A while back, I wrote an article, Meeting Online Contacts Offline. Someone left a comment on the article saying that she wanted to talk to someone about "internet affairs" and asking if I could help. Unfortunately, she didn’t email me or leave her email address, and while I responded to her comment, she didn’t contact me again. I’m still wondering what kind of help she needed.
Since then, I’ve read several Themestream articles about the terrible effect the internet has had on people’s marriages. One article talked about how a couple fought with each other using instant messages and found other loves through the internet. In general, I haven’t seen many positive articles about the internet and relationships, and I finally decided that somebody needed to write one just for balance. Please note that I am not saying that those articles were bad or not factual, just that I’m noting a tendency towards looking at the dark side of the issue.
As anybody who has read my articles on internet safety or my web site would know, I’m very cautious about who I get to know and how close they get to my family. Due to past experiences, I am extremely aware of informational security, and there are people who have known me for years online who don’t have my street address—and are unlikely to get it any time soon unless they visit Atlanta and I decide to invite them over.
I have, however, met many wonderful people in the years I’ve spent online. I’ve had good and bad experiences—but most of them, honestly, have been good. I’m cautious, but I’m not closed to possibilities—and due to that, there are people in my life who I would never have met otherwise. There’s a man who is my parents’ age who is like a brother to me. There’s a family whose daughter stays with us when her parents are working and who game with us and celebrate holidays with us. And there’s my life partner, who I met at church but got to know online.
The internet does not lead to any kind of infidelity or other bad behavior any more than telephones, cars or rock music do. There’s absolutely no reason to claim that your wife left you because of somebody she met on the internet—if she was going to be unfaithful, she could have found ways to do so with or without the net. Your husband did not get into pornography because of the internet—he could have found it otherwise if he wanted to do so (yes, it’s easy to find it online, but there have always been other ways, too). Your teenaged daughter did not suddenly become rebellious and get involved with some weird new religion because of the internet—the rebellion was already there, and she would have found an outlet for it with or without that AOL account. If your son was going to be committing some kind of vandalism, the fact that he found the script kiddies’ web sites and the virus creation toolkit online may have steered him towards a particular kind of vandalism, but it didn’t make him do it. Whether a person acts ethically or unethically depends on that person’s character, not whether or not he or she is online.
A couple whose relationship is in trouble isn’t going to have a stronger relationship because they get rid of the PC and the cable modem. They won’t magically find themselves disinterested in outside affairs. They won’t be any more likely to put the work that needs to be done to (if possible) heal their marriage just because they’re back to watching TV instead of chatting online. The same tools they use to talk to their lovers could be used to increase communication with each other—if they wanted to use them that way.
I find infidelity of any kind utterly disgusting. I am not, in fact, very forgiving of people who break their commitments to their partners or to their children. I don’t condone "internet affairs" or any other kind of affairs, but I can’t really see why there’s a need to think about "internet affairs"—cheating is cheating, period.
Originally published March 12, 2001