What Makes an Online relationship successful?


Published in CyberPsychology and Behavior, Vol. 5, #4, August, 2002, pp. 363-375.

What Makes an Online Relationship Successful?  Clues from Couples Who Met in Cyberspace

by Andrea Baker


From a larger study of 68 couples who met online, eight couples were chosen as cases representing the sample to illustrate two kinds of outcomes: "successful," continuing couples, or "unsuccessful," relationships that ended. All respondent accounts from questionnaire data, interviews, and e-mail correspondence between partners were closely examined. Four factors emerged which seemed to differentiate among the two types of relationships begun online: (1) meeting place, where they first encountered each other online; (2) obstacles, barriers to getting together overcome by the couples, such as distance and previous relationships; (3) timing, period spent writing or talking before meeting offline, and how intimate they became before meeting offline; and (4) conflict resolution, ability of the people to resolve problems in communication. People who first met in places based upon common interests, who communicated for long periods of time before meeting offline without too much intimacy, who worked through barriers to becoming closer, and who negotiated conflict well tended to stay together. Future research and analysis can further determine how the process of forming and maintaining successful relationships begun online compares to those started offline.


Early in 2002, CNN reported from a study derived from the US Census claiming that as of September, 2001, more than half of all Americans had computers in their homes.1 Over 50% of Europeans in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden were also wired up to the Internet.2 An online dating service Match.com reports 382,000 people who logged on, up 144% from the previous quarter,3 possibly due to the events of September11, 2002. A study of Canadians online showed that more than one million people tried an online dating site.4 Parks and Floyd's research on newsgroups randomly surveyed people who discussed specialized topics with each other in cyberspace. They found that over 60% had established a "personal relationship", within their internet group, with about 8% forming romantic relationships.5

This paper asks the question, "Can couples meet online, communicate and live 'happily ever after'?" It addresses factors that may lead to successful relationships online by comparing intact couples with those known to have ended their relationships.  The general public perception is skeptical toward the idea that people who meet online could ever relate in real life (IRL) or offline. Academic work is more mixed, but there is the implication from older research that reduced social presence diminishes chances for positive online connection. Some preliminary findings of Usenet studies 5, show the intermingling of online and offline interaction. Wellman, 6,7 and Baym, 8,9 find the presence of back and forth interaction from online to offline in their research on virtual and local communities.


The methodology of the larger research project began with the creation of an open-ended questionnaire about the progression of online relationships. To enter the study, a couple had to meet somewhere online and progress toward the intent of forming an intimate relationship. They would either have met offline at least once or plan to do so. Both members of the couple needed to complete the questionnaire. Supplementary data came from follow-up telephone interviews with a small subset of couples and selections of their email sent to the researcher. Sixty-eight couples or 136 respondents have entered the study from June, 1997 to September, 2001. The nonrandom sample was gathered when hearing online from people who fit the criteria or occasionally f2f or when they came across my website or research or after reading articles about the study in the media. A separate, supplementary group of twenty individuals who answered without their partners came from an online dating service. Because the criteria for inclusion in the study tended to select for intact couples, the break-ups constitute about 18 per cent of the cases gathered so far. Outcomes of some couples are unknown because long-term follow-up was not formally built into the research.

The paper here concentrates upon the cases of eight couples, yet their stories reflect much of the rest of the data. They were selected as ideal types, representing the experience of couples who wanted to pursue their relationships. Each couple illustrates either the positive accomplishment or the negative difficulty in negotiating each of the four areas identified through a careful reading of the questionnaire, interview and email data.

Selection criteria for the couple included the fact that in addition to the questionnaire data, each couple provided either emails, requested within the questionnaire or phone interviews, when asked by the researcher, or both, as supplementary sources of information. Only 15% of the study couples contributed the additional data, allowing the researcher to learn about them in more depth. The couples represented the larger research sample in that all but a few local pairs communicated across long distances, either within the US, or internationally, between countries. The eight couples here initially communicated between two states within the Midwest US, between the Midwest and the Southern US, the West and the Midwest, the West and the Southeast, the US and Canada, (two cases), the US and England, and the US and Australia. The couples also represented the wide age range among the studied pairs, with a range from people in their twenties through fifties. In addition, the researcher currently knows outcomes of the eight relationships, which is not true of all the study couples from when the study began in 1997 to 2002. They met in diverse places on the net, in discussion groups, on a listserv, a newsgroup, and in a chatroom, as did most of the couples in the study. One posted to an email pen pal web page. The vast majority of couples in this research did not meet in an online dating service, although several did.

