The popular idea of Internet-based relationships is of two people meeting through an online dating service such as eHarmony, and then dating and getting married in real life. Often one imagines both partners to be social outcasts and computer "nerds."
This is not wholly accurate. In the first place, online relationships develop in more ways than one. Second, computer and Internet usage is no longer confined to technology geeks.
Just about everybody in the developed world (and also in less prosperous nations) have and use Internet. Consequently, there are now different kinds of people who engage in Internet socializing.
There are many kinds of relationships in cyberspace, and many ways it can be developed besides via online dating.
Special Interest Communities and Message Boards
Message boards devoted to a specific topic are a common place to make friends and more. These places are frequented by the same people, so a lot of familiarity goes on, besides the fact that you get to talk with others who share your interests.
You can join an online community of astrology hobbyists, for example, or animal lovers, freelance writers, tennis fans, or people from your own country or religion. If you're an art fan, you can share your works with fellow amateurs like yourself. If you like to discuss entertainment, there will always be someone who has something to say.
Forming relationships here is more relaxed than in online dating sites. You aren't necessarily looking for anybody when you go to a New Age forum. But as time goes on, you may get real chummy with someone. Or a group may organize a meeting together. You can come back to the same community for years and find the same members, just like home.
Online Gaming and Fun Sites
Are you a fan of multi-player fantasy games? Then you have a cool alternative to online dating methods. Sign up for an account at a gaming site and unleash the medieval warrior in you.
You can make friends and interact with people in a virtual fantasy world. If you keep playing with the same team member, your interest might just go beyond the game at some point.
Webmasters and Webmistresses
If you're savvy enough to run your own web site or blog, you may develop meaningful relationships with others like you. It may start out as someone who is a fan of your site. Or you may corroborate on a project that is dear to both of you. Eventually your talks may get more personal and you may decide you want to meet this person.
In the above examples, online dating is not the idea. Rather, friendship develops naturally. It may even go on for years without you two meeting in person. When you finally do meet, it will be an incomparable experience.
You are really seeing each other for only the first time, and yet you will know and understand so much already. Relationships of this kind tend to be more solid, reliable and secure than those that evolve from dating sites.
Why? Because what initially brought you together - a common interest, a passion for a cause, a project - will always be there. It will almost certainly be non-physical. Moreover, no pressure is felt, no obligation to prove anything or measure up to something.
So before you go to a dating site to find that perfect match, try joining a special interest forum or community in cyberspace. At the very least, you will have fun with like-minded people. At best, you may find love quite unexpectedly.