Amour Online: French Discover The Hidden Truths Of Virtual Love

A new survey shows that the French have also become experts in digital romance, with both its highs and its heartbreaks and whole new ways of hooking up.

Is this French woman one click away from love? (eSpry)
Is this French woman one click away from love? (eSpry)
Martine Laronche

PARIS - Can two people fall in love -- or at least begin to fan the flames de l'amour -- without ever having met? The French believe they can.

In France, nearly one in four people is already signed up on a dating site, and 40% say they'd be ready to sign up if they were to become single again. These are the results of an online poll conducted in January for the French women's magazine Femme actuelle by the Institut français d'opinion publique (IFOP).

Since the creation of Meetic in November 2001, French dating sites, social networks, and discussion forums have multiplied on the Internet, giving people new ways of forging bonds. A call for testimonials posted by showed that relationships started on the web are sometimes -- but not always -- carried over happily into real life.

Clothilde signed up on an Argentine dating site so she could link up with men in Argentina. "One day, I got a message from a user who hadn't posted a picture. Just a few lines, in French worthy of 19th century French writer Alexandre Dumas, from an Argentine man who wrote that I was the loveliest flower in the Luxembourg gardens but that he, unfortunately, was more Cyrano de Bergerac."

The man's message made Clothilde curious, his words had hit a chord. "He sent me a photograph the next day. All I saw was a very handsome man. After that, the relationship developed naturally, one email a day, then some snail mail letters so I could read his handwriting. And then he told me he loved me!"

Clothilde's story continues like a fairy tale: she left France to go to Argentina, married her Internet lover, and the couple now has two children.

New rules

So has the Internet become just another new way of meeting people? Not exactly: digital love doesn't follow the same rules as meeting someone at a party, at work, or in any other real-life situation. It's more intense; words can have incendiary power. And then the transition to real life can be very disappointing.

"In email exchanges between two people who are interested in each other, there's a progression that fuels desire," explains Pascal Couderc, a psychoanalyst and author of the recent French-language book L'Amour au coin de l"écran (the title plays on the phrrase au coin du feu, or "by the fireside," inserting the word écran, or screen, it evokes love by the warmth of the screen.)

"The exchange gradually becomes charged with erotic energy," Couderc continues: "Words are like caresses – and the complicity and understanding between the two partners is perfect."

Without reality to gum things up, imaginations take flight. "All digital lovers who have been fooled by both the other's feelings and by their own fall into the same trap," the psychoanalyst explains. Love relations that begin with words are primarily fantasy and projection.

Daniel met his future wife on a social network. "What I wanted most was to meet her in the flesh, quickly. That way, my fantasies didn't have time to get out of hand," he says. "Before meeting my wife, I'd often been disappointed – it's pretty rare to meet women who correspond to their claims about themselves." Physically and otherwise, he says. "I think the deception is almost unconscious. It's easier to wear a mask. I myself have lied to seduce certain women," he admits.

Daniel started Internet dating after breaking up with somebody. He says that, after the break-up, he needed to feel that he was attractive. He fell in love once, digitally: with a professor of literature. "Our epistolary relationship was very theatrical. We expressed ourselves in long monologues. We could spend entire days chatting," he recalls.

A single word

The idealization that 19th century French writer Stendhal called "crystallization" is rendered more intense in Internet relationships. "From a single word written by the other, we can create a whole novel," says Couderc. "The object of desire can be invested with attributes that they lack entirely."

Françoise felt "very alone." Divorced for 20 years, with grown children who no longer lived at home, she fell in love with a much younger man on Facebook. At first, she refused his invitation to become friends, but – because he insisted – finally relented. "What won me over," she says, "aside from how nice he was, was his ‘honesty" – and all the things he told me that no man had ever told me before." This very intense virtual relationship lasted three months. "When we met for the first time, he was exactly the way I'd imagined," she remembers. Françoise went abroad to marry him. Fifteen days later, he dumped her: he'd found another – richer – woman.

Adeline, 31, met her partner on the French dating site ( After spending a night exchanging e-mails, they switched to Facebook and then met up in the flesh. "He didn't correspond at all to what I'd imagined, but we had a good time," she recalls.

The same thing happened to a 23-year-old student. She says that after two weeks of enthusiastic exchange via Internet, she was disappointed when she actually met her correspondent. Despite this, the couple decided to give it a go. Three years later, they're still together.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - (e)Spry

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!