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Love in the digital age

The Bottom Line

  • "Cyber-intimacy" has a profound and very real impact on the lives of couples.
  • Technologies can influence three stages in the life cycle of a romantic relationship: 1) how people find and meet partners online; 2) the ways in which partners use technologies to maintain the relationship; and 3) how people cope with the dissolution process by using technologies to regain a sense of autonomy.
  • Texting, selfies with your partner, or publicly shared "statuses" on social media have become ways in which couples communicate. 

The way we look for our soul mate has evolved in the last few years at the same pace as technology. Several platforms to find love have been created. The same is true for other stages of a couple's lifecycle: whether it is to use technology to maintain a relationship or to regain autonomy after the dissolution of a couple. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased our online activities and forced people of all ages to use the Internet to connect with others. Today, we can express our interest in someone with a simple swipe of a finger on a screen or by sending an emoji. We show digital affection to celebrate our love.

It goes without saying that technology is having a profound and very real impact on our love live.

What the research tells us

A recent systematic review of 72 studies examined the use of technology throughout the lifecycle of a romantic relationship.(1) While these studies did not specifically target older adults, they found that "cyber-intimacy" has a real and profound impact regardless of age.

The review reveals that technologies can influence three stages in the lifecycle of a romantic relationship: 1) how people find and meet partners online; 2) the ways in which partners use technologies to maintain their relationship; and 3) how people cope with the process of dissolving their romantic relationship and using technologies to regain a sense of autonomy.

Studies indicate that the ability to connect with someone we like is made easier online. People seem to be more uninhibited when they are behind their screen and allow themselves to engage in virtual behaviours that they wouldn't dare in "real" life. However, being confronted with many potential partners can lead to poor choices, by not being as selective and being distracted by the array of profiles presented to us. 

Are you officially in a relationship? You must now comply with the rules that govern love in the digital age. Beware of the lover who doesn't change their marital status on Facebook to reflect their commitment. Studies show that public displays of affection on social networks increase couple satisfaction. Using technology can be helpful in maintaining or strengthening the bond with your partner, whether it's texting and taking pictures (or even consuming sexual content as a couple). But beware! Different digital habits can lower relationship satisfaction. In addition, jealousy can quickly arise, especially if one partner spends too much time online and initiates interactions with other people.  

During a relationship, a couple accumulates digital "assets" - photos, videos, texts - just like furniture or a car. When the relationship ends, lovers must do a digital housecleaning, such as removing the other from their contacts, removing shared photos, changing their online status, etc. Moving on can be complicated, especially if the estranged partner spies on their ex on social media or engages in cyber-stalking. That said, technology can help with the dissolution of a romantic relationship by helping former partners regain a sense of autonomy.


Love in the digital age: Protect yourself

Security and privacy are important concerns when it comes to technology. A few caveats are in order:

- If you are looking for your soul mate, check out dating sites that verify the identity of users. Most sites are open to people of all ages, but some specialize in people over 50, or bring together people with common interests, such as culture and the outdoors.

- Be careful with the personal information you share online (including images or videos that could identify and locate you).

- On social media, question yourself before making information public. Keep in mind that this information, as well as suggestive photographs and sexting, is always accessible on digital devices and could be distributed to others without your consent.

- Don't hesitate to report anyone who threatens, harasses or sends you unsolicited sexually explicit messages or images. Confide in a loved one, a support worker or call the police if your safety is threatened.


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Author Details

References

  1. Kwok I, Wescott AB. Cyberintimacy: A scoping review of technology-mediated romance in the digital age. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2020 Oct;23(10):657-666. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2019.0764. Epub 2020 Jul 24. PMID: 32721219.

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