Table 1: "Demographics and Outcome"

Names+Ages+Education+Involved w/other+Outcome






college senior









Ph. D



Split Up/no contact





M. A.

B. A +









college degree



Split Up/little contact






two master's degrees



Living Together





B. A.




Split Up/no contact





M. S.

M. A



Split Up/Friends





Some college

Two Master's Degrees



Living Together

+Ages and educational levels are given for the time they met the other person online.

Table 2: "Timing and Location"

Names+Where Met+Date Met+Date Met irl+Where Lived+Where Moved

Sam, Joanie




Midwest, West


Jeff, Annette

Discussion forum



planned 8/1998

Canada, Midwest

No move

Mark, Claire

Pen pal email page



England, South


Blake, Neva

Discussion forum



West, South

No move

Leon, Margo

Discussion forum

Summer 1998

7/1999 or 12/1999

Canada, South


Trent, Daisy

Discussion forum



Midwest, Midwest

No move

Konrad, Nissa




Midwest, South

No move

Briar, Hilde

Chat group



West, Australia



Under what conditions are online couples successful in relationships? "Successful" means here that the relationships last, rather than dissolve or become "unsuccessful". Considering that 50% of new marriages end in divorce, it may not be surprising that people who meet online break up. Are there ways to understand which factors bring people who meet online closer together to allow them to form long-term relationships? Are these the same principles that operate offline too?

Four components are examined here, looking at individual couples as examples. Quotes are drawn from interviews, emails, and questionnaires, after studying the writings or statements of the couples for emergent themes. The structural and situational factors on which the couples vary are:

¨ Meeting Place: Common Interests
¨ Obstacles: Distance, Jobs, Other Relationships
¨ Timing: Length of Contact/Pace of Intimacy
¨ Conflict Resolution: Metacommunication

These factors roughly equate to the Where, What, When, and How of Online Relationships. For each section below, examples of two couples illustrate first adherence to the principal and then deviation from it, to show how the presence of absence of the factor influences the continuation or dissolution of the relationship. First, how do places people meet in cyberspace affect the course of their interactions?

¨ Where They Met: Places of Common Interests:

The place or space or location online is important in determining how much people have in common to start. 10, More specific meeting places mean more built-in areas of sharing. People can meet in places for those in one occupation or field of study or professional development or leisure-time hobby. They can congregate in chatrooms or bulletin boards or forums for those of similar ethnic groups, religions, or just for those interested in say, the United Kingdom or Irish culture. In the gaming world, individuals role-play characters in MOO's, MUD's and MUSHES and vary in how social, technical or interested in winning or losing they are.

Sam and Joanie* (Successful) met on an occupational newsgroup when she posted a call for help with learning more about Law Enforcement. Their email from the first week showed a clear progression from a distanced exchange of information to revealing outside interests to giving each other home addresses.

Joanie wrote her first posting to the list in early March, 1995:

I was wondering if anyone would help me out on this one. I am an 18
year old female that is very interested in becoming a law
enforcement officer. I am currently attending the University
of Michigan*. I would like to get started with some type of program or something, to gain experience and become involved. If anyone
could help me out I would greatly appreciate it.
Thanks in advance, J

Sam, a law enforcement officer, answered her on the same day with this:

Not long ago I was in your shoes. One thing I learned is that a lot of
what I needed was right there at the University. I was, and still am,
attending one of campuses of the University in California*. I looked into the
University Police Department. Through them I was able to start working
as a volunteer, then I got a paid position, then I worked into a
dispatcher, now I am an officer. They showed me just what I had to
do to get to my goal.

They were writing every day and more from the first letter. The following is an exchange from a few days and several letters later, which gets into more detail and humor.

Joanie asked about the number of women working in the area:

And how many female officers are there in your department?

