Love Online: Emotions on the Internet

 Guest Author : Aaron Ben-Ze’ev

Nowadays, one of the most exciting social, as well as romantic, sites to visit is cyberspace. At any moment, millions of people are surfing that space, socializing with each other or having romantic affairs. Their number is growing by the minute. Why do people feel compelled to leave the comfortable surroundings of their actual world and immerse themselves in this seductive space? Why are emotions so intense in this seemingly imaginary world? What is the future of romantic relationships and prevailing bonds such as marriage?

            “Love Online” examines the nature of romantic love in cyberspace and compares it to love in offline circumstances. The Internet has a profound impact upon the extent and nature of romantic and sexual relationships. Describing this impact may be helpful in coping with the online romantic and sexual revolution and in predicting the future development of these relationships.

In this post, I discuss a central issue concerning online romantic relationship: Why the Net is so seductive?

The major features responsible for the great romantic seductiveness of cyberspace are imagination, interactivity, availability, and anonymity.

Love Online: Emotions on the Internet

Interactivity is what distinguishes cyberspace from other imaginative realities. In cyberspace people are not merely imagining themselves to be with an attractive person, they are actually interacting with such a person. Indeed, the reported actions are sexually more daring and exciting. You can do things in cyberspace that you would never do in real offline circumstances. The interactivity of cyberspace fosters a crucial aspect of romantic relationships: reciprocity. Mutual attraction is the most highly valued characteristic in a potential mate—this is true for both sexes. It is easier to express reciprocity in cyberspace, as it requires fewer resources or real actions, and self-disclosure is greater.

Cyberspace is an alternative, available environment providing people with easy access to many available and desired options. It is easy and not costly to reach desired partners and easy to perform desired actions. It is easier to find romantic partners in cyberspace than at bars, shopping malls, or supermarkets. Cyberspace is also highly available in the sense that it is highly accessible. One does not have to do much or invest significant resources in order to step into this imaginative paradise. Millions of people are eagerly waiting for you on the Net every moment of the day. They are available and it is easy to find them. (You must remember, however, that, as is true in offline life, most of those people will not suit or interest you.) Cyberspace is more dynamic, unstable, and exciting than offline circumstances.

The anonymity and distance associated with online relationship reduce the risks of such activities; accordingly, people feel safer and freer to act according to their desires. In offline circumstances, the fear of harmful consequences is one of the major obstacles to conducting many romantic affairs and to significant self-disclosure in those that are conducted. Because of the greater sense of security, self-disclosure is also more prevalent in cyberspace—this in turn increases intimacy and, accordingly, the seductiveness of online relationships is further enhanced.

The above features of cyberspace increase the lure of the Net and make people feel more excited, comfortable, free, and safe while engaging in an online romantic affair. A woman notes: “I experienced cybersex for the first time and I have never been so turned on in my life! It gave birth to and brought out my ‘animal.’ We reveled in fantasyland. It was a constant daily fever—what a rush (cited in the book). It has been claimed that cyberspace enables one to have more sex, better sex, and different sex. Since many moral and practical constraints are lifted in the Net, people can more easily make sexual contacts when and with whom they want. Cybersex can be more intense, relaxed, and satisfactory—it may also be conducted with people who are not available for offline sexual activities.

A significant advantage of cyberspace is that it is different: it provides desirable situations over and above those found in offline circumstances. It is not an advantage however, if people are unable to draw the lines between online and offline worlds. Blurring the lines is dangerous as it abolishes the advantages of each world. Learning to live within two worlds is difficult as well. The price of the greater freedom available online is the risk of being captured by your own desire. As the Eagles put it in their “Hotel California”: “we are all just prisoners here of our own device.” Cyberspace should complement, rather than substitute for, offline life. Accordingly, people should be moderate in their use of the Internet; thus, they might limit the amount of time they spend online. In light of the great lure of cyberspace, such limitation is hard to achieve as the risk of sliding down the slippery slope is so high.

Author Bio

Aaron Ben-Zeév is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa and former President of the University (2004 – 2012). He is considered one of the world’s leading experts in the study of emotions and romantic love. He is completing now a book on Romantic Compromises. His major books are The Subtlety of Emotions (MIT, 2000), Love Online: Emotions on the Internet (Cambridge UP, 2004), In The Name of Love: Romantic ideology and its victims (With R. Goussinsky, Oxford UP, 2008).

He has a blog on love in Psychology Today:

Aaron Ben-Zeév‘s Books Cover  :



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