, and just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

At the end of the day, their real-world actions are what matter. Letting someone’s social networking “character” affect your life or your relationship is toxic in the extreme. It’s such a throwaway form of communication — what’s said now is forgotten in ten minutes’ time — that to place any true significance on it is a surefire way to sabotage a relationship.

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Letting the lines blur between your created self — the funnier, braver, flirtier you — and the real you is where the trouble begins. When you start to let fantasy take over and believe that these internet interactions with other created personas are more valuable, more exciting or more rewarding than a real-life relationship with a real person.

As long as the fantasies stay inside our heads — or at least inside our computers — then there’s no reason to let social networking destroy your social life.

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2 Responses to “Required reading”

  1. 1 demurelemur

    Hmm – good article that. While I agree that partners shouldn’t take each other’s blog posts and twitter streams as gospel (both myself and my lover have tied ourselves up in knots doing so at various stages), I can’t say I agree about the okayness of online flirtations. I wrote a post ages and ages ago about a good friend who discovered that her boyfriend had been having web-sex with randomers he met online. Is that cheating? Hell yes, I say. Our definitions of self are changing with technology. The person I am online is a big part of who I am. If I saw my lover flirting, like seriously flirting, with someone online (and of course definitions of what constitutes serious flirtation will vary relationship to relationship – but say he was complimenting a woman a lot and making overtly sexual remarks) I would be upset. And I’d have every right to be. Similarly, although I’m a sex blogger I don’t interact with my commenters in a way that suggests I’d like to give them the ride. If I did, my lover would be, understandably, upset.

    Maybe because I’m in a long distance relationship and so much of that is conducted online, or maybe because I’ve seen the shit my good friend went through with her, um, ‘flirtatious’ boyfriend and his internet liasons, I can’t agree that internet flirtations are meaningless dreams in relation to physical realities. If something your partner does upsets you – online or otherwise – that needs to be addressed.

    All the same, I very much enjoyed this post. It’s cool to get other perspectives on the rules of online engagement. Perhaps my views on this will soften. Perhaps yours will become less liberal. We’re all products of our own experience I suppose.

    • I guess my view on it is that flirting with a view to actually doing something about it is not ok; but anything short of that, to me, is about on a level with watching porn, albeit not exactly something you’d be sharing with your partner.

      Though I was less talking about online flirtations — MSN conversations, emailing back and forth etc — and more about Facebook, Twitter and the like. Imo, the only thing you have to worry about is if your partner is *hiding* that sort of behaviour, indicating that their intentions are less than pure.

      There are many, many shades of grey — but I do see so many people now driving themselves insane with “He didn’t add me on Facebook”, “he won’t change his relationship status”, “she liked this hot dude’s profile pic”, “she @replied her ex but never replies to ME on Twitter” etc etc that I feel an attitude of “it’s only the internet” is the healthiest one to adopt. Because I feel in the majority of cases, it IS only the internet. And if your partner is the cheating type, then it’ll happen whether they have internet access or not.

      The lines definitely blur when you’re in a long-distance relationship, though. Because that online space is where you conduct much of your relationship, a partner flirting or giving attention to someone within that medium can feel like a small betrayal or a violation.

      Blah de blah. I agree with you for the most part! But also feel that we need to *reduce* the weight we place on social networking and not increase it.


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