Is the Internet the Cure for Loneliness? (DE Wave)

In spite of this month’s media bombardment about “Valentine’s Day” this and “Valentine’s Day” that, there are many people out there who are single and maybe even live alone. Not every unattached person longs for companionship, but some out there do prefer to not spend winter nights alone. The computer age has brought changes to dating, but one reader emailed that she’s afraid of searching online for a potential mate because of the possibility of encountering a serial killer. She also told me that she didn’t want to appear desperate. Two good reasons, I guess….

But the vast majority of people engaged in Internet dating are not serial killers. And I don’t see any basis for her assumption that those who engage in Internet dating are necessarily desperate. Millions of people log on to dating websites every day, and making the effort doesn’t imply that you’re desperate. Let’s face it: The computer isn’t all that different from the traditional bar scene or a blind date; you put yourself out there, and as you get to know a person better, you know soon enough if they’re desperate or low on self-esteem.

Internet dating can be managed with care and common sense. You chat online, then you move to the telephone, and then you have your first get-together in a public, unpressured setting like a restaurant. As with anything else, common sense and good judgment are the keys. If people engage in Internet dating with little or no idea of what they want, they’re setting themselves up for trouble — perhaps not a serial killer, but trouble in the form of disappointment. But again, really no different than getting dressed up and visiting a singles bar or community group.

The main advantage of Internet dating is convenience. You can click your way through hundreds of potential partners, all in the comfort of your bunny slippers. The main disadvantage is the randomness. After all, cyberspace is a vast, open area where anybody can go. Traditionally, you meet people in a context where you share one important value or interest in common. But in a rural area like a seasonal resort, there aren’t many opportunities to do that, so it makes sense to explore every possibility; rationally and with good sense.

The deeper issue here is loneliness. From my experience, loneliness falls into two categories. The first is short term and can be dealt with. “I’m lonely and I don’t like it, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m going to do something about it.” The other is the feeling that loneliness is inevitable and permanent; often boiling down to a sense of abandonment. Mental health researchers speculate that abandonment is a universal human fear. Everyone wants to be loved, and the prospect of not feeling loved is a powerful motivator to do things that might (or might not) be emotionally prudent. Some people tell me that they secretly check their loved one’s email or voicemail for no particular reason other than an intense worry over being abandoned. Others stay in relationships that they know are unhealthy, just to avoid the pain of abandonment.

Of course, abandonment can be painful, but it is survivable. You can’t just wish away the hurt feelings, especially if they bring up past unpleasant experiences. But you can confront your fears and doubts, sometimes with professional help, and come to the conclusion that they need not rule your life.

I see no reason to rule out any form of meeting people. Healthy relationships are part of what make life worth living, and the possibility is open to everyone. A person should confront his or her fears about loneliness, then trust themselves to pursue Internet dating, or the bar scene, blind dates, chance encounters at the mall, or whatever with caution and common sense.

So, if you’re single and planning to embark on the adventure of meeting somebody new, especially in and around the nooks and crannies of cyberspace, first take time to get to know yourself better.

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