Researchers have noticed a change in how we interact on the internet, in terms of our love lives. They are seeing the rise of what they call “digital infidelity.” University of Indiana researchers conducted a study which found that Facebook users often have “back-burners.” This is someone to fall back on if their primary relationship doesn’t work out. A back-burner could be an ex or a platonic friend where chemistry and romantic possibility exists. Men had double the number of back-burners women had, in this study. Still, the practice was common among both genders.
Respondents on average had two separate sexual or romantic conversations going on, besides their partner, at the same time. A similar find by OnePoll, a research firm, found that as much as 50% of women had what was called a “backup husband.” This is another love interest to dovetail into the role if their marriage ends in divorce. An official with OnePoll told the Daily Mail, “With sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with an old flame.”
The rising trend has caught the attention of academia. Researchers are beginning to follow what they are calling “remote infidelity.” This is being described as emotional infidelity using your smart phone, or via social media. One of the leaders in the field of sex and relationship research, Dr. Helen Fisher said in an interview with Salon that a lot of people don’t even realize they are doing it. “If you’re rushing away from the dinner table with your family to check your e-mail it’s affecting your relationship,” she said. The Indiana researchers say however that this phenomenon is nothing new, just how we interact has changed, due to advances in technology. There have always been back-burners for those in relationships, the researchers point out. Emotional cheating and physical cheating occurred, as did lots of heavy flirting across offices and bars. Now they are done through apps and social media instead. The nature of technology has changed the game. For instance, texting is so easy, intimate–as it is only between two and can be done so effortlessly and secretly, that emotional cheating and flirting can take place at a level that wasn’t conceivable in the past.
The online dating industry has been studied and culled by researchers. What they’ve discovered is startling. A 2011 Pew Research study found that those who have smart phones and use social media have larger networks than those that don’t; one third larger. Those connections of course lead to other connections. That moves into endless possibilities, endless connections and so many more choices than ever before. Most experts believe that relationships rely on three things for success: the strength of the emotional bond between the two, each person’s satisfaction level and whether or not there are other available mates for one or both parties. The internet has now increased availability exponentially, which makes one wonder whether or not it is making relationships more unstable.
A niche industry exists of spyware technology. mCouple is one such app, letting you see your lovers every Facebook message, call and text. In advertising the manufacturer’s state, “You and your partner are madly in love and want to be closer than ever before? mCouple is a mobile tracker that can help you stay in touch 24/7!”But of course reverting to this type of method to keep tabs on your partner is stalker mentality. It is unhealthy and threatens the very emotional bond which keeps a relationship strong. Plus healthy relationships are built on trust, and those who trust one another don’t spy on each other. Indiana University researchers say that the presence of these back-burners and backup husbands doesn’t have a thing to do with the strength of the primary relationship. So what one might call the age of digital infidelity, another may say is just a modern twist on the same old courtship dance that has been going on for millennia. For more on the intersection of love and the internet pick up a copy of, In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age by Nev Schulman.