Online Relationships are Real

I had a wonderful conversation with a young man about the realness of online relationships. He recently ended a LDR (long distance relationship) with a young lady he'd never met. We touched upon many things related to internet culture and relationships, one of which, was the validity of online dating. 

Is it a real relationship if we never "meet" or never touch each other? 
second life character screen shot, online relationships

second life character screen shot, online relationships

With half my life with the internet, and meeting many of my friends through AIM, World of Warcraft, and Facebook groups, I would say that yes, online relationships are very real. Mike Langlois, the Gamer Therapist, wrote about how dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released while playing games. If you meet someone online and develop romantic feelings for them while playing online together, those same chemicals are released. 

It makes sense, though. Have you ever seen a gamer rage quit or have nerd rage? If you can get angry at someone while playing games with them, or interacting online, why would it be difficult to believe you can fall in love with someone using the same medium?

Studies have shown that oxytocin, the love drug, is usually released during physical contact. This is why connection is so important. Hugs and gentle touches can release oxytocin and make us feel contentment, and bonded with others. Online interactions in social media and playing games with strong narratives have also been found to release oxytocin as well!

Lots of people meet through online dating sites to weed out mismatches, and initially chat with someone before meeting in person. This can help make dating more efficient, as well as allow those with social anxiety a slower pace to warm up to others. 

With dating sites, and massive online games for people to meet, play together, and potentially fall in love, what makes strictly online dating so different? 

  • It can feel stigmatizing not to find a physically present partner. Family and friends can make fun of you, or simply not understand how intense and real these emotions are. There can also be pressure to be with someone else.
  • It can be confusing what defines intimacy. Each relationship is unique with differing levels and need for physical contact. When you find someone who gets you, and makes you feel safe to be vulnerable, sometimes the lack in physical contact is worth the risk. 
  • Online sex, sexting, or phone sex. More people are participating in online sexual acts. Sometimes it can be a barrier or uncomfortable for people to accept that is can be a main intimacy people share in a romantic relationship. Some choose not to have any type of sex, and still have a strong connection together online.
  • Being vulnerable through words. This culture is very visual. It can be difficult to see something that isn't obvious. When many people think of romantic relationships, they think of holding hands, hugging, kissing, and a physical person. Text can be the most honest way of connection for many people. Some of us stumble when we speak, some of us freeze, and compose amazing responses when the moment is over. Having time to pause and think allows more of us to express ourselves more genuinely. 
  • Having a screen in between you and another person can reduce inhibitions to be more authentic. This can go the other way, of course (trolls), and in terms of romantic relationships online, having a screen as a conduit can help couples communicate more honestly about conflict and concerns. 
  • Catfishing. It's very common for people to lure lonely people into relationships. There is a genuine concern for those who date someone with an avatar, like in online games. You may or may not be dating who you think you are. Part of this interaction involves risk, and being vulnerable. (I will write more on this in a later post)

Despite all these differences, online connections can be rewarding and fulfilling. 

  • Emotional support can manifest in different ways. Having someone online offer a virtual hug, compliment, or words of wisdom can mean so much to someone. This is partly why there are so many online groups and forums.
  • Clarity in communication. Lots of us born with the internet are sponges for information. It's very normal to refer to google or an article we recently read while conversing with others. Having access to websites and being able to share them immediately, can help some of us explain our thoughts or feelings more clearly.
  • Mutual interests. If you met your significant other, or friend in an online group or online game, it is very likely that you both have endless conversations on the original topics that drew you together. With the MBTI and gaming groups I've belonged to, there is this history of a culture and inside jokes we can always refer to to strengthen our connection. 
  • Constant connection. Having your smart phone or being online can feel like this person is always with you. It can be very isolating not having a friend or loved one around, but some of us can feel warm and loved knowing they are a text away. 
  • Special bond. Sometimes the distance can make the relationship even stronger. Perhaps in your immediate community, there aren't potential matches. It can be romantic and idealist to find someone hundreds or thousands of miles away, and somehow the internet made it possible for you to be together. This can many times, encourage you to accept the distance while building on mutual dreams to meet in the future. 
  • Love is worth the (calculated) risk. Sometimes you can't help who you fall in love with. Sometimes it just happens, and sometimes it's magical. Other times, it's a painful series of events that you wish never occurred. It's these joys where we are able to acknowledge how necessary pain is to appreciate the nuances life can offer. Online relationships can give us the entire emotional spectrum. 

