Do we REALLY want to have Virtual Relationships?

In an article written by Stephanie Coontz of The New York Times, marriage rates in the United States have dropped 66% since 1950. This is an astounding rate since the number has shown no sign of slowing down, as an article written by Ashley Mitchem of says that in the past year, marriage has gone down 5%. According to Coontz, if this rate of decline continues, there will be no women married in the year 2043. What is the answer to this shocking decline? Is this decline something that needs to be taken seriously or is it a new aspect of our culture? In the age of seemingly everything going online, I believe that online dating is a contributing factor to the decline of marriage. I cannot say it is THE contributing factor since the decline started in 1951, well before online dating became an idea. The rise of social media and the online world has to be considered when addressing this unknown decline.

Arnold Brown wrote an article, Relationships, Community, and Identity in the New Virtual Society, that discusses how online is shaping our culture into a virtual reality. Everything from business meetings to personal relationships have been moved into the online world as people are now able to maintain these relationships without ever physically meeting their counterparts. Brown address how personal relationships have grown into an integral part of the online world and questions what will relationships look like in the future. He writes, “For instance, should a “virtual spouse” be able to claim the Social Security benefits of a partner? The easy answer is of course not. But what if it’s the virtual spouse who is charged with monitoring the health of an aged parent remotely? What if he or she does the household bill-paying, or even contributes half of the household income? In other words, what if the virtual spouse performs many if not all of the tasks associated with a traditional spouse? And should the same polygamy laws applied to regular marriages also apply to virtual marriages? Should such marriages be subject to the same taxation laws?” This entire writing by Arnold Brown is a worrisome thought for me. A virtual spouse? A spouse that you only communicate with via Facebook or Twitter? Is that really coming in the near future?

I have been known to take an “old-school” approach to technology which makes me wonder if I am alone when I say I am troubled by these questions Brown presents. For me, I think the thought of having a virtual spouse is the most bizarre and strange idea I have heard in a while. Could people be fine with having a wife that they never stand face-to-face with? The question of polygamy laws, I think, is the most concerning. If we live in a virtual reality with virtual lives, does that mean we can have fantasies of having as many wives as we want? As we have seen in cases such as Anthony Weiner (D-NY), the online world is a strange and rather creepy place. I am certain the Mr. Weiner is not the only personal to participate in lewd behavior online while in marriage. This online, virtual fantasy in terms of personal relationships is a concerning trend that, for me, will not consume our culture. I can only say for myself that I hope I do not marry a random Facebook friend that I can only see through social media.

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