Emotional Faithfulness in the Social Networking Era

Venn Diagram

Sin is the monster we love to deny. It can stalk us, bite a slice out of our lives, return again and bite again, and even as we bleed and hobble, we prefer to believe nothing has happened. That makes sin the perfect monster, a maneater that blinds and numbs its victims, convincing them that nothing is wrong and there is no need to flee, and then consumes them at its leisure…
-Frank Peretti, The Oath

While surfing the web for something unrelated, I came across a Venn Diagram on Despair.com that shows ADHD, stalking, and narcissism overlapping with Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and Tweetstalk in-between. I’ve been guffawing about it ever since, but that reminded me of another subject I’ve wanted to toss into the public arena.

While modern technologies like texting, photo sharing, and interactive websites are fun, fantastic ways for committed couples to keep in touch, I am very bothered by another aspect of our wired world. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of social networking sites and other technologies on couples.

Sites like Facebook can be an instant refuge from relationship problems, a place to hide out and avoid the realities of everyday life. Online social forums can become more than a place to check in with your friends, they can become a second life, a fantasy life.

Is that bad? Yes, if you’re spending time and energy there that you should be investing in your partner and your family. Yes, if you’re getting your validation and approval from the opposite sex there instead of from a partner you claim to be in a faithful relationship with.

These seemingly harmless exchanges between friends can lead to more serious breaches of relationship integrity. Social networking tools and technologies give men and women with ulterior motives the means to look “innocent”. As in, “hey, we’re just friends, there’s nothing physical going on”—when reality is, they’re lying in wait for the opportunity to seduce your partner.

This “just friends” stuff is exactly how many affairs get started. A man or woman chats with a friend for awhile and discovers that they have something in common or the other party’s a good listener. So they begin to discuss more personal things, leading to emotional intimacy. They start to feel a connection that they lost or don’t have with their spouse.

They continue to develop that relationship, assuring themselves that they will never cheat on their spouse. They are happy to have found someone who seems to accept them as they are, who doesn’t punish them for their shortcomings or guilt them for their lack of effort (note that this person doesn’t live with them 24/7 either). They love this haven, this escape, because it’s so much easier than fixing their marriage. There don’t seem to be any strings.

And so the emotional intimacy develops, and before they know it, there is touch. A hug. A kiss. That’s not really cheating, right? It won’t go farther than that. Then come the texts that aren’t being shared with their partners, and the excuses as to why they have to work late. The emotional intimacy becomes physical, and while that may stay hidden for awhile, it can never come to a good end. Someone’s life is going to be shattered; someone’s going to be horrifically hurt. Homes and families will be ruined.

Men and women do have to work together. They can be friends. Where opposite sex friendships become a problem and run the risk of morphing into something else is when your partner is excluded from that realm. For example, most people I know love to share funny emails. But if you’re sending something to your male friends that you wouldn’t send your husband, that could be a problem. If you have an opposite sex friend over to talk about your kids’ basketball team when your spouse is at work, you’re opening a door that maybe shouldn’t be opened.

Appropriate boundaries also need to be maintained in the social media realm. Don’t expect your husband to trust you or just go along with it if he’s not allowed on your Facebook page, but scores of other men including ex-flames and guys who send you sexual messages are. If you claim to be in a faithful relationship, you shouldn’t have to keep your cell phone records where your wife can’t find them, or routinely delete your emails so she can’t read them.

Expect your partner to be suspicious if you’re compartmentalizing your life or defending your opposite sex friendships over your relationship with them. Your partner has a right to be concerned when you don’t back off a member of the opposite sex who is sending veiled solicitations electronically. Also, many wives wouldn’t be okay with their husbands sitting at a café with a group of women discussing their bra sizes or the wildest place they’ve ever had sex. So why has that become okay to do on Facebook?

While you should trust each other enough that you never feel the urge to glance at their cell phone or sift through their email, you start to violate that trust when you hide either the parts or whole of other relationships.

I believe very strongly in the dangers of emotional unfaithfulness, and acknowledge it as a precursor to physical unfaithfulness. Emotional unfaithfulness is wrong in and of itself, but it also opens up new doors to temptation. Technology has made it so much easier to engage in this practice and yet call it harmless because the people we communicate with aren’t in the immediate physical proximity.

Even strong, moral people who think they can sustain opposite sex friendships without getting sexually involved are putting themselves a few feet closer to the forbidden fruit section of the produce aisle when they misappropriate emotional intimacy.

These kinds of relationships need to be cut off if we’re even remotely serious about our relationships with our mates. Authors Dennis and Barbara Rainey said, “A friendship with the opposite sex that meets the needs your mate should be meeting must be ended quickly. It may be a painful loss at first, but it isn’t as painful as dealing with the wreckage caused by a sinful relationship.”

I don’t recall which great minister said this, but someone once asked him what he would do in a risqué situation in which a particular sexual temptation was staring him in the face. His response was that he wouldn’t allow himself to be in that situation in the first place. Great point.

Facebook, myspace, and the like can be that situation. They have legitimate uses and are a great way for people separated by time and distance to stay in touch. I argue, though, that they can become a gateway drug. We have opportunities in cyberspace and through handheld technology that didn’t exist even five years ago. I don’t think it’s an accident that at the same time, faithfulness, self-sacrificial love, and loyalty seem to be going the way of the dinosaurs.

This is just part of a larger concern I have about people living like they’ll never have to give an account of themselves someday. Sometimes I feel like humanity is barreling towards the edge of a monstrous cliff in a giant party bus and at least one of us has to run towards the bus screaming, “Hey! Hey, you’re going to crash! Look out!”

Everyone in that bus is making their own choices and they have free will. I can’t force my views on them. I just don’t want to see them getting hurt if that can be avoided.

All around me I see an increasing amount of selfish, relationship-wrecking behavior that is often facilitated by our electronic devices. I see damaging behavior becoming normalized, justified because it “only” involves technology, not touching (yet). I keep hearing Facebook horror stories about lying and cheating, and have witnessed text-related relationship train wrecks involving sexual assault and stalking.

As somewhat of a technology geek who thinks it’s incredibly cool that I can play Tetris on my cell phone in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, I enjoy our technology. I like knowing that I have several different ways to contact people and can utilize technology for entertainment, home security, and so on. My point is that it’s just sooooo easy to misuse, to the detriment of the people we should be able to share everything with.

©2010 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com

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