In our Valentine study, 55% of young people admitted to having had a virtual relationship. This statistic comes as no surprise when you consider that the vast majority of our time is now spent roaming the internet and communicating with others via various social networks.
While online relationships have gained some bad press – blamed for a wider disconnection between people and our ability to communicate in offline environments, we have yet to acknowledge the positives of conducting a romantic relationship in such a way.
“55% of young people admitted to having had a virtual relationship”
Informed by our recent research we have compiled 7 reasons why virtual relationships are not as bad as you think:
1. They enable.
Our research revealed that young people likely to engage in a virtual relationship are those with a physical or learning disability. Virtual relationships allow for human connection, contact and gratification – things which for some, might be challenging to obtain or experience in the physical world.
Those with a disability can also choose how much they disclose about their disability, they can present themselves how they wish and many find relief and freedom from some of the prejudices they have encountered offline.
2. They allow for anonymous exploration of sexuality.
In our report we found that members of the gay community were more likely to have had a virtual relationship. The internet allows for young people to explore elements of their identity, like their sexuality, anonymously and in a safe space without having to reveal themselves to their offline friends and family if they are not ready to do so. This also means they do not have to ‘commit’ to any aspect of their identity prematurely.
“62% of young people who had admitted to having a virtual relationship were from a religious background”
This is in keeping with our finding that 62% of young people who had admitted to having a virtual relationship were from a religious background. It seems that online relationships give young people the opportunity to explore and come to terms with their sexual preferences at a pace that suits them, free from external pressures.
3. They can lead to meaningful offline relationships.
Just because you have met online and conducted your relationship virtually thus far, does not mean it will permanently remain within the confines of cyberspace. Some online relationships eventually lead to the couple meeting in an offline environment and continuing their relationship in this way. In this day and age it is now extremely commonplace to find a partner online – it does not make your relationship any more or less ‘real’.
4. You can easily meet like-minded people.
In cyberspace it is extremely easy to find and connect with people who are of a similar mindset to you and share your interests, regardless of location – distance just isn’t a problem. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the offline world, where some struggle to meet others who share their identity – this can be extremely isolating.
5. You can practice ‘people skills’ which you can then apply in offline environments.
Although some would argue that the increasing time we spend communicating via social media (rather than engaging in face-to-face interactions) has been detrimental to our ability to forge ‘real’ connections in offline environments, it could be argued that actually, the opposite is true. For those who suffer with social anxiety for example, a online relationship might give them the opportunity to practice talking to someone, joking with someone or sharing their thoughts and feelings with someone – things which they may not have been comfortable doing offline. This could be a great starting point in acquiring social skills which can then be applied in day-to-day life.
“We found that members of the gay community were more likely to have had a virtual relationship”
6. Less stress.
When you are virtually connected with a partner, the everyday stresses that trigger couples to bicker in the offline world are not applicable. For example, the silly little quarrels about whose turn it is to cook, what programme to watch on TV or whether one of you has stayed out ‘too late’ with mates, just aren’t going to take place. This means that potential reasons for arguments are lessened, minimising stress.
6. Conflict management.
When arguments do occur between couples in the offline world, they can often escalate quickly. This is generally down to the fact that in the heat of the moment hurtful words are exchanged and voices are raised; it is easier to take offence when you are there to witness the tone in your partner’s voice, their facial expression and body language. When you argue in an offline environment you are also under pressure to react instantly, which means you are likely to say things you don’t mean – things that, once spoken, you cannot take back. This can have a disastrous effect on a relationship and may even lead to a separation.
In an online relationship however, you have the ability to communicate with your partner whenever you want, in whatever format you want (be that text, audio or video) and at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. This means you have the time to properly consider and articulate what it is you want to say – for example you can type a message, read it, revise it and then make the decision whether to send it or not. This is especially useful when dealing with emotionally strenuous situations and may mean that many an argument is nipped in the bud, if not completely avoided.
Remember to stay safe online. We recommend that you keep your privacy settings high. Before you give away personal details like your full name, telephone, address etc to someone you have not met offline be sure that they are who they say they are. If somebody is exhibiting threatening behaviour, or has your personal information and is giving you the impression that your safety might be at risk, contact the police or a trusted adult immediately.