Sam provided this answer:

Unfortunately, no female officers right now. My dept is only six Officers,
2 Sergeants, 1 Lt., and a Chief… don't know the exact figures, but I would
guess that somewhere around 50 of the 350 officers are female. UOP
used to have a female, a very good friend of mine, but she just left about
6 months ago to a city further up north. She was really tough... Ranked #1
in the state in poser lifting! And she probably only weighed 95 lbs.!

The two courted for a year with two or three visits. She moved to Michigan where he had gone to go to graduate school and they were married in the summer of 1998 and are together today. Ironically, Joanie is still in Law Enforcement, after an undergraduate degree in sociology, and Sam does social science research, using his master's degree begun soon after he met Joanie. He says they "switched careers." They also switched states ironically before they came to move in together.

Jeff and Annette (Unsuccessful): Unlike Sam and Joanie, Jeff, originally from the UK, now living in western Canada, and Annette from the Midwest met on a more general online forum, or bulletin board. They were an older couple, in their late forties and early fifties at the time of meeting. Each had at least one marriage behind them, indeed Jeff was separated from his third wife. Both had college degrees and Annette held a graduate degree. Jeff hung out mostly in writing and word games and Annette was in the relationships part of the forum.

Jeff wrote a lot of poetry and also presented it in clubs at readings:

Tonight at Paulie's Café* I read: "I Am The White" (in the book), "In
Progress" (which I sent you the other day), "Jimi Hendrix and me"
(in the book), and the attached which i wrote over supper, and
refined between supper and my reading.

Reception was pretty good on all fronts! Showed the wonks that
i DO have a hobby that doesn't involve shouting at THEM!

Love you dearly. The week is just pounding away so fast, I love it!

Annette appreciated Jeff's poetry though she doesn't write fiction or even read it much. She liked the chapbook of collected poems he dedicated to her. Soon she becomes aware of Jeff's interest in cricket though he had told her he really wasn't too interested in sports.

Annette talked about the difficulty of getting in touch after being unable to contact Jeff regularly, as they had done before:

... I am asking for a chatroom and you are asking for email. We can
try email during this cricket thing and see how it works... Is this the
Grey cup?

After Jeff skirted the topic, she then wrote another note in a series on Jeff's preoccupation with cricket, wanting to know the duration of the games:

Why not send me the whole cricket season schedule? Are the games
on both Sat and Sun or what?

Here I thought I was getting a nice effete British boy and what did I
get, an Anglo-Saxon Hooligan!

Jeff answered with a protest:

Aha! never ever been considered effete -- too much of a rabble
rouser for that!

I only really follow Test Match cricket (i.e. the senior internationals).
This year there are five between Australia and England.

Annette again asked about how long each cricket game lasts.
Jeff tells her:

Each one of the five takes five days: this one finishes tomorrow.
The next one starts in about two weeks.

The couple met twice f2f, after breaking up once in between the visits, the first time at a neutral city and the second time in Jeff's place of residence for a few days each. The relationship lasted for about a year before ending by fading out not long after the second visit. Unlike Sam and Joanie, they could not find enough commonality between them to overcome the hurdles of distance, jobs, and past relationships discussed below.

¨ What They Overcame: Obstacles of Distance, Jobs, Relationships

In taking advantage of the meeting through the internet, most likely couples will encounter the problem of how to overcome distance, involving sacrifice of time and money to meet f2f and continue the relationship. The issue of who is to go where for visits and eventually move toward the other in the long-term is crucial to the success of committed online relationships. Job commitments or the raising of children from previous relationships can hinder geographical relocation for one or both people. Previous or current involvements with others can also inhibit commitment in the current relationship.

Mark and Claire* * (Successful): This pair met online while living in two different countries, England and the U. S. They were both married to other people at the time, though Claire had already decided to file for divorce. Mark had flirted with others online before encountering Claire, though he always told them about his marriage, his second one. He was attracted to her intellectual bent, to the level of their conversations.

Mark described his caution in disturbing the marriage as:

Comfortable, we had two cars, a reasonable kind of life…

He remarked about the escalation of his online friendship with Claire, as she planned her first visit to the London area:

Claire was going to come over. It came as a surprise. I think she
was more intense before me, it took me longer, built up more slowly....

