My very first experience talking to a stranger online was in 1996. America Online had hit the scene and rocked my world. I found myself running to the computer like Pavlov’s dog, longing to hear the now famed words, “You’ve got mail”.
I was single and living on my own when I met someone in an AOL Christian Chat room. In a short time I found myself divulging information about my feelings, frustrations and shortcomings that I was not sharing with anyone else. He made me feel important, valued and cared for.
After chatting for a few weeks, this person emailed me and said he was going to be in my area and wanted to meet me. I tried to ask some questions as to why he would be in Syracuse, NY when he lived in Kentucky. The more questions I asked the more insistent and irritated he became. Then it dawned on me…this guy is up to no good.
If you read my earlier post “False Intimacy and Social Media”, you may be thinking I am a magnet for online predators. I can honestly say these are the only two negative experiences I have had in 15 years.
So why did I share this story with you? I believe that there is no shortcut or fast track to intimacy – especially when dealing with online relationships.
Often we are so emotionally depleted that we latch onto a relationship out of desperation. This happens in churches, bible studies and in the work place. It is also happening in an alarming rate on blogs, facebook, twitter and Google+.
In face to face relationships we do not always have instant access to the person we are establishing a relationship with. When dealing with others in person, we have the benefit of body language and feedback via social cues to help guide us as we move through the discovery phase of a relationship. This limited access allows for a nice pace and flow while building and establishing a friendship.
Online relationships differ as they allow for contact that is both instant and private. This privacy can create an unrealistic sense of being able to bare your soul in a way you might not do in person. There is no body language or social cues to give an accurate representation of the nature of the relationship.
In our hunger for intimacy, vulnerability and to be known, we offer our hearts too soon and miss out on the beauty of a relationship rooted and established in trust and time. We operate under the false assumption that reading about someone is the same as knowing them – and that feeds back into our unmet emotional needs.
So then the question is, can you have healthy relationships online?
I believe the answer is yes, but there are a few elements that need to be included.
Authentic intimacy requires:
1. Honesty – being genuine and truthful about who you are and what you believe. Without honesty there is no basis for the relationship.
2. Effort – anything worth having is worth working for. This is true of relationships as well. Relationships are work – even online.
3. Intentionality – be purposeful in the relationships you develop. You cannot be soul mates with everyone. Select carefully – your heart is worth it.
4. Time – deep relationships take time to develop. Rushing into things by backing the emotional truck and dumping does not equal intimacy.
5. Trust – relationships grow and deepen when we feel safe and when we can provide emotional safety for others. Be a trustworthy for others.
6. Reciprocity – relationships are based on give and take. If you find you are always on the giving end you may need to re evaluate things.
Ultimately our emotional needs can only be met by the Lord God, who created us in His image and as a reflection of His glory. When we seek fulfillment in other relationships before God, we set ourselves up for disappointment and we doom the relationship before it gets started.
In the last year I have had the privilege of making many new friends online. There are three people specifically that I correspond with regularly that have been great examples of the above principles.
I met all three on Twitter… Who knew that you could begin a meaningful relationship in 140 characters or less?! These relationships are based on mutual experience, interests and a shared love for the Lord. All three encourage me in my relationship with God and in my pursuit of living a holy life.
I hope that you have found this helpful and encouraging. God designed us to be in relationship with others. Whether the relationship takes place over the Internet or face to face, following some basic principles will help you to develop healthy relationships that can go the distance.