But the ambiguous setting of these cyberdates made many people nervous.
At the turn of the twentieth century, “tough girls,” “charity cunts,” and other early daters upset their parents and the police by taking a process that had always been conducted in private to the streets.
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For the first time in history, dating let young people seek mates and life partners on their own behalf, in public places.
Spaces like bars and boardwalks shared many features in common with chat rooms. Sure, people worried about other people misrepresenting themselves.
Both were enticing despite being slightly dangerous. A cyberlover might say he was tall and strong when in fact he was short and skinny, or thin when she was fat. Back in the day, in your parents’ parlor, or at a church- or synagogue-sponsored dance, any other young person you met would have been screened in advance. The man who held your hand as you shuddered through the dark of the Tunnel of Love might be anyone.
But daters soon discovered that the anonymity of being out in public offered its own kind of intimacy. You never had to see a girl you had picked up at the dance hall again.
Without family and friends hovering over you, you could be yourself and frankly express your feelings. Early on, mental health professionals started observing that meeting strangers online often had a similar effect.
The psychiatrist Esther Gwinnell decided to write a book about “computer love” after a string of patients came to her office reporting that they or their partners had fallen for a stranger online.
The cyberlove of your life could turn out to be little more than a mirage or a private psychosis.
“When internet lovers leave the computer to go to other activities,” Gwinnell reported, “they may feel as though the other person is ‘inside’ them.” Finding your soul mate online could also leave you feeling dissatisfied in real life.
“The driving source behind sex in the 1990s, whether you’re partnered or single, is the human imagination,” Levine declared. The place where imaginations go wild, anonymity is the rule, and desire runs amok.” Like earlier safe-sex educators, Levine used multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questionnaires to help readers take stock of what they wanted. The chapter “Overcoming Sexual Inhibitions,” for instance, started with a quiz intended to help you assess how uptight you are. If your best friend started unexpectedly talking about his or her sex life over coffee one day, you would:a. A service called Tri Ess connected heterosexual couples who were into cross-dressing.