Claire described her own feelings later, before the next journey to see Mark, showing her feelings:
…My 2nd trip in May, I think...I could tell he was on edge, I wrote
him a letter on the plane, (saying) I think that you do love me, I know
you do. What worries you is the implications of those words, stirring
up implications you can't meet. I only expect what you can do,
whether it is to be with me or not to be with me....you will do what you
can do…I am prepared to have things go either way...

She told me in a phone interview that she was crying, dripping tears on the paper, as she wrote of how she would let him choose what to do. Later she reflected on how her income had plummeted after her divorce and how she settled for less than her share just to get out of her first marriage.

Claire answered a question about whether she ended up with less money:

Yes, I did. I would have been entitled to $195,000, and I took
seventy. The first half was given to me, and the second half
was minus selling the house....23,000 was the final half. When
all the debts were paid...(I had) 25-28,000.

Comparing her current earnings from a temporary job in England to her past family income in the States she says:
Jan 4 I go to (work for) a local train co. That will be nice, a step up
in pay...I can almost meet expenses... I went from a situation of
between 85 and 125,000 a year to a situation equivalent to 20,000 a
year in an expensive place...I couldn't be happier...I went from rich
and miserable to poor and happy.....

Mark looked back on the result of his decision to marry Claire, on the effects upon his wife and children:
In long run, the kids have been very good, very understanding.
My daughter's best friend is in a broken marriage, the kids have
no problem with Claire. She was very upset, my (ex) wife. In a
year or two she may admit it too, (that it was for the best). I don't
seek her company.

This couple, Mark and Claire ended their previous marriages, with Claire relocating to England. Claire sacrificed a higher-end lifestyle derived from her previous husband's salary, while Mark severed his bonds of convenience with his former wife to commit himself to his new, more vital relationship with Claire.

Blake and Neva: (Unsuccessful) Like Mark and Claire, Blake and Neva faced the obstacles of jobs and finances, geographical distance, and other relationships, though neither was married to others at the time. They were also in the older age range for new couples, as were Mark and Claire, and both had children from previous marriages. Blake, 45, had an adult daughter not living with him, while Neva, 48 still had one child at home. They attempted to overcome the 2,000 or so miles between the two coasts of the

In the conference space online where they first encountered each other, Neva challenged Blake's involvement with a woman online. Later he flirted with other women and finally carried out rather graphic, explicit cybersex with another women in the public forum, which Neva protested. Although he apologized afterwards, citing the casual nature of the interaction, Neva felt rejected. Jealousy was a theme on both sides throughout the relationship though immediately before and after they met irl (in real life), the problem receded into the background.

Blake had recently lost his job in California. He had decided to relocate to where Neva lived, and she expressed concern about his job prospects there in Florida.

Neva noted her reservations about Blake's employment situation:

I'm working and he's not. That was another big hurdle. I didn't want
an unemployed man in a mid-life crisis…He is exploring job possibilities
where I live, which is one reason I suggested we meet as soon as possible.
I didn't want him to commit to something here and then move and decide
he had made the wrong choice!

Blake commented on monetary resources in planning to meet Neva irl:

Financial concerns are important as neither of us in flush in cash. We
have been checking out different ways to meet or pay for it. She has
mentioned her Frequent Flyer Miles and I've already checked out the

Neva added:

Financial concerns are important. I happen to have a frequent flyer
ticket so the airfare will be minimal. We will split other expenses,
but I'm not sure how.

She reflected how Blake pushed her to go further, and yet she insisted that they go more slowly:

I was almost feeling like throwing caution to the wind. Well, not quite.
Let him get the job first.

Blake writes in email to Neva in1998 reflecting upon their path toward being together. After discussing Neva's jealousy of another woman online, Blake sent Neva this poem:

but you're right
so for now
we'll just let the River
take its course
and steer as best we can
avoiding the rocks and shoals

and planning our course together
whatever provisions we may need...
and I suppose there are distractions
along the way...

So we'll trust each other's river skills
and help each other
should one fall in the water
unless they decide to swim
for another shore...

At one point, about a year after they first met, Neva started dating another man. Blake hoped that she would lose interest in him, maintaining trust they could reunite.

