How Social Media Influences Affairs
The nature of the affair has certainly changed with the onset of social media. Social networking has exploded in recent years and now many of us connect with others online, on a regular basis. In the world of social media, we forge new friendships and reunite with those from long ago. Making new friends, or reconnecting with those from the past, can be exciting and rewarding, but it also comes with many hazards. Sites like Facebook can lead us into a fantasy world of what could be, or what could have been. Combining nostalgia and voyeurism can perpetuate the sense of grass being greener elsewhere, with others.
Social Media: Proceed with Caution
One hazard of social media is the quickness with which we can have contact with another. It is as if the other person is always there, right in our living rooms, or with us on any journey we may take, as long as a smartphone is nearby. Embarking on an affair used to take careful planning. One had to pick up a phone and dial, arrange times and places to meet, maybe write letters. Even an email would require more time and consideration, as they are still written letters which take time to type. In contrast, instant messages and chat boxes are simple and immediate. A quick “hi”, or a heart emoticon, charged with meaning, can be typed and sent in a blink. The more time is needed, the more opportunity for the person to reconsider sending that email, making that phone call, or meeting at that park, cafe, or motel. Social media, on the other hand, moves quickly. It allows us to circumvent our more rational selves and act impulsively. Once we click “send,” the ease of an increasingly intimate exchange can take on a life of its own, setting the course for an online affair.
What does it mean to have an Affair?
We all have varying definitions of what it means to have an affair. Some people may consider it actual physical, sexual contact. Some may see it as sexual and/or emotional. The definition of an affair, which makes the most sense to me, was penned by Shirley Glass PhD. In her book Not Just Friends (2003), Dr. Glass states an affair is when “the unfaithful partner has built a wall to shut out the marriage partner and has opened a window to let in the affair partner (pg 13).” Further, I would say you may be wading in the waters of a potential affair if you are having communication with another, that you wouldn’t share with your spouse. Unless you are planning a surprise party for your spouse, ongoing communication with another person that you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with your partner should be carefully examined and reconsidered.
The definition of an affair matters little, when it comes to the impact it has on the unwitting spouse. Internet affairs are devastating, largely because it pervades every aspect of the couple’s day-to-day life. Instead of going to visit one’s secret lover for discrete periods of time, outside the home, that lover may be, in a sense, with the couple in their home, or out in the community, much of the time. Just imagine, a husband casually chatting with his online mistress, while sitting with his wife, watching his son’s baseball game. Or a wife, texts her lover erotic sentiments while she half-watches a movie with her husband. Or, the family is on vacation, and one spouse is sending messages about his or her trip to the affair partner, all the while playing the role of participation, and lying about who he or she is texting.
The partner who is having the affair often downplays the seriousness of his or her actions, particularly if it takes place “only” online. This minimization allows the unfaithful partner to grossly underestimate the magnitude of his or her behavior. In general, virtual relationships create a sense of non-reality. It’s similar to the disconnect which allows normally well-mannered and conscientious people to hurl insults at one another on forums or message boards, while safely tucked away behind a screen. The sense of fiction in online affairs allows the betraying partner to comfortably compartmentalize and minimize the infidelity, until it is discovered by the spouse.
When the affair is discovered, and in all likelihood it will be, the betrayed spouse often feels emotionally annihilated, particularly at the realization of how much, and how often, the infidelity was interwoven into married life. It corrupts all of the memories created in the marriage, while the affair was taking place, when the spouse realizes that the spouse’s affair partner was, in a sense, on vacation with them, at the baseball game with them, watching movies with them, maybe even in bed with them! The one who was having the affair may have told him/herself “I’ve had no actual physical contact. these are just words,” but the emotional experience of the betrayed spouse is that all the moments shared, during the span of the affair, from the mundane, to the intimate, were lies. This epiphany can wipe out the betrayed partner’s psychological construct of the marriage and their spouse, as quickly as knocking down a house of cards.
The world of social networking is a fascinating, and often rewarding one, but it comes with many potential hazards, which could have lifelong consequences. Enjoy developing new connections, and reestablishing old ones, but proceed with caution. If you find yourself having building an online relationship with another, and you wouldn’t want to discuss with your spouse, it’s time to reevaluate that relationship. It’s certainly not worth trading a loving marriage for a chat box.
Glass, S., Ph.D. (2003). Not “just friends”: rebuilding trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity. The Free Press, NY, NY