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