Online dating: can you fall in love with someone you have never met?

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Can you really fall in love with someone you met through online dating? (Shutterstock photo)

The Internet has changed the world in a number of ways; not only are people able to access unlimited resources of knowledge in a manner of seconds, but they are also able to connect with other individuals who are sometimes thousands of miles away and even engage in online dating.

In fact, through the Internet, long distance relationships have taken on a new meaning.

But can you really fall in love with someone you have never met?

According to a report from TIME, the brain process involving what people consider to be love is very complex, and while it is a mixture of cognitive, chemical and behavioral processes, the foundation of love is the well-being sensation people develop. This pleasant feeling is associated with the release of  dopamine, the chemical in the brain linked to positive reward and reinforcement.

“Love is a powerful mental state that has different manifestations, such as euphoria, loss of appetite, hyperactivity, delay of the onset of fatigue and loss of self-control,” Stephanie Cacioppo, an associate professor at the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago told TIME “People who are in love with love rather than with the person would read their [online] messages as they want them to be, rather than as they really are.”

A relationship based solely on online dating rather than personal interaction can be very misleading, caution experts, which is why it is important for individuals pursuing online relationships to have some form of visual contact.

Barbara L. Frederickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and author of the soon to be released book Love 2.0, told TIME people can detect sincerity easily—but only if they can make eye contact.

But a lack of physical or in-person contact during online dating is not necessarily a deal-breaker when it comes to love, as many people are not placing as much stock in physical appearance as once were.

It is very possible to experience feelings of love for someone you have never met, but the question then becomes, not can you fall in love online, but how risky is it to fall in love online?

Rosanna Guadagno, Ph.D. from Psychology Today conducted one of the first controlled studies looking at how people present themselves online. What she found was women tend to be more honest in presentation over the Internet compared to men, who presented themselves as more agreeable, emotionally stable and attractive than they really were.

“Clearly men know what women want and if they have a chance to meet their date online, at least those in our study were willing to deceive,” she stated in a blog about the study. “So, what is an honest online dater to do? Take time to get to know a prospective romantic partner over email. Look for inconsistencies in his or her communications. And, if attractiveness is important to you, get a lot of photographs!”

Because the majority of online dating is based on profiles, experts recommend individuals always push for a personal meeting in a public place. Only in person, or sometimes through video communication where facial reactions can be witnessed, can you tell if you are truly compatible with someone.

According to Harry Reis, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, New York said in a CNN report, there is almost no substitute for spending two minutes with someone over a cup of coffee.

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