 

LOOK AT THIS: Artist Illustrates Her Long Distance Relationship Struggles & Joys | BoredPanda

 

 

Felicia Day's Book Tour

Felicia Day's Book Tour, Los Angeles, 2016

Felicia Day's Book Tour, Los Angeles, 2016

I was invited by another geek therapist, The Mindful Misfit MFT, to attend this book tour. She messaged me on FaceBook and asked, 

"Do you know Felicia Day?"

In my head I was thinking, "Uh, yes?!" (I've followed her since her YouTube days with The Guild, and it empowered me to be more of my geek and gamer self at the time. It was so relateable, and sad and funny to see a script based on the lives of online gamers.)

So it turns out, Felicia Day wrote a memoir. And in this memoir is very personal things about growing up with home schooling, acting, and being a professional creative female. She also talks candidly about her depression and gaming addiction when things got overwhelming for her. 

Even though she lived with her brother and home schooled with him, it seemed like they never connected until they gamed together. I resonate with this statement because my brother also introduced me to World of Warcraft. We didn't have much to say to each other in person, but gaming and having goals to accomplish as a team really connected us. 

Bringing people together is one wonderful aspect of gaming. 

Wil Wheaton interviewing Felicia Day

Wil Wheaton interviewing Felicia Day

Some tidbits that I wanted to share from the talk she had with Wil Wheaton are the following:

Collaborate & Seek Others: 

Both Wil and Felicia talked about how isolating it can be as an artist with depression and/or anxiety. Sometimes it feels like a burden to share so much emotion with others. Wil disclosed how he felt so bad that Felicia was going through this pain and didn't have anyone to share it with. He was right there and didn't even know. And that's how depression can be for many of us. 

Self-worth and Pressure on Achievement: 

Perfectionism is a curse for many creatives, and it limits the enjoyment of creation. Both paired their self-worth and ability to be liked by others with approval and tangible outcome. Wil and Felicia are both working on this self love and acceptance, and shared that it is enough just being you. You are enough without the accolades and accomplishments. 

How to Balance Work/Life as an Artist:

The practical advice came as learning what your baseline is. This is in terms of one's depression and anxiety. Each of us has a baseline that we stray from in times of stress or high emotion. Taking time to acknowledge what we look like without any stress can help us work towards maintaining the ups and downs closer to this baseline. 

o Coping Skills: Figure out what works for you, and what doesn't work for you.

o Self-Monitor: Sometimes we're so busy, we don't take notice of how we're feeling and our body's internal state. Start noticing what's going on when we feel certain ways can help bring us back to that baseline.

"Find a place to perform for the love & joy of performing." -Wil Wheaton

Boonie Sripom & Felicia Day! <3

Boonie Sripom & Felicia Day! <3

A part that struck a chord with me is the overall society view of art. It's seen as something as a hobby, something that couldn't really be compensated well until one becomes a celebrity. Being in the middle of unknown and well-known has its financial and emotional consequences. Both Wil and Felicia touched on this topic of money, and said,

"Make art...creative outlet for the sake of creativity." -Wil Wheaton

"You do it because you want to get your voice out there."-Felicia Day

(on whether her YouTube series would be successful now, and advice to others thinking of making work on YouTube)

Felicia advocated for seeking a therapist as an artist or geek. Her writing of this memoir helped sort through many of her life's moments, gave herself permission to fail, and acknowledge that she has accomplished so much. She encourages more of us to write that memoir to see how healing telling our story can be.

Thank you so much, Felicia! 

Anxiety Gaming connects online gamers to therapists

Anxiety Gaming connects online gamers to therapists

Felicia gave me one resource, Anxiety Gaming, and it is a nonprofit that connects gamers with therapists. The nonprofit can help pay for services. I hope to work with them soon. 

If these tips from Wil & Felicia are difficult to implement or maintain, give me a call! I'm in the OC area and love to help fellow artists, geeks, and gamers level up. (949)381-1894

Take care,

Boonie

Purchase the Book here:

 You're Never Weird On the Internet (almost): a Memoir, Felicia Day, 2015

Additional Links:

The Guild YouTube webseries

Felicia Day's Official Website

Wil Wheaton's Official Website

Connect Online Gamers With Therapists | Anxiety Gaming

Geek Links | Organized Messes

Links on Creativity | Organized Messes

8 Thoughts on Internet Addiction (MMORPGs)

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