Here’s a true truth: Meeting someone online is a total buzz.
Now here’s another true truth: Meeting someone online is a risky game to play, and you can quickly find yourself in over your head.
Have you ever met someone online only to find yourself, shortly afterwards, discussing something you might not talk about with your friends? Have you ever found yourself emailing or online chatting about significant worries or heartache with a virtual stranger? Have you posted something on Facebook you wouldn’t say in “real life”?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have experienced something called the online disinhibition effect.
Meeting someone online lowers your inhibitions
When you meet someone online, you generally feel less inhibited than you would if you met him or her in person. This is because you feel safer and more anonymous. There is less at stake. You are distanced from the impact of your words. As a result, you might say or write things to a new cyber-acquaintance that you would not say to someone face to face.
This dynamic is particularly obvious in relationships that start across distance. When you meet someone online who lives far away, you feel all the exciting potential of a new relationship and face fewer reality checks.
During that first exhilarating rush of connection it is easy to abandon all caution and restraint and pour out your heart and your secrets. After all, everything seems to be going so well!
He fascinates you, and you seem equally interesting to him. You talk for hours at a time. You wake up happy every morning and smile just thinking about him. You feel a growing certainty that this one is the one. It’s only been a couple of weeks since you met, but it feels right to share your deepest secrets, fears, and feelings. It feels reasonable to discuss moving so that you can be together, or to make other serious commitments.
This is the dangerous side to the online disinhibition effect. That same brave sense of freedom and possibility that allows us to forge a meaningful emotional connection with someone we’ve never met in person, can also get us into trouble. There are fewer real-time consequences when we’re building a new relationship online, and fewer restraints on our imaginations and our words. This makes it easy to become too intimate, too fast.
That same brave sense of freedom and possibility that allows us to forge a meaningful emotional connection with someone we’ve never met in person, can also get us into trouble.Lisa McKayDon’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of online dating. I met my own husband via email when he lived on the other side of the world. Long distance relationships and romances that begin online can absolutely end in “happily ever after”.
However, jumping in too fast during the early stages of meeting someone online and getting to know them is dangerous.
It doesn’t give your new and fragile connection the best possible chance of growing into something solid and real. It doesn’t help you set healthy and sustainable communication patterns.
Rule number 1 of meeting someone online: Start off slow
During the early stages of a new relationship, it is always wise to set some boundaries around your imagination and your communication. Here are some tips on how to avoid moving too fast when you are meeting someone online or across distance
1. In the early stages of getting to know someone, don’t talk, text, or email every single day. Talking every day will speed things up fast, and the communication patterns you establish early on can be difficult to change later.
2. Don’t say things over the phone you wouldn’t be willing to say over the dinner table.
3. Don’t make too many commitments too early. For example, if you meet someone online in July, don’t make plans in August to spend Christmas together.
4. Do not seriously discuss marriage or long-term partnership before you ever meet someone face to face. This will sound completely obvious to some of you, but trust me, it happens.
5. In a similar vein, do not start naming your children, or spend hours imagining sitting on the front porch of your dream house in rocking chairs together when you are both old and gray. Keep your imagination in check. You may think that daydreaming is a harmless pleasure, but our thoughts are what inform our expectations, our words, and our actions.
Questions to answer
- What does “moving too fast” in a relationship look like to you?
- How do you “pace yourself” when you meet a new potential partner online?
- Have you ever struggled to set healthy boundaries in your relationship? If so, did you struggle more to “say no” and keep that person at a safe distance, or “say yes” and let that person get close and see the real you?
- How do your natural tendencies when it comes to boundary setting typically influence your behavior online?
How do you avoid moving too fast in a new relationship or when you are meeting someone online?