Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Online Relationships and the Role of the Human Service Practitioner

Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Online Relationships and the Role of the Human Service Practitioner

Article excerpt

Online Relationships and the Role of the Human Service Practitioner

In the past decade, as the internet has become a prominent tool for daily use, it has also become a conventional vehicle for meeting and forming romantic relationships. Half of the current population that regularly uses the internet has utilized an online dating website to meet a potential partner (Valkenberg & Peter, 2007). Furthermore, recent reports indicate that more than one-third of those married from 2005 to 2012 met online (Cacioppo, Cacioppo, Gonzanga, Ogburn, & Vanderweele, 2013). In spite of the success of online dating, there are also inherent risks to meeting an individual online (Internet Crime Complaint Center, 2011).

One illustration of this came during the spring of 2013. Media outlets reported that the University of Notre Dame Heisman Trophy candidate, Manti Te'o, was a victim of an online hoax. According to the reports, Te'o fell in love with a young woman from Hawaii, Lennay Kekua, who eventually passed away from Leukemia. However, months later Manti learned that Lennay never existed and he was a victim of an elaborate internet hoax (Claire & Hamilton, 2013). In a separate incident in 2006, 13- year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after her online boyfriend, Josh Evans, broke up with her (Steinhauer, 2008). In reality, the profile was an internet hoax and Josh never existed. While these stories gained mass media attention nationally and internationally, the stories of Manti Te'o and Megan Meier are not unique. Thousands of individuals across America report victimization from an online relationship (Internet Crime Complaint Center, 2011).

Consequences of Online Relationships

Data shows that many individuals experience successful relationships that began online (Cacioppo et al., 2013). However, the consequences of participating in an online relationship are widespread. This section will discuss the psychological, physical, and financial consequences of online dating.

Psychological Consequences

Because internet relationships rely on online communication, misrepresentations in the relationship often occur, even if they are unintentional (Finkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reis, & Sprecher 2012). When creating an online profile one may tend to describe her or his ideal self rather than her or his true self. Online daters also tend to focus and highlight their most positive qualities instead of giving a comprehensive presentation of their inherent flaws (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006). If the partners later meet face-to-face, there is a strong risk of disappointment, confusion, and sadness when discovering these previous misrepresentations (Couch, Liamputtong, & Pitts, 2012).

Intentional misrepresentations are a common occurrence in online relationships and are a strong concern of those seeking an online relationship (Couch & Liamputtong, 2008; Couch et al., 2012). Because they are not face-to-face with their potential dating partner, people using the internet to form romantic relationships may feel a sense of liberty to lie (Zimbler & Feldman, 2011). Ina study by Toma, Hancock, and Ellison (2008), 81% of online daters lied regarding their physical characteristics while engaging in an online relationship. Men appear to lie most about their level of income and height while women lie most frequently about their weight and physical build. In terms of age, statistics show that this lie is common for both men and women (Online Dating Statistics, 2013). While both men and women appear to lie about themselves online, women report that they lie regularly as a self-protective mechanism in order to feel safer and more secure (Whitty, 2002).

Additionally, individuals may use a fake profile to lure a potential mate (Couch & Liamputtong, 2008). Our contemporary culture uses a slang term, "catfish", to describe individuals who pretend to be someone they are not online by posting false information, such as someone else's picture (Palmer, 2013). …

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