What do we need to form a relationship nowadays? Some could argue that all you need is a good internet connection and an open heart. There are so many different ways to connect with people who are not necessarily in the same physical space as you, but is technology really changing the fundamentals of a relationship?
How is technology changing love?
If one thing is for certain, technology has changed the way we experience love, intimacy and connection. There is no need to be in the same space as someone else to form a connection, or no need to wait by the bar for your blind date to show up. Nowadays, you can form a connection with someone through emails, texting, online dating services, virtual reality meet-ups, selfies, emojis, avatars or a combination of all of the above.
Based on The 5 Love Languages Theory, humans tend to express their love either through words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time and physical touch. So in a world full of digital interactions, we can’t help but ask, do thoughtful texts qualify as “words of affirmation?”; does face-timing with your partner count as “quality time?”. Depends on who you ask.
According to the New York Times, many VR users say they experience “phantom touch”, i.e. physically feeling what is happening to their VR avatars. Some people argue that when their arms are touched in VR, they can feel it on their physical arms. This phenomenon is especially relevant in ERP (“Erotic Role Play”) but can also serve to deepen feelings that arise with more innocent contact as well.
What does digital love look like?
When it comes to romance, texting is often seen as a bare-minimum form of communication. Since the first days of the Internet, we have used it as a tool to broaden our prospects for meeting others and finding romance. We have come a long way since those AOL chat rooms, and even traditional dating sites are giving way to VR dates, AI matchmaking and metaverse weddings.
Virtual love doesn’t end in dating apps anymore: we can get married in the metaverse now. The New York Times reported several weddings hosted by digital platforms specializing in virtual events. One couple held a ceremony on virtual work and event platform Virbela. An avatar walked the bride down the aisle, another avatar toasted the happy couple, and twin avatars, just 7 years old, served as ring bearer and flower girl. The ceremony was joined by other friends and family, all as virtual avatars, all immersed in the live reception.
A lot of people argue that IRL dating now is too focused on looks, is technology changing that? One could think that the online world is leaving that behind, and while that is partly true, users still care about their partner’s appearance on digital platforms. Our avatars are as important as our physical appearance, in fact, a lot of internet users connect better with avatars as they reflect someone’s true personality.
Virtually in love
Within a digital environment, you can show the rest of the world how you feel inside and create a relationship with any type of avatar. Actually, in Japan, it is such a popular phenomenon that it has its own label (Moe, 萌え). Moe expresses developing romantic feelings and strong attachment towards a character.
Based on this behaviour, Koike pioneered a new field of research – romantic anthropomorphism, giving a non-human agent human-like characteristics in a romantic context. This piece of research challenges assumptions about the authenticity of virtual relationships and explores how these new environments are reshaping our social lives.
Individuals who suffer from social anxiety, but want to connect with others, are also using RVGs (Romantic Video Game) to familiarize themselves with social environments. This helps them to connect with people within the virtual world.
Technology is not going to change who you love but…
How is technology changing love? Almost not at all, but it’s redefining what romance looks like.
However, this modern super-interconnected world is providing us with the concept of the paradox of choice. For millions of years, we lived in little hunting groups. A few centuries ago, people didn’t have the opportunity to choose between 1,000 people on a dating site. According to science, we can embrace about five to nine alternatives, and after that, you get into what academics call “cognitive overload,” and you don’t choose any.
67% of singles in America today are living long-term with somebody, but have not yet married because they are terrified of divorce. Today’s singles want to know every single thing about a partner before they wed.
And in an age where there are too many dating options, where there’s no shame in pre-marital relationships, and there is available protection for pregnancy and diseases, people are taking their time to love.
In fact, the greatest change in modern romance and family life is not technology, but that relationships are not an economic transaction anymore. People chose to love in the way that works best for them, and the reality is that technology is just facilitating that. Whether your partner lives with you and texts you to make sure you got to work, or they live on the other side of the planet and you have only met their avatar form- one thing is for sure, technology lets you show them how much you mean to them without the need to be in the same physical space.