Cyber Relationships vs. Face to Face

While cyber relationships are convenient, nothing beats face to face dialogue. We’ll discuss both.

cyber relationships

Two things happened, a couple of days apart.

I got an e‑mail note from a loyal reader of our blog, The Pathless Path. She was thankful for the content, and also mentioned how much she was enjoying my books. “I Imagine I’m hearing your voice as I read.”

Which led me to reflect on writing.

One of the odd things about writing is that the process itself is intensely personal. Mostly, it’s all about sorting through my life experiences, and then attempting to share them in a useful way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Then it’s dropped into the blog software, a “publish” date is set, and a lot of the time, that’s it. The words are labour over are gone.

Much like therapy; you never get to know the end result. Which is why I ask for feedback, and was glad to get this note.

She also asked me to comment on cyber relationships vs. face to face ones.

Last week, a client was talking about a guy at work she finds interesting. They talk, they e‑mail. She doesn’t know what to do next. I suggested a dialogue, using the Communication Model (there’s a surprise, right???)

She said,

I get it. I’ll invite him over. I’ll tell him that my back door leaks and needs weather stripping, and if he comes over and offers a “male viewpoint” on weather stripping, I’ll provide the wine.”

Not exactly what I meant, but if it gets them talking… Because real, deep, and intimate relationships take much effort, and much direct communication.

So, first, let’s look at cyber relationships.

cyber relationships

One of the greatest problems with cyber relationships is the “charge leads to time” factor. Clients report how much time is taken up by the relationship; there is an almost addictive quality to their chat line or e‑mail experience. Yet, in a sense, they are talking into a void.

Then, there is the veracity factor. Sure, there is an actual person at the other end of the contact, but until the contact shifts to meeting the other person, you can’t be sure of their sex, their marital status, their age, whether they are already in a relationship—let alone how “real” the person’s written “perception of self” is.

I did a consulting job for a corporation recently, and my contact sent the material via a high-ranking HR person. As she was heading to a meeting nearby, I suggested she stop for coffee at my home office on her way through. The brief meeting ended up lasting two plus hours; we talked about the project, then ourselves, then life in general.

That conversation has continued by e‑mail. I notice, with e‑mail, I am more likely to be sarcastic, ironic, than in face to face conversation. I find myself creating an artificial intimacy, to make up for the off-putting nature of the media. I suspect that I got a better “sense” of the woman from our two hour meeting that I get through our e‑mails, although the e‑mail has continued our contact and therefore deepened our relationship.

It’s a paradox.

As to my client, I asked her to tell me, again, about her plan for inviting the guy at work to talk. She said she found him interesting and different. I then asked her what that had to do with weather stripping. She laughed, and blushed, and said, “What do you want me to do? Tell him I find him interesting?”

I said that this was exactly what I would do, but I wasn’t sure what she should do.

I said that I’d say,

I find our conversations interesting and I’d like to know more about you. How about getting coffee at Timmie’s and spending some time getting to know each other?” (Timmie’s is a Canadianism for Tim Horton’s, a major donut chain.)

She said, “But my way, we can sort of just fall into a conversation. Your way, he could say no.”

I replied that my approach is both direct and honest—the way I said it meant that I wanted to learn more about the person through face to face conversation.

Her way, on the other hand—weather stripping and wine at her house—has the potential for a much wider set of interpretations—sort of a Mae West, “How’d you like to come upstairs and realign my weather stripping” kind of thing.

What I’m getting at is this: relationships are difficult enough without making them more difficult.

cyber relationships

It is essential that people meet eyeball to eyeball, knee to knee, in dialogue, and if you really want the relationship to go somewhere, you need a Communication Model, and you need to “do communicating” all the time.

And this kind of dialogue, to be valuable, needs to be stripped of pretense and game playing, so that what is said is accurate, honest, open and descriptive of what is going on.

Cyber relationships, even ones that include phone calls, are hidden behind a protective layer of technology.

There is a certain safety in the once-removed-ness of the technology. When I was about 10, I listened to my baby sitter break up with her boyfriend over the phone. I thought that was cool, so I called up my “girlfriend” (at 10, that means we liked each other and talked) and broke up with her like my babysitter did. I felt pumped—having said things I’d never have said in person.

That Sunday, her dad came up to me at church and reamed me out, and deservedly so. Because I couldn’t see her through the telephone line, I had no idea what the effects of my words was on her, until he told me a bit of it.

Later, when I was 18, she and I talked about it (I was slow and thick back then … 😉 ) and she still was able to feel the pain that I had been totally unaware of. Had I said those words to her face (of course, I wouldn’t have—that’s my point), I’d have seen her very deep response.

So, all of you in cyber relationships, cool. So far as it goes. Don’t however, confuse them with real relationships. No matter how badly you want to.

And for all of you contemplating face to face relationships, try being honest, instead of playing games. Ask someone out for coffee and conversation. Be straight with people—“I’m interested in continuing this conversation and being your friend, but for me this is not about romance,” for example. (see Intimate Relationships for more ideas—near the bottom of the article.)

Some people won’t like it or want to play by the “honesty and openness rules” you want to use. OK. Move on. Seek those who are willing to open up, or who are at least willing to explore opening up.

Hint: you’re never going to find a relationship without drama and conflict. The only way through such conflict is daily dialogue. Not talking, holding grudges, playing games, yelling, trying to be “clever”—all lead to more conflict. Face to face dialogue is key—and you must commit to doing it, even when you don’t want to.

In the end, the depth of our being is determined by how well we are willing to be open and honest—in this moment. This requires being physically present with our partner, and the willingness to communicate with vulnerability. It requires observation, and the sharing of feelings. Anything that gets in the way, whether it is technology or weather stripping, means “living life once removed.”

And life, simply, is too short for that.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

5 thoughts on “Cyber Relationships vs. Face to Face”

  1. Wow, maybe he thinks we are more than friends. Do I want to be more than friends with him? Wayne, as you see, I have a lot of work to do in my therapy. Thank you for your blog, your articles help me in a lot of ways!

    • You’re welcome!
      Yes, time to discover for yourself what you want, and to be curious about what he wants.
      Dialogue, at all stages or a relationship, is vital!
      Warmly, Wayne

  2. I really loved the article. I met a man at a workshop and we continue a relationship as friends mainly by e‑mail, but we’ve seen each other occasionally. I notice how different face-to-face from writing is. Just to mention one thing, I give far more virtual hugs and kisses than real ones, I wouldn’t dare to have so much physical contact face-to-face, because we are not that intimate and I’d need more time, but I let myself go with it when e‑mailing. This is making me think…

    • Hi Isabel,
      Yeah, the “screen” provides a certain “cover,” eh? Often, the language we use online is more provocative, chargy, etc. The face to face dialogue, on the other hand, is more intense. You clearly see the results of your words/actions, and are more “exposed.”
      I was just doing Bodywork with a client, and at the end, she wanted a hug. As I was holding her, she said, “I just wish my [boyfriend] would do this for me.” (Not clear whether she meant the Bodywork or the hug…)
      I replied, “Have you asked him?”
      Her: “He might say no.”
      Me: “Only one way to find out, and then, if not with him, with someone else.”
      Truly, the only way to shift ourselves is to actually shift something!

  3. Great article Wayne!! I couldn’t agree more. Cyber relationships though convenient, are no replacement for being up close and personal. So much is lost, from feeling, emotion, inflection to body language. Cyber communication has it’s place but should in no way be a substitute for personal relationships.


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