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Falling In Love Online

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Debby Herbenick
Feeling irresistibly attracted to someone online? Flirting incessantly through Twitter, Facebook, chat, and video? It's all good. Or at least, that's what our friend and sexual health expert Dr. Debby Herbenick says in her latest column:

In a recent New York Times article, and in light of Gov. Sanford's email exchanges with his Argentine lover, writer Virginia Heffernan considered whether people who fall in love online (via email, Texts, Facebook, Twitter, and such) are indeed falling for each other or whether they have fallen hopelessly in love with technology.

I would argue that, in most cases, the people are truly falling for each other. Whether they are in like, lust, or in love is anyone's guess but just because the affection grows with keyboard strokes rather than hand holding should not, I believe, minimize the powerful effect that bonding can have on a person or couple.

Yes, technology adds a sense of immediacy that wasn't present when people fell in love through paper-based letters that one had to wait for eons to arrive. But phone calls provided a sense of urgency too - did he or she call? did they call while I was listening to voice mail, or dialing them? is my phone working? did they call while I was checking to see if my phone was working? why aren't they answering? did he see my missed calls? Anyone who started, maintained or ended a relationship in those days before laptops and iPhones knows what this is like.

Plus, immediacy isn't the only thing that stokes fires. Longing, waiting and anticipation are central themes in many great love stories that are celebrated in literature, operas and in dance. There is a pace to courtship and seduction that is unpredictable - at times, exciting, passionate and fast-paced. At other times, achingly slow, while one person waits to hear from another one or until they are able to visit again, or to kiss or take off their clothes.

Also, technology isn't necessarily a barrier to letting people see the true core of one another. For many people, and not just the very young who have grown up with computers and cell phones, email and Facebook are the primary ways that they are able to express their emotions. Though I'm sorry to reference a Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks vehicle, I will, given how You've Got Mail was an early and fairly decent exploration of what it can feel like to fall in like/love online even when two people have never (to their knowledge, anyway) met, and also how people can let down their daily waking-life guards and make themselves vulnerable online.

Of course, there are many ways to build intimacy through phone calls, texts, Facebook, Twitter, emails and intra-office chat systems. In some cases it happens to two who have never met. In other instances it happens to two people who have met, or who work closely together, but for whom technology serves as a more private way to flirt or to get to know one another. Kind of like dating except without the expense.

There is a growing amount of research about online dating, flirtation, sex and, yes, even love, and I look forward to learning more from scientists, friends and loved ones about how it works for them. Personally, I try not to judge how two people meet or connect. I'm just happy when they do and when it feels right to those involved (clearly, affairs or relationships that cause hurt to others take it to a different level).

But overall, I often feel that life is too solitary in so many ways to nitpick the ways that people join up or to describe one way of meeting or falling in love as better or more real than another. We're born alone, we die alone and in between we have so many possible ways to meet others, to feel special, to feel loved and to help someone else feel loved and special and uniquely terrific in their beauty. So what if it happens online? At least it happens.

Debby Herbenick

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