Professor Aaron Ben-ze’ wrote the book on online love. Yet if you ask him about it, he’d probably tell you it does not exist.
A professor at the University of Haifa, Dr. Ben-ze’ believes that two parts are necessary for genuine romantic love – physical attraction and “praiseworthiness.” While online lovers always find their partners extremely praiseworthy and idealize them as their perfect matches, they have no idea if they have the other necessary element of love – physical chemistry. They usually imagine one another as more attractive than they are, yet often put off sending each other pictures. In his book Online Love, Dr. Ben’ze’describes how they frequently say things like “I love him no matter how he looks,” sidestepping the fact that in real life, people fall in love with what they see.
Online love may have more in common with the courtship rites of our ancestors or those in very conservative cultures of today, where parents arranged marriages and premarital sex is forbidden. As Dr. Ben-ze observes, online love also delays physical contact. A hundred years ago, a man and a woman may have exchanged letters with one another and fallen in love through their correspondence. Even when they finally met in person, older adults would chaperone them so they would not have a chance to be alone or to make love. Likewise, in certain conservative countries, couples are not allowed much physical contact until after their weddings. The advantage is they get to know each other on an emotional and mental level before they become sexually involved with each other.
Something similar can happen during Internet relationships. The very nature of the Internet with its constant accessibility and anonymity speeds up such emotional connections. Dr. Ben-ze’ has studied couples who text and e-mail each other dozens of times a day, sharing intimate details of their lives, pasts, and future dreams. He believes this kind of courtship is particularly advantageous to women, who put a high value on emotional relationships. If you take out the importance of physical attractiveness, women benefit. As Dr. Ben-ze’ points out, research has shown that 57% of women who classify themselves as “above average” in looks on various dating websites receive 50 or more replies to their ads. However, only 11% of women who rate themselves as average in looks receive 50 or more replies.
Certain traits count more heavily than physical looks in Internet love relationships. “Being able to type fast and write well is the Internet equivalent of great legs or a tight butt in the real world,” Dr. Ben-ze’ notes. In his opinion, this also means that the relationship has no real grounding in reality.
Yet Dr. Ben-ze acknowledges he has met successful couples who first became acquainted through intense Internet exchanges. They tell him that their emotional connections only continue to keep growing many years after they were married. By spending a lot of time sharing written intimacies and focusing on the value of their communications, they were able to form a profound friendship that led to a deep and fulfilling romantic love.
Dr. Ben-ze’ nevertheless expresses caution when it comes to online love, and reminds people that “Passionate love is what happens to people who don’t know each other.” He also likes to quote a bumper sticker that reads: “I’m not just an interesting person. I have a body too.” The body and the face can be the deal-breakers.
Ben-ze’, Aaron. Love Online. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.