Back to Home Page

Local Links
Sun Valley Guide
Hemingway in Sun Valley
Real Estate

Opinion Column
For the week of January 3 through January 9, 2001

Internet flirtation -- intimacy or futility?

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

I fear that our hunger for intimacy is leading many to imagining qualities in Internet connections that don't exist in reality. Then again, a medium is only a vehicle for the transportation of society's wishes.

"Some enchanted evening, across a crowded room, you will see a stranger, you will see a stranger..." These words, ones I originally heard Ezio Pinza sing in South Pacific, voiced the romantic expectations of my generation.

Young women dreamt of locking eyes across a cocktail party or crowded lobby with the Perfect Man, who would carry her off after a tumultuous and passionate courtship to happiness ever after. Sounds pretty silly now, but many of us actually believed in the concept of love at first sight. At first SIGHT. There's the rub.

For today, from what I have been told and have even experienced myself in a minimal way, we don't meet potential partners through an initial glance or brushing of arms as strangers. Rather, one's first move in the dating game, at least for those who are adults in urban centers or workplaces offering few opportunities for encounters of the close kind, is through applying one's fingers to a keyboard, opening up the Internet and logging on.

I am the first person to espouse the idea that real love should be more than skin deep, and that we put too much emphasis on outward beauty in our culture. However, I think the latest use of technology in the everlasting struggle to meet partners is fraught with risk. And one of them, I have come to believe, is that we DON'T experience the physical presence of a potential date until after we have spent a lot of time online with him or her.

Something about the discarding of the evolutionary rites of attraction seems to me worthy of study. I have heard of far too many people who struck up an on-line connection with someone viewed as a possible soul mate. Pictures were exchanged, and sources checked out. Even in very reliable communications between two worthy and conscientious people, too many real life meetings resulted in acute disappointment. And I think that is because the participants ignored the reality of physical attraction as at least a starting place.

As frivolous as it may seem, women wear lipstick or perfume based on a deep instinctive need to attract a man. And why do a man's muscled arms or a strong chin serve as attractors for women? We are heirs to an eternal need to search for visual or physical clues when in the mating game. We are biological creatures meant to broadcast and receive sexual signals from each other. To deny that may lead to disappointment.

I am no psychologist, but I did talk to one recently about this issue. He has several clients in the Los Angeles area who are continually crestfallen because of ongoing episodes of what I shall term real-life encounters versus ones founded on the virtual reality of on-line matchmaking. Almost every time, with rare exceptions, the real meetings were duds. The supposed knight was indeed a frog, and the princess elicited only a flat response. Sparks were not ignited despite intense anticipation. All those hours at the computer for naught! A young e-mailer recently echoed the problem. "…The relationship…is just online anyway. I don't view it as real." It may be that the difficulty is in moving the communication from the screen to real space.

I have a friend who, in her e-mail meetings, poses as an adventurous woman 20 years younger than she really is. The correspondence is extremely exciting and often enticing. The Internet seems full of zing and promise, and then, of course, the inevitable time comes to meet in person. One might say that her deceit leads to this, that she pays for on-line fun with real-time chagrin, but that begs the question.

What is it about e-mail that is so provocative and even addictive for many? One reason might be that we can always hide a little on-line. No having

to look in the eyes, no filling in of empty conversational space with chitchat, no shy glances, no nervous mannerisms, no sweaty palms. We are cool. We can even appear smarter, wittier, and more hip that we might seem after just a single date with someone. I think it is easy to be covered by the erotic connotations of words. Cyrano de Bergerac reinforced the same lesson over a century ago.

Another thought: there is something wonderful about the instant gratification of responses via e-mail. I myself have been inordinately pleased when someone I like answers an e-mail within a few hours. No waiting for the mail, driving to the post office, just the nice message, "you've got mail." The medium is perfect for our 21st century penchant for sound bytes, for our short attention spans, for our impatience.

I fear that our hunger for intimacy is leading many to imagining qualities in Internet connections that don't exist in reality. Then again, a medium is only a vehicle for the transportation of society's wishes. All generations have sought love through whatever means were available. Inevitably, the juggling of deceit and desire is an old story. I hope this modern technology works out for the remote and lonely.

I leave you today with another lyric: "A kiss is still a kiss. A sigh is still a sigh. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by." Here's to good human connections for us all.


Back to Front Page
Copyright © 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.