Between the over covered story of Notre Dame Football Player, Manti Te’o, various blog posts and opinions examining our current dating practices and the new MTV show Catfish that explores the intricacies of online relationships, it seems like everyone is talking about digital relationships! It adds so many possibilities to how we think about, define and engage in relationships, both intimate and not.
One of the most (personally) frustrating reactions to the Te’o story was people’s inability to imagine being in an exclusively online relationship. As if intimacy, companionship and love only exist within physical relationships. Isn’t it possible for us to feel incredibly close and deeply connected to someone whom we’ve never been physically intimate with or whom we’ve never met in person? On a recent episode of Catfish, Matt and Kim’s relationship demonstrates exactly that. The two had been communicating with each other via (solely) technology for ten years. They spoke to each other either through text messaging, Facebook, emails or phone conversations almost every day. Kim explained that Matt was the person that provided her with the greatest comfort and support during the most difficult times in her life. They make each other laugh and have developed a strong and caring partnership which they both depend on. Now that she has a boyfriend whom she is living with and considering marrying, Kim is feeling conflicted about these two relationships. Can she love them both? Can she participate in a respectful, loving marriage with her boyfriend and continue the relationship she’s had with Matt for the past 10 years, or does she have to choose between the two?
I think we can, and should have many meaningful relationships with many people who collectively fulfill our complex and diverse needs of affection, solidarity and friendship. Culturally we have a pretty singular view of what the parameters of romantic and intimate relationships are supposed to look like, but as with all other assumed cultural expectations, one size does not fit all. We can’t just assume that everybody is going to find one (THE ONE) person capable of providing everything that they could ever want and need out of a confidante. It feels like an unfair expectation for everyone. Instead let’s expand on our ideas of intimate relationships and modify our relationship boundaries to meet OUR and our partner’s needs.
How do you define a partner? Is it someone that you talk to everyday? Live with? Have a sexual or physical relationship with? Can you have only one? It’s up to YOU to define what you want in a partner, or partners, to communicate those needs to the prospective partners that come in and out of your life, and respect those that are communicated to you. You and your partner(s) are able to have ongoing conversations around the expectations of your relationships and don’t have to depend on rigid social norms that may or may not be appropriate for you. We can create a life for ourselves that is full of thoughtful, respectful and healthy relationships of all sorts.
If you want to continue the conversation around healthy relationships invite WISE to your organization, school or community group for a tailored presentation!
If you or someone you know is in an unsafe relationship and would like support you can contact WISE, 24 hours a day at 1/866.348.WISE.