Social VR: The impact of virtual reality on relationships

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This week we will continue on the theme of social Virtual Reality and consider the new technology’s potential impact on relationships. I touched on this the other week by asking whether Virtual Reality will make us more social or antisocial. If that piece was about friendship, then this week we will be getting a bit more intimate by discussing romantic relations.

I want to cover two different angles: meeting partners and maintaining intimacy in established couples. Can virtual reality solve the problems of shyness, distance and loneliness? Or will it cause other problems along the way? In this piece I will investigate the potential effect Virtual Reality might have on your love life.

Will it enhance the way that we meet new partners?

In the near future I think it is clear that dating via virtual reality will become as normal as online dating is now. It isn’t a difficult conclusion to jump to: the industry is already creating apps specifically designed for socialising and meeting strangers. Not all of these are strictly geared towards cyber hook ups, but it’s a logical outcome. When interacting with an avatar so intimately, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see where things might lead. Add to that the advantage of being able to appear bolder and “better” than your real life self, and it becomes a playground for living out fantasies with similarly masked users. A lifeline for shy daters?

Dating apps could absolutely use this new technology to enhance the product they already provide. Once paired by a site’s algorithm, a couple might meet up on a virtual date in a number of locations to speak one-on-one. As more apps develop they will hopefully become a little less naff than the current fair of Sim’s style sunset beaches and techno clubs. This website has already started pairing the two industries, albeit in a somewhat timewarped fashion. The advantage of this is obvious. The date feels real, conversation can flow free and there is a moving image of the other person for reference.  This makes it perfect for meeting strangers over long distances.


There are some drawbacks

In order for this style of dating to really get off the ground, and become something as normal as Tinder, it is clear that the visuals have a long way to go. Most people don’t want to meet up with cheesy, cartoonised versions of potential partners such as in some current social apps. They want to see real faces, real bodies and hear real voices. Such a feat is not impossible. It would just require users to be 3D scanned and then rendered true to life.

This is quite a costly exercise and not one that many can perform in their own homes. So for now, we may have to make do with a combination of unrealistic avatars combined with home usage of 360 cameras for video chatting. The latter of which is still out of the budget of many users. However, the thrill and freedom of an avatar may be an exciting factor for some.

On the other hand, there is still one other draw back to Virtual Reality dating. There is no subtle way to use the gear. It can’t be done on the move, and it’s hard to use quietly at home too. I mentioned above that VR might be a haven for introverted suitors. However, if you were shy about making grand gestures in real life, would you be more confident if you thought your roommates could hear you through the walls? We can only assume that as technology progresses, surreptitious ways to use it will develop too.

Potential in long distance relationships?

Of course, another aspect to consider is the impact the technology will have on existing relationships. Particularly, those that are carried out over long distance. Separation can be painful, so surely the greatest thing about social VR is the potential for partners to maintain intimacy although miles apart.

We are already seeing the development of interactive toys to supplement a couple’s sex life over distance. If these were to be properly honed then they could sit alongside a Virtual Reality meet up space. Which would help a couple feel the intensity of being together. This would be great, as long as the technology is up to scratch. Some reviews of existing interactive sex simulators have already been less than glowing.  Of course, it isn’t all about sex *ahem*. The genuine feeling of presence in Virtual Reality will clearly be a winning factor when it comes to maintaining long distance relationships.

So how will virtual reality really impact relationships?

Well, when it comes to dating, Virtual Reality will eventually become an enhancement to the way we already date. Chatting to strangers is not the scary idea it used to be – the internet has already changed the way we meet people. It is no longer a rarity to carry out the majority of a relationship through messages sent online or via your phone. We live in times where people from across the globe can be connected, and people have to move around the world sometimes, meaning relationships can exist across continents. Virtual Reality will eventually make the internet a “place” in itself. A place where you can meet and be together. The intimacy it will give to such relationships described above is obvious.

However, there are always more possibilities to consider: will the technology become better than the real world? Will virtual relationships replace physical ones? Is your avatar really you? And, how do the traditional rules of morality and faithfulness apply to your virtual self? These are the philosophical questions that this brave new virtual world throws out. In this blog I hope to address some of them.


To explore the world of Virtual Reality for yourself, get started with a Freefly VR headset. Compatible with all mobile Virtual Reality apps. Available here.

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