Blake, two years later in an email to the author describes the current situation.

The story went dormant about mid-April (2000) or so. Though
there's still the occasional contact and open offer should the
two parties ever find themselves in the same area code :)

Blake and Neva are apart, with no relocation of either person anticipated. Blake is currently employed. They never met f2f after the first time.

To get together, couples sometimes left other primary relationships, and more often traveled to different states and countries to blend their living situations into a common residence. With geographical distance between the members of a couple, one person frequently had to leave behind a job and sometimes close family ties to make the transition.

¨ When They Met IRL: Length of Contact and Postponing of Physical Intimacy

In this section, I first summarize the evidence that shows that on the whole, couples who communicated longer before they met stayed together and formed more permanent bonds. The couples in this sample that married after meeting online, with one exception, tended to write for at least a few months, and often longer, before meeting f2f.
The mechanics of relationship-building would suggest that the more a person knows about someone over time, while still desiring to maintain contact, the better chance they would have of connecting in the long run. In this case, without the distraction of physical appearance, which may represent a superficial type of attraction, the couples could leisurely communicate likes and dislikes, personality traits and lifestyles to ensure compatibility and understanding. Most all the couples in this study, both successful and unsuccessful wrote to each other for periods of months before they decided to meet.

Greater self-disclosure can take place more easily, since couples spend time communicating, instead of partaking in events or activities demanding concentration on stimuli outside of themselves 12. In fact, an experimental study 13 suggests that increased bandwidth cuts back on perceived trust while text-only environments allow for more intimacy between matched pairs People exchange much more information, four times as much, than they do either f2f, or when seen through webcams.

At the same time, couples that escalated their intimacy through cybersex, particularly before meeting in person, ended their relationships more frequently than ones who put off that kind of intimacy until they met f2f. The pacing and content of the communication as well as the length of time people write can influence the nature and depth of the bonding between the two people.

Saving intimacy for in-person meeting and beyond seems a more workable strategy for long-term liaisons than sharing sexual preferences and scenarios, given this sample. Margo and Leon made the conscious decision to keep their relationship on a "spiritual" (Margo) plane until they met, whereas Trent and Daisy shared imaginary "sexual" (Daisy) scenarios well before they encountered each other f2f.

Leon and Margo (Successful): Unlike Trent and Daisy, Leon and Margo decided from the start to keep their online communications nonsexual. Leon worried about others seeing what they wrote, breaking through security. Neither partner wanted the relationship to become too quickly centered around sexuality, before they knew each other in a more holistic way.

Margo talked about the direction of their online communication:

With Leon and I right away, he was very reserved in email…
We both decided we couldn't really understand people getting
yucky in chatrooms. We decided we would keep the relationship
pristine. We would surf sites, which talked about spiritual sex,
sacred sex.... meditation.

She mentioned the temptation to get more sexual with words, but after they pretended to share a bathtub once, the furthest they would go towards virtual physical intimacy,
"I could feel my face go red". Margo reiterated that the advantage of overcoming physical desire by refusing to engage in cybersex is that it "does make you meet on a spiritual level".

Leon went out of his way to disabuse others of their stereotypes about people who meet online. He outlined exactly how and where he and Margo had first talked, not in a place such as "cyberchat.com" or "cybersex.com":

I would kinda try to make it not sound like I just met this person
in a chat room. I met 'em on the internet, but in a more intellectual
setting, in more of a community setting. People would have this
idea that we met having cybersex......Through [the virtual community]
we were able to know a lot more about each other...

He responded that his personal style, similar to Margo's, along with the risk of losing his privacy prevented him from more sexual activities:

We would send kisses to each other. We didn't go into depth with
it…I wasn't real comfortable with the idea of it, especially online.
Anyone could be listening, so it seems kinda silly. The more computer
stuff I do, the more concerned I am about security. I want to keep
everything clean, online….not have anything that anyone could ever
blackmail me with, even if it was innocent in my eyes.

Leon and Margo met without exchanging photos, having spoken on the phone only once. After two more visits, Margo relocated from Canada to the U.S. to live in Louis' house, where each works as an online consultant as they begin to develop their own business together.

