Love Doctor's Blog

Has Digital Intimacy Changed Our Relationships Forever?

My friends and I were at brunch last week when the topic of dating came up. One of them – let’s call her Patricia – was upset about how much the dating world has changed since we were in our twenties. ‘It used to be so straightforward!’ she said, ‘You met someone you liked, you went on a couple of dates, and you knew if things would get serious. Now it’s just so much more complicated; all these apps and websites.’ 

Another one of my friends – we’ll call her Jane – had a different way of looking at it. ‘Oh come on now,’ she told Patricia, ‘dating apps and websites have made it so much easier to meet people!’ And before I knew it, my brunch crowd was divided into two makeshift debating teams: those who were for online dating and those who were against it. 

Digital intimacy has, whether we like it or not, become the new norm when it comes to dating and relationships. That whole debate over brunch got me thinking – is there any going back, or do we need to accept our new dating reality and learn to find love within it? 

So How Did We Get Here? 

Covid-19 seems to have accelerated our dependence on technology when it comes to connecting with other human beings. This makes sense given the sort of loneliness and boredom that we all faced during lockdowns. The interesting thing to me, though, is that this dependence seems to be increasing still, even now when most of the world is vaccinated and there are no more lockdowns. So how does this dependence affect our daily lives? Let’s take a look.

  • Our connection to technology has become more intimate the more we’ve come to depend on it; this affects the way we form and maintain relationships 
  • We spend a lot of our time using technology, and for all sorts of things – it’s natural to start viewing it as a friend of sorts. AI-powered companions are gaining popularity for this reason too
  • Our realities are now infused; the digital world and the real world are becoming harder to separate – the best example of this is the metaverse 

The Rise of Digital Intimacy and Online Relationships

Given the factors I talked about above, I don’t find it surprising that online relationships are considered just as valid as traditional relationships now; there are even people like my friend Jane who prefer the former. Studies back this up – a systematic review of 72 studies that examine how technology is used in relationships found that “cyber-intimacy” can have just as profound an effect on people as real-life intimacy can. 

Navigating Relationships in the Digital World

People find it easier to connect with others online; this allows them to engage in virtual behaviours that they wouldn’t feel comfortable with in real life. But understanding the implications of pursuing or being in online relationships is important as it will help you have a healthier, safer digital intimacy experience. 

Digital Intimacy
  • Being faced with a myriad of choices on dating apps and websites can be overwhelming; we can develop a tendency to reduce people to a profile on a screen 
  • Once in an online relationship, you may have to emphasize digital displays of affection – Facebook statuses, Instagram posts, etc. – to keep your partner satisfied, as shown by studies  
  • Technology can even help you bond with your partner, especially in long-distance relationships – whether it’s through texting, consuming online content together, or posting pictures of each other 
  • In an online relationship, a couple may accumulate digital “assets” – pictures and videos can be just as valuable as furniture or a car, and just as difficult to divide up if the relationship ends
  • If a relationship ends, the digital world can make it easier for a former couple to maintain a sense of autonomy throughout the break-up 

Conclusion

If you do decide to indulge in the world of online dating, you need to know how to do so safely. ‘Don’t use dating sites or apps that don’t bother verifying the identity of their users,’ advises Jane, with an eye roll. ‘And be careful with sharing personal information, especially pictures or videos that someone could use to locate you.’ I would also recommend being careful with the information you choose to make public on your social media profiles. 

Digitalization has been on the rise for decades; technology has begun to advance at astonishing speed. This has affected nearly every facet of our lives, and dating is no different. Digital intimacy promises new and exciting ways to connect with people.

I would actually advise my readers to keep an open mind when it comes to digital intimacy! Remember, it is still possible to maintain more traditional aspects in a relationship — if that’s what you prefer — but completely ignoring or avoiding the impact of technology and digitalization on our relationship will prove difficult.

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