In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Online Conversations: The Art of Written Communication

Verbal seduction is the surest road to actual seduction

"All really great lovers are articulate, and verbal seduction is the surest road to actual seduction." Marya Mannes


"I can do anything you want me to do, as long as I don't have to speak." Linda Evangelista


Online affairs consist of conversations having elements common to both gossip and flirting. Idle conversations, engaged in for the sake of conversation alone, are more typical of online than offline relationships. The rapid pace of modern society leaves fewer opportunities for idle chat. Online communication supplies such opportunities. The fact that the people you are corresponding with have no real connection to you, nor can they influence your life, enhances the atmosphere necessary to engage in such enjoyable, non-purposive conversations.

As the value of these conversations is in the conversation itself, there is no need to be efficient and brief; on the contrary, we want the conversations to continue for as long as possible. No wonder that some online couples spend many hours a day writing to each other. When participating in online communication, people report that they feel as if they are immersed in an enjoyable ocean. They often testify that each hour seems like minutes because time passes so quickly when you are with the one you love. It is difficult to imagine the value of conversation being elevated to such heights in an offline relationship. It is refreshing to discover that neither physical contact nor visual content, but rather conversation, is at the heart of online affairs. As one woman comments: "A relationship based solely on communication is rare and too valuable to be dismissed" (all citations are from Love Online).

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Conversations are indeed important in forming a good base for a strong romantic relationship. Thus, a woman who has a wonderful marriage with a man she had an online relationship with describes her current situation: "The only complaint I have is that I miss the relationship we used to have online. There was no routine, no garbage to take out and most of all, uninterrupted, deep conversations. I think there is no better way to meet someone and get to know them from the inside."

The American President, Calvin Coolidge, once said: "I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm." This claim cannot be true of cyberspace, where verbal communication is of crucial importance. The art of conversation should be distinguished from the power of speech. The latter can impress at first meeting; after this, an absorbing and genuine conversation should take place if the relationship is based merely upon written communication, as is the case in cyberspace.

The new means of communication available in current society have increased the value of verbal skills in some fields, such as politics. The introduction of television has also increased the value placed upon the individual's pleasant external appearance in politics and in many other fields. However, the value of verbal communication is constantly decreasing in personal relationships. In our current society, we scarcely have the time for genuine and prolonged conversations with those dear to us.

In cyberspace, conversations are more important, as this is the only means with which to make intimate connections with other people. Words are once again becoming essential in human interaction. In cyberspace, confidence in personal relationships is acquired by genuine conversations and not by expensive makeup. Conversation, rather than name and title, makes the difference. The emphasis upon written communication in online relationships can be perceived as a reaction to the excessive role given to visual content in modern society.

The value of online conversations in romantic relationships is also evident from the fact that, after meeting face-to-face, couples tend to retain the online conversation for its unique value. Sometimes it is easier to write down what you feel than to describe it in the presence of someone. Writing enables you to focus upon those feelings and to express them in a more precise and less vulnerable manner. A relationship with the same person that is conducted both offline and online may have distinct qualities in each domain. In some cases, the offline relationship may be more physical and sexual, whereas the online one may be more intellectual. In other cases, the two relationships may be of different types. In any case, having access to various ways of communicating may enhance the connection between partners.

Given the greater value placed on conversations in cyberspace, skills involving words are becoming more important than skills connected with appearance. People often allude to writing styles when they explain their attraction to their online partners. Thus, one woman explains in the following manner why she replied to an email from a man after being disappointed with online meetings and blind dates: "He seemed nice from the letter, spelled most things correctly and I figured I would write back to him." The greater importance of conversation in online relationships indicates that the weight of intellectual activity, which conversation is an example of it, is by far greater in online relationships than in offline relationships. A woman who has participated in cybersex writes: "The best sex, obviously, is with someone literate enough to ‘paint a picture' describing activities or thoughts. I suppose that in face-to-face activities, someone stupid could still be extraordinarily sexy. But stupid doesn't work online, at least not for me."

Online relationships are sometimes criticized on the grounds that participants invest many hours a day simply chatting with people who are almost strangers to them. While it is clear that too much of a good thing can be harmful, in comparison to prevailing alternatives in modern society--such as watching television, mechanical sex, or playing computer games--chatting with strangers about everything that is on one's mind is at least of equal value, and may be the better alternative.

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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