Love online (2021) by Federica Sibilla and Chiara Imperato

How does the network affect the methods of approach and knowledge of possible romantic couples? The volume Love online addresses and explores this topic, which is currently of special interest.

Announcements Over the years, the use of the internet and social media has become a tool used by more and more users in search of a romantic partner. The isolation imposed during the months of the pandemic has further favored the establishment of the network as an elective means to establish contacts, make new acquaintances and maintain existing ones.

This process of expanding the possibilities of interpersonal knowledge is made faster and more intuitive not only by social networks, but also by the many sites dedicated to online dating, to which an increasing number of users entrust the search. as a couple.

Book Love online analyzes the ways in which the sentimental relationships of partners who met and were known through the network are structured and born. This analysis is developed through the stages of a romantic relationship from mutual knowledge and falling in love, analyzing the life of a couple online, to the emergence of relationship criticalities and the consequent emotional breakdown.

The stages of relationships born and maintained online do not differ from those that arise in real interpersonal contexts, except for some aspects related to the use of the virtual medium.

How does the network affect the methods of approach and knowledge of possible romantic couples?

Mutual knowledge through the virtual medium allows, at least in the initial stages of the relationship, to propose a better image of oneself. Often, the user in search of a potential partner strategically creates a slightly improved self-representation, in which emphasis is placed on the personal characteristics to which attention is paid to the potential interlocutor. The selection of some personal characteristics over others represents a first form of filter in the search for a partner. By emphasizing certain traits, people implicitly target those for whom those traits are significant and / or interesting.

The aspect that most characterizes the way to find a partner online is determined by the very nature of the medium on which it is based, the computer or, more generally, the network. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) differs significantly from face-to-face communication (FtF) in four respects.

  • The temporal dimension. CMC communications can take place asynchronously, that is, they are disconnected from temporary restrictions. The user decides when to connect to the network, without any obligation or social conditioning in doing so. Thus, the user can decide to respond to the interlocutor’s communications according to his own moments, valuing the opportunity to respond and decide how to do it.
  • Non-verbal communication. In FtF communication there are many non-verbal cues (facial expression, tone of voice, posture) that enrich and support verbal exchange. In CMC communication these signals are declined in different ways, for example through the use of emoticons that aim to graphically simulate the mood associated with written words. However, the absence of the gaze of FtF interaction makes CMC communication less emotionally demanding, often allowing for greater degrees of expressive freedom.
  • Anonymity. If in FtF communication the identity of the interlocutor is always known, this is not the case – at least in the initial stages of knowledge – in the CMC, where the identity is often hidden by the use of a nickname. Anonymity often gives the user a sense of greater freedom of expression, as it is free from the need to give coherence to one’s own social image and from worries about the future repercussions of one’s own communicative act.
  • Social norms. If in the FtF they are socially shared, in the CMC they remain more ambiguous and indefinite. This determines the perception of a greater degree of freedom of expression, with two possible antithetical results: the user can behave in a more authentic and sincere way than he would in the FtF mode; on the contrary, it can also act more irresponsibly or aggressively than in a context of real interaction.

The network is a communication channel potentially always open between partners. This, on the one hand, can support the relationship, allowing free communication of time and distance limits; on the other hand, the unlimited communicative potential can force to negotiate some norms of communication within the pair that regulate the exchange of messages between the pairs.

Announcements Romantic relationships, both online and offline, are often marked by feelings of curiosity about the couple’s private life and not infrequently by feelings of jealousy towards the latter. The network offers electronic “surveillance” tools (status, online access), which on the one hand can reduce the uncertainty of the relationship, on the other hand can feed the insecurity and discomfort associated with this uncertainty, activating fantasies of infidelity and doubts about the couple’s intentions.

The use of the network significantly increases the possibility of contacts with potential alternative partners: this in itself is understood as a risk that threatens the strength of a couple. However, the authors point out that there is not enough evidence to determine whether it is the network that increases the likelihood of breaking up the relationship or whether it is the couples in crisis who make the most use of the network precisely because they are dissatisfied with their relationship. .

In relationships, both online and offline, break-ups are increasingly being sanctioned through online communication. While most consider it an inappropriate choice, it is often preferred as it minimizes the emotional impact on oneself of the decision to end the relationship.

Those who receive communication about the couple’s decision to end the relationship are forced to deal individually with the emotional consequences of this breakup, without this emotionally affecting the person who made the choice.

The authors highlight the potential, but also the risks, linked to the search for a romantic partner on the net, provide three useful tips for juggling the search for love on the net.

  • Be clear and negotiate. Online communication can be more ambiguous than real communication. Therefore, the use of clear and transparent methods of communication protects the relationship from misunderstandings and misattributions of meaning. Specifically, the authors emphasize that “the importance of finding agreements that are functional for both partners in terms of online behaviors and their meanings is quite clear, in order to avoid disappointment with each other’s expectations” (Sibilla and Imperato , 2021).
  • Be balanced and flexible. The relationship must take two possible forms: both online and offline. The alternation of the two areas prevents the online relational dynamics from replacing the offline ones and allows to alternate the communication methods of the CMC with those of the FTF.
  • Be careful and take care. “Awareness of the difficulties that a couple born online might encounter allows them to implement compensatory strategies (…); behaviors such as rumor and vigilance originate in states of uncertainty and often favor increased discomfort, also triggering vicious circles ”(Sibilla and Imperato, 2021).

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  • Sibilla, F. and Imperato, C. (2021). Love online. The sentimental relationships in the times of the Web. Joint.
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