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LOVE ON SALE

A recent report in The Telegraph, UK, on why online dating generates more lasting relationships, states, “love is now big business worth an annual $4 billion internationally and growing at 70 per cent a year”. Psychologists at the Chicago University are of the opinion that marriages which begin with online dating have a greater chance of success than those which begin in the ‘real’ world. According to a survey, couples who first met in person reported “slightly less satisfaction” than the ones who met online.

The times are a-changing, it can be said, but one wonders where this change is going. Online dating ‘solutions’ provided by professional matchmakers are for the rich and the busy — who have little time to search for a partner in the world outside the computer screen. But anyone who has an account on Facebook will realize how online love is all set to dissolve class barriers.

A Facebook profile is almost like a voter ID card now — not having one is unusual. One doesn’t even require a personal computer or an internet café to have one — the phone is a mini computer. Facebook is like a huge party room, a café, a bar or a community centre you can visit at all hours. Finding love and doing business, of course, are the most common reasons for visiting such places.

What is it that makes internet love such a popular and comfortable option — the risks of fake profiles, fake photographs and fake identities notwithstanding? Delving into that abyss called the human psyche, one could investigate why an introvert can transform himself into a flamboyant extrovert in his virtual avatar, how a Photoshopped image can work wonders for one’s confidence and why the ‘safe’ distance afforded by the computer screen can help a person express his or her emotions better. One clear advantage of the virtual self is the anonymity that comes with it. A Facebook profile can be disposed of, or disowned, at will. One can discard an entire episode — of promises made, inclinations shown, words spoken, emotions expressed — with a simple Block or Unfriend button. Online dating also makes it far easier to ward off unwanted attention. It’s a life that can be created, erased and re-created. The virtual life is far more empowering than the ‘real’ one.

The virtual world also offers the convenience of packaging oneself better. In person, one might blabber or stammer, or be bad at finding the right words at the right moment. One may have a bad hair day; the lack of a decent dress or a good perfume may spoil a date. But words written in chat boxes can be erased and rewritten before one presses the Enter button. The About Me section can be edited, the profile picture airbrushed. Physical presence will often betray — through the flicker of the eye, the hint of a smile or the tightening of facial muscles — what one tries to hide. But smileys are standardized templates for the ‘exact’ emotion one intends to express. They will not let the other person read more than what is required.

Love does involve advertising oneself to the prospective partner as a lucrative option. It is a business that can be done better over the internet.