Double Click: Romance and Commitment Among Online Couples
Author: Andrea J. Baker
Publisher: Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005
Review Published: February 2009
The popularization of the Internet has had a dramatic effect on social life, profoundly changing the way in which we perceive and understand the world. It is only logical that love relationships haven't gone unscathed. The pervasiveness of Internet has meant that over two million Americans have tied the knot with people they met online -- either through dating sites or not . In 1998, as Internet usage was becoming more and more popular, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan portrayed a couple who fell in love via email in You've Got Mail (1998). Talk shows now regularly have among their guests people telling how they met their significant others online. Often, an online Prince Charming turns out to be neither blue-eyed, blonde, nor handsome, and a frog rather than a prince in real life, all charm going sour in the process of discovery. Sociologist Julie Albright, whose research deals with cyber relationships, also had a first-hand experience when her Mr. Right turned out to be totally wrong . In a way, these contemporary fairy tales gone awry are often used as cautionary tales not to trust people online too much.
Far from offering scary experiences over the Internet, in Double Click: Romance and Commitment Among Online Couples, Andrea Baker analyzes how couples meet online and establish romantic and committed relationships online and later on in so-called "real life." Double Click explores the process from their first contact online to the final outcome of the relationship -- as far as that information is available to the author.
Chapter 1, "Online couples, Internet relationships," examines how people get closer without physical proximity, looks, sensory information, or other kinesthetic cues. Circumstances taken for granted in face-to-face interaction are just not available online. Nevertheless, contrary to widespread beliefs that the Internet allows for more lying, especially about looks, online relationships often happen to have more solid foundations than in real life in terms of sharing feelings, inner thoughts, and emotions. Chapter 2, "Studies of Online Communication and Online Relationships," summarizes the survey of literature on the subject of both online and offline communication and draws a model of a successful couple.
Chapter 3, "How the Couples Met Online," warns that "skepticism prevents those wedded to the visual sense from understanding the bases of attraction through the written word" (27). The study stresses the importance of being friends first, even if specifically looking for a partner on a dating site. Contrary to other studies focusing on people specifically looking for a partner online, Baker takes as her informants people who at first might not have been looking for love (some of them were already in serious relationships and even married) but playing virtual games, chatting online or even using a technical support forum. Backchanneling, "the private contact taking place behind the scenes of the public activity" (30), plays an important role, letting participants get to know each other privately, apart from other participants' eyes. Online attraction, generated through the written word, is the consequence of a number of factors, including social (similar people), communicative and media-oriented (spelling, grammar, speed of response), and individual factors (such as a sense of humor or intelligence).
As shown in chapter 4, "Online Places and How People Talk to Each Other in Cyberspace," people can meet online at a variety of locations such as games, VC (Virtual Community), listservs, websites, weblogs, chat rooms and instant messaging, and dating sites. The communication may be synchronous (that is, happening at the same time) or asynchronous (with both people not being online at the same time, as it happens with emails).
Chapter 5, "Issues of Communication and Intimacy Online," explores how after text-based communication, other ways to communicate are available such as email, IM chat, or phone. To express feelings and affections, partners can make use of a range of devices such as fonts, colors, smileys, terms of address, poetry (original or not), popular song lyrics, or online dates. Online couples face some problems that have to be worked out by any couple, such as interpersonal differences, but some potential conflicts arise from circumstances specifically related to theirs being an online relationship, such as technical problems or timing, the latter especially affecting those living in different countries. Baker notes that working out these problems, both personal and technical, translated into more chances of having a successful relationship. For building intimacy online, Baker finds that self-disclosure and honesty are key for relationships to work out and succeed, with twelve out of the sixteen break-ups beings caused by some sort of lying. Cybersex or phone sex also played a part, with thirty-four out of the seventy-six couples in the study getting involved in it. Reactions went from finding it a poor substitute to real sex to others considering it exciting.
Chapter 6, "How the Couples Met IRL" focuses on the first meeting or "meat" (as it is often spelled online). The first meat involves a series of decisions regarding where to meet (either at one of the partners' homes or at a hotel) and sleeping arrangements, among others. It is at this stage where expectations and reality meet, especially when it comes to appearance and personality. Equally important is the postmeat -- that is, the reactions after the encounter and the possibility of a new meat or not.
Chapter 7, "Factors in Successful and Unsuccessful Online Relationships," establishes four factors which are decisive in the establishment of a successful relationship. These factors are summarized in the acronym POST: the Place they met on/offline; Obstacles the couple encountered; Self-presentation (hyperhonesty or deception); and Timing (how long they talked online before the meat). All these factors are in turn largely determined by the communication element. In this chapter, eight couples are closely examined as case studies to illustrate how these factors work in particular instances. Baker finds that "the more practice and success a couple has in this process online and over the phone, the better in-person skills will be" (164). Chapter 8, "Researching Online Couples," surveys current methodological approaches, issues, and challenges for the future. It analyzes relationships according to eleven variables and the POST concepts examined in the previous chapter as well as posing methodology strategies.
A particular strength of the book is that it compiles both successful and unsuccessful relationships, showing that even though some of these couples eventually split up others got married and continued their relationship successfully, analyzing what makes (un)successful couples different. The diversity of couples taking the survey, including gay couples often left out in many other studies, also makes for a stronger case. All in all, Andrea Baker's Double Click: Romance and Commitment Among Online Couples is a compelling read and a most useful study for those researching cyber relationships.
M. Carmen Gomez-Galisteo:
M. Carmen Gomez-Galisteo is currently a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the Universidad de Alcala (Madrid, Spain). Her research interests include 17th-century American literature, popular culture, cultural studies, and women's studies. Her most recent work has recently appeared in Ad Americam, Clepsydra, and NeoAmericanist. She has previously reviewed The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television for RCCS. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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