I found love online – what will my daughter find?Posted: April 12, 2012
It has been 18 years since I met my husband online.
Now my 13-year-old daughter is beginning to venture out into the same territory of cyberspace, but it is a world completely transformed from the one I navigated as a young college student. I find myself worrying about her as she spends her evenings in front of her laptop screen.
Sometimes I’ll slip behind her, ask her some unrelated question like, “I hope you settled that issue with your best friend?” or “Did you sweep the floor like I told you to?” She isn’t fooled by these maneuvers and always manages to close her windows before I’ve gotten more than a peek. Lately I’ve been taking a more direct approach. “What are you watching?” “What are you listening to?” and if that doesn’t get any answers, I lightly mention that I wouldn’t want to be forced to install parental spying software as that would be no fun for either of us.
Obviously she wants me to know as little about her activities as I wanted my mother to know about mine 18 years ago. Obviously I worry just as much as my mother did back then, although she, barely aware of what the Internet was, was more concerned about the young men I worked with on group programming projects in class or read Qur’an with at our MSA study circle.
It’s natural for a mother to want to protect her daughter. But am I too worried? I survived without being exploited by sexual predators or fraudsters trying to trick me out of my parents’ credit card number. I met a wonderful man who was who he said he was, and if I also met a few weirdos, I had the good sense to quit corresponding with them as soon as they showed their true colors. God was protecting me all the time. Shouldn’t I have faith that He will protect my daughter as well? Or is the Internet really a scarier place than it was 18 years ago?
My daughter is younger than I was, and some maternal handholding would probably be wise as she figures her way around the vast and ever-changing territory of the Internet. And it truly is a very different place from the one where I met my husband. I can’t tell if there are more weirdos but there certainly are more people in it. I remember nostalgically the old forums where I used to lurk, in particular the Muslim women’s forum where we engaged in discussions ranging from marriage and divorce law under shari’ah to couscous recipes. A few years ago I was tempted to rejoin and found it was transformed into a noisy ring where people hurled accusations of kufr against each other. And where there was one forum for Muslim women then, there are hundreds now to choose from. The effect is the same as when you walk into a drugstore for shampoo and find so many different brands and varieties in front of you that you walk out empty-handed.
So I’ve unsubscribed from all my mailing lists and don’t meet anyone new people online anymore. My daughter spends hours reading the Facebook status updates of people she already knows at school. When she watches Youtube videos or surfs Google for new jokes to spring on her friends, she is, for better or worse, the same passive consumer of the media that I was as a kid parked on the sofa in front of Diff’rent Strokes and Happy Days.
Maybe it’s only natural that as the Internet gets more crowded, we tend to seek out the people we already know. It may be more likely that my daughter will meet her future mate the old-fashioned way—in the Real World of school, or work, or club, or family gathering. I end with the ageless mother’s prayer: May God protect her, whoever she meets, wherever she may be.
Lena Hassan has been happily married to her husband for sixteen years thanks to God and the veil of cyberspace. They have three children, and currently live in Damascus, Syria, though the Internet allows her to keep a perpetual foot in her home country of America. Lena has worked as a software engineer, served as an administrative volunteer for an Islamic school in the US, homeschooled her children, and edited an online literary journal. She is an aspiring fiction writer and recently published her first short story in a national magazine.