Gone are the days when fostering a romantic connection with someone online was considered taboo. Dating apps have normalized using the internet to find love, but anyone who's seen Catfish — the documentary-turned-reality series — knows that opening yourself up to love online can also come with some serious risks. So, can you fall in love online before meeting someone face-to-face? And if so, is it safe to open up to them without ever having been in the same room together? According to Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again, without real-life contact, you run the risk of developing strong feelings for the idea of someone, not the person themselves.
"Without being able to spend time with someone in person [in] real life, it could be easier to fall in lust or fall in love with an idea of who they are [versus] who they actually are," Dorell previously told Elite Daily. "It's also an idealized version of love because without meeting in real life, you also conveniently skip the everyday nuances and challenges that arise when you share a life together." Although this doesn't necessarily mean that the person you're falling for is lying or purposely trying to mislead you, it can mean you're basing your connection on feelings that haven't been reinforced by IRL experiences — making it more likely that you're not seeing the full picture of who they are.
That said, Dorell explained that it is possible to experience falling in love virtually, especially if you've been communicating via video chat. "It's possible to form a strong emotional connection, and even spiritual connection, to someone you've never met in real life — particularly now with things like FaceTime or Skype, it's also possible to feel a physical attraction to someone," she added. But it's important to keep in mind that if all of your conversations have been through messaging, this can be a major red flag that the person you're becoming invested in may have something to hide.
Unfortunately, finding love can be hard, which makes it tempting to pursue connections that might not be as sound as you think they are. Behavioral scientist and relationship coach Clarissa Silva believes that the frustration of dating apps could be part of the problem. "Dating apps are creating a paradox effect: Giving off the illusion of many choices while making it harder to find viable options," she said. "For many, the attachment to a person despite never meeting them is really about the desire to be loved." Silva went on to explain that this type of relationship can lead to very real emotional responses, but it can also make it hard to know if you're investing in a relationship that has IRL potential.
Although it's easy to focus on the positives and ignore the red flags, proceed with caution if you're getting close to someone who you've never met — especially if you haven't even seen them via video chat. If they're sincere, they're probably just as eager as you are to set a date to meet in person, or to Skype if you're long-distance or stuck at home.
There's nothing wrong with meeting someone and developing an attachment to them online, but make sure you're not rationalizing an irrational situation. "The idea [of someone] can create illusions that you’re in a healthy relationship because it is what we choose not to see," says Silva. "Even though we might not be aware of it consciously, subconsciously we are compensating for the elements that are missing. So, it becomes a perfectly fine relationship."
"If you find yourself rationalizing that it is a perfectly fine relationship to your family and friends, it may not be true love," said Silva. And as scary as it may be to think that this person could be catfishing you, don't let your fear get in the way of following your gut. Anyone who has good intentions will be more than willing to come out from behind their screen to solidify your relationship face-to-face.
Clarissa Silva, behavorial scientist and relationship coach