“To love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way” ~ Plato
Call me old-fashioned, but the banality of dating habits I hear about from male and female psychotherapy clients in their 20’s and 30’s makes me recoil in horror.
Phone conversations are apparently an antiquated convention, and way too exposing of one’s authentic self. Hence, dates are typically established via pixilated messages. Overtures of adoration are conveyed in a similar way. Sex has become just as cavalier.
If you’re lucky a break-up occurs on the phone or if you’re truly fortunate, in person (gasp!). More likely, you’ll be dumped through a text or some sort of social media forum where you’ll arbitrarily discover your mate’s status is suddenly single. Head over to Instagram and you can view a visual pictorial of your ex’s new relationship. Then purge your emotional distress by broadcasting your relational quagmire on your blog.
Healed in the aftermath of the blog catharsis, you can now make your way to Tinder, where you can rate countless profile faces in the hopes of meeting a real-life person!
The aforementioned scenario is what often results when courtship occurs electronically. Are we so deeply buried in our computers and smart phones that we’ve lost sight of each other?
To avoid conflict, awkwardness, doubts, and insecurity we succumb to cyber forms of communication. We’ve become careless with one another. Emoticons are relied upon to add nuance and tone.
Where is the vulnerability, the risk, the intimacy, the humanity necessary to cultivate a relationship?
Sadly our cultural conditioning in this day of post-modernity has contributed to our lowering the bar on standards of interpersonal integrity. Communication is typically pixelated and monosyllabic. As soon as any sort of discomfort or distraction kicks in, it’s on to the next best thing. In a climate of obsessive pre-occupation with technology, the basics of social interaction are eroding.
Further evidence of this dystopian relational landscape is revealed in the promotion of futuristic high-tech humanoid AI robots. The fantasy of being catered to without reproach, having every sexual fantasy fulfilled, while reaping the benefits of non-combative simple conversation and artificial intellectual stimulation seems too good to be true for many. With an easy, albeit expensive purchase lonely humans seeking love will no longer have to engage with the messiness of a live person. In fact, according to a survey carried out by Edensfantasy.com, of 2,000 men and women, 40% said they would have sex with a robot.
It is yet to be seen how this will impact our capacity to relate to one another, but one thing is certain. Believing that technology is sufficient substitutionary fulfillment for human intimacy is a scary proposition. A machine that is programmed to love you is a hollow exchange for human to human love, but it is a safer bet.
As a psychotherapist my mind scrambles through the rolodex of folks who evince traumatic loneliness, accompanied by the compulsive need to peruse dating apps to assuage an insatiable void. It is there I seek answers. I am led to wonder if all the relational betrayals, rejection, abuse, and humiliation has led us collectively to this place where we either give up on human relationships and choose gratification from a robot companion, or we seek momentary hits of intensity and infatuation through random pixelated strangers. Anything to not risk the devastation of love unrequited.
One such person who bottomed out and sought to stop the madness was a dashing young architect, Javier. A string of irate, shattered lovers failed to shed light on his narcissistic traits and a serious porn addiction. Rather he sought therapy to glean insightful strategies to procure a woman worthy of a monogamous commitment. He sought a fix in the form of the ‘perfect woman’. She would be the panacea to deliver him from a quagmire of ‘needy, vapid women’.
Ultimately he discovered that the only path back to himself and to others was to completely disengage from this mythic enchantress and all forms of addictive stimuli, including dating apps, social media and porn. To connect to his agonizing loneliness and self loathing he had to remove that which masked his pain and kept him in chains.
This is what M. Scott Peck, M.D. referred to as the road less traveled.
Once alone and committed to the stillness required for self-reflection, Javier was able to form a meaningful relationship to himself. This set the foundation for embarking on the pursuit of love. It also made him well aware that the sheer laziness and lack of effort inherent in modern day cyber dating rituals was antithetical to the convention of romantic courtship. He had to operate from new rules of engagement if he wanted a sustaining partnership.
Courtship is a codified means by which romantic love develops and progresses. Rooted in social norms and relational needs, courtship begins with rapport, and is designed to deepen disclosure and foster mutual dependency.
Javier made connections through in person introductions and through two cyber dating channels. He agreed to allow an amorous attraction a three to four month process of exploring possibilities without bolting or sabotaging. A steadfast commitment to pacing himself, being honest and consistently present, enduring awkwardness and ambivalence, cultivating trust and sharing values led to an exclusive commitment. At forty years old Javier experienced his first long term, monogamous love relationship.
This required endurance, vulnerability, maturity and interpersonal integrity.
Javier learned that on a fundamental level the sort of rapport and trust a romantic connection requires can only evolve with consistent in-person cues and the capacity to allow for quirks and foibles. To love rightly as Plato put it, is to purposely commit to behaviors which demonstrate reliability, a valuing of another’s feelings, offering support, praise, interest, self-disclosure, empathy, protection and nurturance.
To love requires volition. It requires us to stop hiding behind the detached anonymity of technology, and to step up to the task of creating a safe space where two people can reveal themselves fully and deeply.
Only then can the possibility of true abiding love flourish.