Thursday, April 14, 2011

Virtually Dating: Phony online facades jeopardize genuine relationships

Virtually Dating

By Randy Hicks

(WNS)--We’ve all heard the phrase “the eyes are the window to the soul.” In a similar way, some ideas are a window to the soul of our society.

A soon-to-launch company called “Cloud Girlfriend” will be offering a service where men can pay a fee to hire a fake girlfriend who will post on their Facebook page. They never actually meet the girl. They just interact romantically online to make it look like they’re in a relationship.

The company not only promotes the service as a way for a guy to dupe friends and family into thinking he has a girlfriend, but also as a way to boost self esteem. Yes, you read that correctly.

Company co-founder David Fuhriman said men “Can use the site to jumpstart the process of changing social perceptions about themselves. This interaction can…provide real training experiences in navigating a friendship and a relationship.”

He also explains that the site can have therapeutic values by fulfilling psychological needs for intimacy and friendship. And it can build self confidence.

Seriously? Has it come to this? This idea seems better fitted for a Saturday Night Live skit than a real business venture.

And if it weren’t so sad, it would be funny. I know that sounds trite, but I really mean that. As a comedy sketch, it’s a very funny concept. But as a business idea, it’s depressing.

Hopefully, few guys who use this will be under the illusion that their “girlfriend” is real. Most of us know that if you’re paying someone to be your friend, they’re not your friend.

What’s sad about this is that it points to the lengths that some people will go for relationship, even at this superficial level. Whether it’s an attempt by the guy to feel some type of romance, to improve self-esteem, or just to fool others into thinking he has a girlfriend, it shows that relationship matters.

But as others have said, we are our secrets, not our public relations. No matter what facades we put forward to make others think more highly of us, it doesn’t change who we are or what we need.

Adding false layers to our identity just makes it harder for us to connect with others in a healthy way because we aren’t being ourselves. It doesn’t improve our self confidence; it diminishes it because at the end of the day we’re really worse off than we started.

We gain self confidence through accomplishment; by using our God-given skill and ability toward something productive.

No matter what the folks at “Cloud Girlfriend” say, neither their service, nor any other online social network, can cure insecurity or provide truly authentic human connections.

The Internet has already taken us a long way from genuine relationships. Social network site like Facebook have created a virtual world where users, particularly young people, are consumed by the desire to be perceived well by others, to have lots of online “friends,” and to constantly be seen and heard. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook and use it often to connect with friends and family. It’s the site’s misuse that’s the problem.

Ironically, this constant “connection” with one another has actually created more isolation. The Internet is replacing the interpersonal communication vital to building trust and closeness, and working through problems. Interacting in an online world can weaken or prevent meaningful connection between two people.

According to recent reports, young people are struggling with a new form of depression brought on by Facebook. They’re feeling inferior to their peers who have more online “friends,” constantly post fun-filled pictures, and appear to be so much better off. But the reality is, those kids are likely presenting a skewed image of themselves too. And the cycle continues.

Facebook got you down? Here’s my suggestion: walk away from your computer, go engage with real people. Find something you’re good at and pursue it wholeheartedly. Perhaps even consider serving those less fortunate than you. It may not be easy; it may be awkward. But it’s a lot better than interacting with a virtual phony.

Randy Hicks is the president of Georgia Family Council, a non-profit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive.

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