I have a guilty pleasure I need to confess: I am obsessed with the show Love After Lockup. If you aren't familiar with it, the show follows people who have fallen in love with prison inmates. Some of the relationships started before the arrest, but the best are the storylines about people who met while one of the parties was already in prison. These stories beg the question: Can you love someone you’ve never met? Answering that, and seeing how the the relationships evolve once the couples are interacting IRL, is what makes the show so fascinating. It's quite the character study, and I highly recommend it. But as someone who has seen their fair share of online dating, there is an aspect to the show I can identify with, and that's how intense the feeling of connection and the belief that meeting was fate can be, even before you've spent a single moment in the same room.
While I've never been in the same exact situation as the cast of Love After Lockup, as I have never dated someone who was incarcerated, I have been in a long-distance relationship that began online. We talked frequently and intimately, and so it was easy to believe that we were in love. But were we really? Can you actually fall for someone you haven't met?
According to Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again, making a connection with someone online or long-distance is definitely possible, and can be really intense in some cases. "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 tells Elite Daily. However, falling in actual love without meeting is less likely, says Dorell. "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 vs who they actually are. 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."
Ultimately, that was true in my case; the idealized romance we had carefully crafted over the phone and in our minds didn't match the reality — or the chemistry, for that matter — when we were finally together.
Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of the Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, tells Elite Daily this is actually a fairly common experience now because of dating apps. "Dating apps are creating a paradox effect: Giving off the illusion of many choices while making it harder to find viable options," she explains. Silva says this can lead people to invest themselves emotionally in relationships that are less than ideal, including ones where you don't have real-world contact with people — and getting attached. "For many, the attachment to a person despite never meeting them is really about the desire to be loved," she adds.
However, Silva warns that the kind of connection this dynamic creates can be really confusing. "The emotional intensity is like love, it’s more about your idealized version of what you want in a partner and your desire for a partner," she says. This, she cautions, can cause people to settle for less than they want and deserve. "The idea can create illusions that you’re in a healthy relationship because it is what we choose not to see. 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," Silva concludes.
While the experts say falling in love with a person you’ve never met is unlikely, there is no question that you can forge a real connection with someone that way — with the potential of it becoming something more. That's encouraging, so long as you follow the experts' advice and remain realistic about the limitations of this kind of relationship. That way, you avoid settling for less that you really want and deserve.