CJ McDonough is an average American woman in her late twenties, experiencing every day with the love of her life, Kevin Tabor. They live together in a little apartment, and often times find themselves reminiscing on how they met. From first dates to the butterflies they got (and still get), the two couldn’t stop smiling as they shared details of their love story. “Smitten is definitely the word,” Kevin said in an interview with Broadly News. “Smitten with [her].”
Seems typical of two love birds. Yet, if we take a closer look into the lives of these individuals, it’s clear that they are not much like other people in today’s society. In fact, despite being in a healthy, strong and loving relationship with one another, CJ McDonough and Kevin Tabor both work at Invisible Boyfriend, a service that gives any user who signs up an invisible ‘partner.’ Although invisible, and frankly, nonexistent, this partner is created by a user, and acts online like any other partner would. The user can decide on what their partner looks like, what their personality is like, and even make up a story on how they met. From sending cute good morning texts, to wishing them good luck on a job interview, or simply having a conversation, over text messages, these partners simulate an actual relationship, making the user believe they are in one.
“What appeals to me most about being an invisible partner, is that I have the opportunity to make somebody feel good about themselves,” McDonough explained in a mini documentary done by Broadly News. “I like to tell myself that the user understands that it is an invisible relationship, but we’ve had users ask if they can meet their invisible partners before, and even when we’ve explained that we are talking to more than one person, there have been users that have been convinced that whoever they were talking to was the love of their life and a real person.”
“Now that we have a portal to infinite knowledge and immediate connection right in the palm of our hands, you’d think we’d be better at relationships.” Mish Way, a reporter for Vice News stated. “So why are we still so lonely?” In today’s modern society, the amount of intelligence we gain from computers and programming is astounding. Yet, our habit to disconnect from the actual world, and connect more with what we see on a screen, is becoming more and more common, as a result of the boom in industries catering to the maintenance of online relationships.
In a 2012 Ted Talk, Sherry Turkle, a cultural analyst and professor at MIT, discussed how online personas are redefining human connections, and the implications of it. “I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble,” she began. “Trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection.” Moreover, Turkle referred to online communication as “being alone together” or wanting to be with that person, but not have to experience the messiness and demand that human relationships possess.
Similarly, a 2004 study done by the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, found that romantic relationships on the internet had an adverse effect on face to face relationships. After exploring the formation and nature of online romance, the study gathered responses from 75 individuals, who discussed their extra-dyadic relationships online. It most individuals had more satisfaction with their online relationship than with their face-to-face one, though few said that it was more important to them than their primary relationship.
“Although only a quarter of the sample admitted that their online relationship had affected their primary one, those participants reported concealing the truth about the time or nature of their activities, that everyday tasks did not get done, and that levels of sexual intimacy with their primary partner had dropped. The nature of these and other problems suggests that therapists should be aware of the potential for Internet relationships to seriously affect face-to-face relationships” (Findlay and Underwood, 2004).
At the same time, however, although there is scrutiny about technology’s effect on love, there have also been a number of services that wish to reestablish face to face connections. Yet, just like Invisible Boyfriends, these services do so in an unconventional way. For example, ManServants is an online service that caters to helping women in everyday life. Whether a woman is looking for a man to complete tasks, entertain at bachelorette parties, or even help mend heartbreak, ManServants has the guy for that job. Women are able to go online and order the ‘type’ of servant they want, in terms of personality and looks. Moreover, customers name their ManServants, as well as decide their purpose. The founders, Dalal Khajah and Josephine Wai-Lin, both argue that their company empowers women to “make their own rules,” as well as fosters building connections in order to grow in life, whether this is a result of a bad breakup or a disagreement one’s had in real friendships.
Although not an online communication like Invisible Boyfriend, ManServants still has that familiar sense of disconnecting from the actual people around you. Why hire a stranger to help you through a breakup, when you could talk to a trustworthy friend about it? Or why text an ‘invisible’ partner “I miss you,” when the two of you have truly never met? It’s as though the resources that the internet provides with a click of a button are revolutionizing the way we define, form, and maintain human connection. The question is, is this revolution positive?