Trent and Daisy (Unsuccessful): Although Daisy and Trent knew each other well from a technical support group online, both had spouses when their acquaintanceship began. Daisy's marriage had fallen apart and Trent's wife had died of cancer. Five weeks after becoming a widower, he began a more intimate partnership with Daisy.

Trent describes the process of getting closer to Daisy:

I was in a reflective mood and needing someone to be a listener.
I found myself on-line and "chatting" with Dorothy and not only
was she being a good listener, she was wanting to know more
about the memories I was living with. She encouraged me to
"show her some pictures…Following that day, with both of us
needing someone to listen, and both of us needing a way to heal,
and both of us needing to find something to make life worth
living again, it now seems as if it was only natural that, having
already developed a "friendship" due to the online group, we
should begin to drift toward each other.

Trent explains how he and Daisy felt comfortable with indulging on a sexual level because of the online mode of sharing, and their ages and experience:
In a relationship that is developing in a totally "e" environment.
It is very easy to "let your inhibitions go" completely…

In our case, because we are both older, and possibly because
of the era from which we evolved, we had actually gotten to the
point where we were prepared for a physical relationship well
before we ever met face to face. I think this may be one of the
most important aspects of the "e" relationship phenomenon that
you could possibly study. It's easy to wear one's sexuality on
one's sleeve, when one's sleeve is not actually visible to the other
person on the other side of the computer screen.

The two describe how they became bonded sexually, offline and online. Daisy matter of factly states their intent to consummate their relationship physically after they had communicated online. Trent concurs, though he had considered the possibility of drawing the line between friendship and physical intimacy:

Tom and I knew each other well enuf before we met physically
the first time that we knew we wanted to get a hotel room together...
Tom and I were playing sexual fantasy games before we met and
talking about our sexual preferences.. All words and playing with emotions.


In fact, I would say that we were very intimate online, and did so
before we met in person…I also believe that either of us could
have made a conscious decision to "slow it down" if we had
wanted to... does that mean that maybe we were both searching
for the physical aspect as well as the emotional connection?
Maybe, but I'm afraid that's probably a big enough subject that it
deserves a study all by itself.

Commuting through a five-plus hour drive to spend ten days at a time with each other regularly for nine months, Trent and Daisy planned to combine households and marry the following summer. Instead, Trent admitted that he was not ready to commit to anyone, and broke up with Daisy, who had a hard time accepting his decision, continuing to seek physical closeness with Trent.

A few people described how the online communication prevented a premature physical involvement, allowing each to get to know the other without becoming overwhelmed by sexual passion. Limiting text and speech to friendship-oriented topics helps postpone acting out an interpersonal attraction until meeting in a physical plane. Couples recommend looking for friends with common interests, rather than seeking out lovers or partners online. Most of the more successful ones keep interaction at that level until meeting irl, usually months after first connecting online.

¨ How They Communicated: Resolving Conflicts
The area of dyadic communication is often a broad, vague one, in that "good communication" is seen as vital to healthy relationships, while "lack of communication" is automatically a reason given for the failure of a relationship. Couples who meet online have the potential to explain themselves in detail. When conflicts arise in timing of communication, styles of relating, or goals, these can pop out sooner and more clearly than those arising out of conversations in Real Time (RT) or f2f.

In this section, the order is switched in that two graduate students, the partners in an unsuccessful couple, are presented first, followed by a successful couple composed of two women. The last case in this paper demonstrates techniques of communication that arise organically from written words transmitted through a computer.

Konrad and Nissa: (Unsuccessful): The two young students met on an academic listserv while both were seeing other people. After their f2f, they became more than friends. However Konrad sees that from the beginning he may have misled Nissa into thinking he was ready for a committed relationship.

Nissa deferred to Konrad when asked by the researcher what happened to split them up:
You know, I'm not really sure what happened! K would better
be able to answer that, I think.

Konrad summarized the problem with his communication with Nissa about what kind of relationship he envisioned:
…the relationship had different meanings or interpretations or
goals between the two of us, and so did not go further.

In their questionnaires two years before they were contacted about the current state of their relationship, they painted a picture of an infatuated couple. They had not seen photos of each other before their first encounter:
Konrad described his feelings after meeting Nissa in person:

We wrote to each other as friends for a year and a half. Then
we met. Then we fell for each other pretty hard.

