When my sister, searching for images of her favorite British pop stars, accidentally typed “Spicy Girls” into Yahoo, the search results made her run, shrieking, from the family computer. “It is probably no coincidence that this sea change comes on us at a time when AIDS lurks in the alleyways of our lives,” a writer for The Nation mused in 1993.Months later, the New York Times reiterated the point.“The relationship is all about what is happening inside of the soul and the mind, and the body doesn’t get in the way.” “We met our souls first.” This was the benefit of cyberdating, especially for singles who felt insecure in the flesh.The downside was that in the absence of visual cues or social context, it was often difficult to tell your interlocutor from the person you hoped he or she might be.In Online Seductions, she coined a phrase for the kinds of relationships that her patients struck up.They were “uniquely intimate” because they “grew from the inside out.” Gwinnell’s patients said some version of the same thing again and again.Both were enticing despite being slightly dangerous. A cyberlover might say he was tall and strong when in fact he was short and skinny, or thin when she was fat. Back in the day, in your parents’ parlor, or at a church- or synagogue-sponsored dance, any other young person you met would have been screened in advance. The man who held your hand as you shuddered through the dark of the Tunnel of Love might be anyone.
To talk (or type) about sex constituted its own kind of intimacy.For the first time in history, dating let young people seek mates and life partners on their own behalf, in public places.Spaces like bars and boardwalks shared many features in common with chat rooms. Sure, people worried about other people misrepresenting themselves.The cyberlove of your life could turn out to be little more than a mirage or a private psychosis.“When internet lovers leave the computer to go to other activities,” Gwinnell reported, “they may feel as though the other person is ‘inside’ them.” Finding your soul mate online could also leave you feeling dissatisfied in real life.