Internet relationships are convenient but complex

8:20:30 AM CDT - Thursday, February 12, 2004

By Joe Kleinsasser

In the best of circumstances, finding a potential ideal mate is no small task. In recent years, the Internet has made finding that special someone more convenient, but also more complex, according to Ron Matson, associate professor of sociology.

"I think the pursuit of Internet relationships stems from convenience," says Matson. "It's just real convenient to go to some room in your house where your computer is, and dial up some chat room and begin to interact. In many respects it's easier than going out into the community and looking for a real relationship."

Data on Internet relationships is sketchy, but the topic has grown to the point where Matson, who teaches several classes on relationships, includes the subject in his classroom discussions.

"Internet relationships may be convenient, but they're also incredibly complex to work through," he says. "You have to be very, very careful. And that sorting out or winnowing process may last months and months to make sure that you feel secure, safe, low-risk, and that you actually then may want to share a picture or have a face-to-face meeting."

Matson says there are gender differences in how the Internet is used. Women tend to be very cautious and more careful about taking steps toward face-to-face meetings. "Men on the other hand, seem to be pretty willing to just let things fly and do what they can as quickly as possible," says Matson.

Online dating services are growing rapidly and they give people in pursuit of relationships an option. Matson says people may feel a little more secure about using an intermediary to help make matches or negotiate a connection. However, there's still a great deal of risk in this method.

Matson says face-to-face communication is a better way of developing a relationship. "The real problem here is that the communication process just doesn't give us as much information when we're using e-mail as it does if we're face-to-face with someone else. We get so much more information if we're looking at someone than we do by writing to them or even listening to them on the phone. And I think that's part of the risks of this kind of relationship."

Another problem is honesty. "I think the biggest issue in Internet relationships is the ability to lie about who you are, about the qualities that you possess," says Matson. "And that leaves both parties in a great deal of uncertainty."

It's not impossible, but the odds of developing a successful relationship via the Internet are probably very low. Matson says, "While we don't have a lot of data on that, I do think that because of the complex process, it's difficult to find someone who you are going to be really attracted to, and to sort through all the nuances before you wind up with a face-to-face meeting."

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