He did qualify his answers, though, on the future, after graduate school in different locales:

There will not be a whole lot of development…until we can see
each other again. i think we both feel very strongly that the
relationship has a sound basis, and a bright future. What exactly
that future will look like is an open question… we'll see. i have
high hopes.

Nissa noted her break-up with her current boyfriend after meeting
Konrad f2f:
well, i broke up with the guy i was living with a couple of days
after returning from SF. is that a big enough 'effect'? i had
other reasons for ending my current relationship but meeting K
definitely functioned as the catalyst. when i got home my
feelings for K were so strong that the decision about what to do
with my other relationship was totally made for me.

She seems to know that Konrad is more hesitant when she turns to how she thinks he views their relationship:
well, i don't know how to describe our 'level of commitment'.
we haven't quantified it or classified it as such. i guess he
would say we are just waiting to see what happens, open to

Konrad later elaborated about the difference in their two central assumptions of moving forward after meeting Nissa f2f, where he was knocked out by her looks, calling her "gorgeous".
There was a super intense miscommunication between N and
myself...she was assuming we were in a relationship…I was not
ready to do that...I REALLY WANTED to be in a relationship with
her....I was of two minds....I promised I wouldn't get in one, promised myself...She was not good in her communication to me about her
expected assumption and I was not good at communicating to her
about my limitations...This led to I am just going to deal with this as
if were really close friends...treating the world as if it is the way you
want it to be and it will be that way....the miscommunication kinda

He had gone through three very intense failed relationships, one after another with no breaks in between and had vowed not to get entangled in another one, no matter what. However, he continued to find himself unable to be truthful with Nissa:
I had made this promise to myself that I wasn't going to see people.
I didn't communicate too well to her. In the couple of months
afterwards ...two months...I was sending mixed signals, trying to
maintain the friendship level--vacation, hangout, you're coming out
to visit me, you're going to meet my folks...through that fall and
winter, I was trying to solidify the friendship.

The outcome was positive in that the two remained in Nissa's words "very good friends". Almost two years after their breakup as partners, they continued to stay with each other when in the other's city of residence.

Briar and Hilde: (Successful): These women, one in her thirties, and one in her early forties, met on a lesbian chatgroup to gradually form a strong friendship based upon characteristics they observed in each other. They developed basic interpersonal norms about how to communicate thoughts and feelings, even adjusting their styles to accommodate each other.

Briar described how they vowed to either answer every question truthfully or explicitly say they couldn't at that moment:

We promised each other within a month or so, that we'd be
honest when asked something or say we chose not to answer
the question…We explicitly tried not to lie so we would choose
not to answer something...rather than lie. There are Times where
you are emotionally exhausted , (you say,) how about later...or (I'm) uncomfortable with what my mind's going through right now.....that
again leads back to the person saying they are too tired. You have
to be more explicit because don't have those (physical) cues.

The two women learned about each other's values online and how they demonstrated them.

Briar respected Hilde's ability to keep secrets, unlike others in the community online and how she could communicate feelings about people:

She would say things like, "It's not my story to tell you." Or,
"I feel uncomfortable answering that." That told me I could
trust her and that she could express emotion.

Hilde also valued the skill of emotional fluency in conversation online:

what type of person would satisfy your emotional needs..
someone who won't talk about emotional issues? or someone
who meets them head on?

Briar emphasized the need for going beyond lip service to demonstrate living out ethical beliefs that she found in Hilde:
I look for actions that follow the promises. When she said
she'd be there, she would be there...

Hilde noticed the differences in how Briar communicated online as compared to offline:

There was more of her in RL, but a different side of her. On
AOL instant messenger, there is a different person who is doing
that. She would say different things and talk slightly differently
than in RL.

