We can log on to the internet and meet new people every day and all we will know about them is what we see remotely on the screen - a photo, their internet username and how they choose to describe themselves.
We can strike up friendships and have computer-based conversations or telephone chats with people and never see them or speak to them in person.
The internet is an informal, anonymous place to meet people. People don't know what you do or what you look like, aside from photos you may wish to post. You can change your gender, job, sexual preferences, age and culture. You are known only by what you write.
The risks of online relating
It can be exciting to explore internet opportunities, but there are risks involved. These risks are there when we choose to make a personal internet relationship. This might be moving from a public to a private chat room, starting to correspond by email, starting to communicate by telephone or arranging to meet.
The risks are highest when we move straight from the cyber-world into the real world, as we are basing our decision to meet the other person only on information we are told, not on something we can independently assess. When we meet someone in person we hear not only what they say, but notice their body language and non-verbal cues as well as their overall behaviour.
The internet can be a place of immense deception or great honesty, more honesty than some people would normally express in the real world; and this creates an interesting paradox. Existing healthily in the internet world involves knowing the difference, and being cautious at the right times.
If you choose to meet someone in person after meeting them on the internet, consider these tips:
- Don't go alone - have someone you trust with you and meet them in a public place.
- Start the relationship anew. When people first meet and start new relationships they check each other out and then gradually reveal themselves, bit-by-bit bringing down their barriers and protection. When you meet an internet connection in person, treat it like a new beginning and make sure you have your barriers up, even if you think you know this person. They might not be who they say they are or who you expect them to be.
- Be in control of what is happening. Don't allow yourself to do anything that you don't want to do and make sure you have ways to leave the situation safely.
How Relationships Australia can help
In thinking about your relationships online you might want to refer to:
If you need help with your online relationships, we offer a face-to-face Counselling Service.
Alternatively, contact the nearest office of Relationships Australia to you to find out about other services that may be helpful.