Along with my interest in writing I find relationships and relationship management endlessly fascinating. The things that people require from relationships, the things that bother or upset them, how they react to different situations, and how they communicate are different with every person. The result is an endless supply of information, ideas, and lessons to be learned. Because I enjoy these things I frequently engage with people needing help, advice, or just a shoulder due to relationship problems.
I was recently asked about how to deal with online relationship issues. Having spent many years working for a large ISP managing chat rooms, forums, and the like my first reaction was that an online relationship is simply that, online. It isn't exactly real in the traditional sense. You don't have to worry about disease, physical abuse, or even bad breath. At the same time you don't get to hold hands, cook dinner together, or have incredible sex. It took me a minute to remember though that some people do view online relationships as quite real.
After asking a couple of questions to understand the issue, and thinking about things for a bit, I realized I hadn't quite understood the question. What the person was really asking was how to handle the information that is available online from both your partner(s) and their OSO's.
The fact is that you can link up with almost anyone these days. MySpace, Facebook, Google plus, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn, and on and on. There are more ways to connect with people these days than ever before and most all of them are right at your fingertips. You can connect with friends, co-workers, businesses, employers, and even relatives. Heck, you can even connect with the checker at your grocery store if you try hard enough. It makes perfect sense that with all the social media available you will likely end up connected somehow to your partner(s) OSO's online.
Where this becomes a problem is when you have an overload of undesired information. Maybe you are friends with your partner on Facebook and see continuous posts by his or her OSO lamenting how good sex is with your partner, or how they wish they could have your partner all to themselves. Suddenly the wonderful ability to connect continuously online becomes a continuous nightmare. That brings us back to the original question; how do you deal with online relationships? Is it okay to tell your partner they can't friend their OSO on Facebook?
I probably have an unusual outlook regarding my partners online lives, believing that although we may have a committed offline life, online I am not the center of their world. Online is a place where people can cut loose, or be someone else entirely. Maybe someone they wish they were rather than who they really are. As a result I don't put much weight behind how someone appears online, what they say, or how they act. Online is an escape for a lot of people and trying to manage behavior there is almost impossible.
Personalities are also represented differently online. Someone to whom I mean the world in real life may find me completely unsatisfying online. In that way I often view my partner's interactions with others online as a gift in that I can see a side of them (their interaction with other loves) that I may not normally get to see.
But how do you deal with an online relationship?
I think the first step is to put things in perspective. Although online activity could be considered a relationship it is really just communication. Think about how you talk to co-workers or store employees. You don't talk to them the same way you talk to your lovers do you? People communicate with each other differently and how your partner(s) talk to you is very likely different from how they talk to their other partner(s). It may be better and it may be worse but in the end, it is just different.
The next step, in my opinion, is to limit your exposure if you are reading things that aren't sitting with you well. Stop checking your partner(s) blog for comments five times a day. Shut off post alerts to your cell phone so they don't follow you around constantly. Check out the privacy options on the site you are using and see if there is a way to limit the information you are getting. Have you friended your partner(s) OSO on Facebook? Maybe it is time to unfriend them if seeing their information bothers you. Cancel your Flickr account if you are seeing pictures you don't like.
Of course another option is to ask your partner(s) to limit their online activity. Personally I don't like setting limits for my partner(s), but this is an option. Ask them to maybe tone it down a notch or avoid certain topics if they bother you. Suggest they have their conversations privately online rather than out in public. It is possible they don't even realize how personal things have gotten, or how it may be making you feel.
The bottom line here is that you are in control of what you see online. The power button is at your fingertips so you can always shut off the information flow. And if you are unable to reconcile your feelings about things you are reading, maybe that power button is the best option.
Have you had to deal with online relationship issues before? If so, how did you handle things? What suggestions do you have for others out there?