On the mechanics of written communication, Briar and Hilde told how Briar became more comfortable with using emoticons, internet symbols for expressing nonverbal states of mind, of feelings. Briar adopted Hilde's preferred style, one more conducive to communicating online without the benefit of gestures and tone of voice, while they both found new words as well as symbols to show affection.
Briar details her original usage of communication symbols:

In the beginning, I didn't use a whole lot of them. I think the
smilee : ) the wink ; ) the evil grin }: > and an extremely
occasional attempt at a bee :> : ) [lllll]< (Never did come up
with a good one) was my limited repartee. I used <> to express
"actions". I thought people put too much stock in whether or
not you returned a "hug" or a "smile" and not enough in the
actual words or the history of knowing the person's on-line actions.

Hilde traces Briar's change over time:

She would never hug.. {{{{{}}}}}}} and that used to bug me..
Eventually when I complained .. she began to occasionally ..
in the end she did a lot ;) we would use smiles :) and winks ;)
and sad faces :( and she would strut around a lot or snicker using
<strutting> type symbols.. the <smirk> type symbols we used a
lot as a sort of action ...

She goes onto say how together they created words rather than symbols to symbolize their growing attachment:
i guess over time we found our words for saying good bye.. like
'smooches' and we also started to say "loves ya" and things like
that..we got more affectionate as the relationship developed.

Finally, Hilde sums up the quality of the communication she and Hilde developed online:

I have never experienced this level of personal intimacy with
anyone else ever... it came from our online talks and it continued
into real life. I talk about the vulnerable things, the personal
intimacy things like what I want sexually, like what I dream of,
what i fear... simple things! but things that are like stripping off
pieces of skin to me to say out loud.. we did that online from day 1
and we still do it..

Briar broke off another relationship while Hilde curtailed involvements with others online to commit to each other after the first f2f visit. They overcame distance and cultural differences along with problems in career relocation when Hilde moved from Australia to the U.S. to join Briar in California two years ago.


Relationships that begin online can and do move offline, while keeping some online communication. People can and do achieve couple happiness and stability, and longevity after meeting online.

The greater bandwidth and pleasure of physical proximity at some point becomes important if a relationship is going to sustain its participants. Transition to offline is aided by honest and thorough exchange of information, thoughts, and feelings. The deep foundation built upon online in communication methods can remain with the couple when they move mainly to RL relating. In meeting online, the more important shared thoughts and emotions are, and the less important are sheer looks. More durable relationships may result from the focus upon non-physical factors.

Factors involved in differentiating between successful and unsuccessful couples include:
--where they meet: the overlap of specific interests as represented by the type of site the enter for a first encounter online signals long-term compatibility.
--what they will do to be together: obstacles of distance, jobs and finances, and other relationships are negotiated so that past attachments are diminished and at least one partner will relocate.
--when they interact: taking a lengthy period of time to get to know each other online before meeting f2f and postponing sexual involvement promotes longevity of relationships.
--and how they communicate: learning to handle each others' styles of communication even when conflicts occur online enhances online and then offline satisfaction and cooperation.

With some exceptions, couples that stayed together rated positively on the four dimensions above. The eight couples used for illustrations, drawn from the sixty-eight in the larger research generally followed the patterns for all four factors. Sam and Joanie, Mark and Claire, Leon and Margo, and Hilde and Briar attracted each other through common interests, overcame problems of involvements with others, long distances and job or school relocation. They wrote online for periods of several weeks to months without becoming sexually involved online or over the phone. Finally, they came up with methods of conflict resolution to cope with differing goals and personal styles of expression. On the other hand, the couples that split up, Jeff and Annette, Blake and Neva, Trent and Daisy, and Nissa and Konrad handled the problem areas relatively ineffectively, without reaching agreement or practical solutions.


To help us learn more about how couples successfully form and maintain relationships after meeting online we need more systematic data, including longitudinal studies that would follow up couples over the years. More detailed probing using observation of couples online messages, and interviews online, by phone or in person could give us details on problems, advantages and communication patterns of couples.

Comparison to courtship and marriage of offline couples could allow us to see which factors are truly unique to online relationships and which are part of offline couple relationships as well. Specifying locales online or types of meeting places such as dating sites versus discussion groups versus chatrooms can determine how location affects process and rate of success. A final question is will shared-interest dating, even at long distances of people take the place of local chance meetings of potential partners?

*Names and identifying information are changed for anonymity.
** The two couples in the Obstacles section were described previously in another article.11


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