Technology has exploded our dating options and put dating effectively on amphetamines. The sheer quantity of choices gives us the feeling that we can and will meet someone through technology. How could we not?
And yet, precisely because there is so much choice, we often don’t give the person we’ve met a real chance. If anything isn’t to our immediate liking, we dive back into our device, back into the land of possibility. Sometimes we do this even when we like the person we’ve met, because we can, and there still could be someone better.
Technology creates a climate of always chasing better—something else.
Rather than focusing on the relationship in front of us—giving it our full attention, we look outside for what we might be missing out on. Consequently, it can feel like no one is ever good enough to stop searching for better. As a result, relationships that, before technology, might have turned into successful partnerships, never get the chance. It was difficult enough for a relationship to get out of the starting gate before technology, but now, despite or maybe because of all the possibilities, it can feel nearly impossible. There’s more potential but the potential remains unrealized.
These days, when a relationship does start, the primary form of communication is often texting. This can create a host of challenges that didn’t exist before technology. When we begin dating, we don’t know someone well and yet we text as if we do, sometimes communicating dozens of times in a day, sharing banter, minutia, and whatever else comes to mind. We communicate as if we are integrated players in each other’s lives, which we are not, at least not yet. So too, we now text with a flirtatious confidence, sometimes sexual, that does not match the actual level of intimacy we’ve achieved. Then, when we meet our person in the flesh or even on the phone, we have to play a game of emotional catch up, to try and bring the real relationship into sync with the virtual. We feel embarrassed and awkward, overexposed. We are building a relationship between two avatars, but not these two humans. But we can’t turn back, we’ve gone too far down the virtual road, and so are frequently left to continue in the virtual relationship, or nothing at all.
Dating in the age of technology presents challenges that can be difficult even for the most confident of daters. It is now possible to know if and when someone has read our text, which means that if our recipient has indeed read our words but not responded, or chosen not to read it at all, to leave it in the dreaded unopened, we are forced into the often unkind and frequently brutal hands of our inner dating critic.
With the help of modern technology, we are left to live a good portion of our dating life inside the maze of our own personal narrative. While we naturally craft our own story about what is happening within the relationship, technology exacerbates the storyteller within us by providing just enough information to send our mind into a tailspin, but not enough to set us free.
Technology is remarkable for many tasks, but if what we really want is to find meaningful connection with another human being, then technology is probably not the right means to achieve that end. Online dating allows us to meet people we would never get to meet, it provides options and inventory, but after we meet, we still have to be willing to do the real life work that real life relationships require. If we’re over the age of three, getting close to another person takes time and effort, but when we put in that time and effort, the infinitely possible can become infinitely real.
Tips for successful dating in the age of technology:
When beginning a new relationship, Do NOT use texting as your means of communication. Use it only as a last resort, for example, when running late for a date. Make an explicit agreement with your partner to communicate by telephone first, and email as a second option. (Or better yet, stop by in the flesh.)
When beginning a new relationship, REFRAIN from surfing the online dating world (chasing the better) until you are sure that the new person you are considering is not going to be your person. Give each person you date your full attention, one at a time.
When on a date, DO NOT keep your phone on the table or hold it in your hand.
When on a date, DO NOT check your dating profile.
CONTEMPLATE the following questions: Am I using my virtual dating life to avoid something in my real life? Is dating another distraction that keeps me from dealing with areas of my life or myself that need my attention? Do I really want a real relationship and if so, am I willing to do the work to create it?
RECOGNIZE that real relationships (with humans, not robots) take effort and time, are not easy and never without discomfort. REMIND yourself, when confronted with these challenges, that this is precisely the work that real relationships require, where the seeds are watered so that something worthwhile can bloom! Finally, honor yourself for putting in the effort to achieve something you desire.
About the Author
NANCY COLIER is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, author, and veteran meditator. She is the author of Inviting a Monkey to Tea: Befriending Your Mind, Discovering Lasting Contentment (Hohm Press, 2012), and her new book The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World (Sounds True, November 2016). She lives in New York City. For more, visit nancycolier.com.