Whitty, M. (2007). Love Letters: the development of romantic relationships throughout the ages. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes & U. Reips (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
An excellent overview of the differences and similarities of online and offline courtship by @cyberpsy.
Concepts of love
the notion of romantic love only began to flourish in Western cultures in the mid-19th century. this is also when the formal wedding ceremony emerged (and the white dress “to symbolize the purity of the bride”).
“romantic love centered around the concept of the ‘ideal self’ (Lystra, 1989). The true inner person was to be revealed through extensive self-disclosure and honesty with the loved one; thus romantic love embodied total self-revelation and open communication.” (Cate & Lloyd, 1992: 18) (p. 32)
This is interesting in light of the finding that people have a tendency to be more open and honest online in general (abstract only, sorry). What effect does this have on the inclination to fall in love more quickly online?
Historical courtship game changers (according to Whitty & to Cate & Lloyd (1992)):
- formalisation of courtship centred around the woman’s home;
- rules of dating become established by the peer group in mid-20th century (and emphasis on men initiating the courtship rituals, shifting the control towards them);
- sexual revolution in the 1960s;
- HIV epidemic in 1980s.
Key questions in practices of courting: “who watches over the interaction, who decides the meeting should take place in the first instance, who decides it should continue, where courting takes place… reason for pairing up” (p. 33)
“cyberspace can potentially provide a space for individruals to be more private and have their dating activities dar less monitored than they would be in more traditional spaces.” (p. 33)
despite the possibility to try out different identities online (Turkle, 1995), women and men flirt in the same ways as they do offline: “women more than men…[utilise] non-verbal substitutes, such as laughing and emphasising physical attractivenss. Men.. were more likely to initiate contact.” (p. 33)
Love via the telegraph (see Standage, 1998):
“before we had the internet, there is evidence that some relationships, even many centuries ago, developed (at least in part) through text.” (p. 35)
online relationships are like “courtly love” (idealised relationships that could not exist within the context of a real life marriage. Courtly lovers apparently spent a great deal of time talking to each other , mostly about the nature of love. They could not physically act out their passions, and if made public this love rarely endured.” (p. 35). Similarities: cyber-flirting remains only online; it cannot be consummated; online relationships can seem hopelessly distant; easier to idealise someone in cyberspace
“CMC impression management is more controllable and fluid” than offline (Walther et al, 2001) (p. 37)
the timing of presenting photographs has an effect on the duration of the CMC relationship (Walther et al 2001).
Online dating sites
Online dating sites instigate quicker offline meeting times than other online communities, where people will spend time getting to know someone online; the objective of the dating sites is to “move offline as quickly as possible”; it was important for the individual in f2f matched the online profile.
in online dating, participants are consciously aware that they are trying to attract people, but want to present themselves as ‘real’. profile writing is therefore a dynamic process of constantly updating depending upon the response from the audience.
Canadian research by Brym & Lenton (2003) identified four social forces that have driven growth of online dating:
* increasing number of singles in the population (leaving marriage later)
* people are looking for more efficient ways for meeting others
* single people are more mobile so it’s more difficult to meet people
* workplace worries about sexual harassment means there’s less love in the photocopier room (my elaboration, not the researchers’).
Here’s the Google Books version of this collection: