LOVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Last year I began an investigation on a cultural and generational shift that during the 21st century, authentic relationships have become an absolute rarity — in fact genuine human connection seems to have become stigmatized; muddy perhaps. A puzzle destined to lack its slices.
But why? Why has meeting true love become more of a rarity than meeting a Sumatran Rhinoceros? When our roots lay in a deeply courteous culture, plunged in chivalry and anointed in romanticism by the likes of John Keats and William Wordsworth?
Why does pop culture seem to glamorize and legitimize heartbreak, un-fulfillment and abuse through the promotion of authors like Iain S. Thomas and Rupi Kaur? Both whom disregard form and lyrical rhythm yet focus on normalizing and conditioning the masses that heartbreak is pervasive.
It is important to note that such topics are valuable to be discussed yet the argument lays in its perpetuated unbalance in the face of normalizing love and fulfillment as well.
My argument is simple. In a world saturated with technology and anonymity, from instant messaging to excessive photographs to dating applications, the paradigms of a relationship and love have shifted. Many of us don’t know how to love anymore.
Let’s analyze. Dating applications such as Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, etc morph love into a game; an all year long hunting season. They promote a vicious cycle of obsessions and of hunting down the right person, which in turn, deny one’s self-awareness and authenticity.
Yet many seem to misconstrue the term “authenticity”. Many believe authenticity means being extra like putting on a skin that almost fits just right or perhaps a desperate attempt in being “special”; “different”. Not quite. By relying on Alain de Botton’s interpretations on love, I argue that authenticity is the ugly side like our fears and shortcomings, aspects denied by pop culture as being true. Cyberspace purposely denies the ugly side by means of constant legitimization and glamorization of concepts such as “hunting”, “moving on” or “compatibility” through platforms of “swiping” through potential romantic contenders. We rely on technology to ignore the hardships of a relationship and more so, to deny that a relationship is only achieved by introspective analysis and constant self work rather than by finding your “compatible” match.
But how? The effects of dating applications are subtle and play off of childhood traumas, which we all have. For example, perhaps when I was small, my parents got divorced, prompting me to live with only my mother and rarely seeing my father. As a child, such an event might have been traumatic. I may have associated the divorce as a form of abandonment from a male figure. Because it might have been so painful, my mind may have buried this emotional information into my subconscious. As I grow up, this subconscious emotional baggage might have prompted me to look for significant others whom resembled my father figure. To be more specific, men that for my subconscious, might have been perceived as emotionally unavailable or unable to commit, because in my mind, such would be associated with abandonment. Although such a scenario seems counterintuitive, the purpose of it would be to re-create my childhood trauma of male abandonment, “we are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood” (de Botton). Hence, without realizing, I would subject myself to seemingly constant failed relationships. One consequence of ignoring our psychological complexities (i.e. dealing and exploring trauma and our psyche) is rejecting the “too right” candidate since we are stuck in a loop of repeating the past. We end up rejecting partners not because they are not suited for us, but because they are not suited in recreating our childhoods. Maybe they are too balanced or too reliable, but “in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign” (de Botton), hence, we end up being or marrying the wrong people because actually, we “don’t associate being loved with feeling happy” (de Botton).
Traumas are inherently related to our behavioral complexities, and so, express themselves under various formats; “perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when working” (de Botton), or perhaps we have an issue with sexual intimacy in relation to humiliation or perhaps we feel the need of constant external validation by having several partners. All of these examples and many more are unexplored childhood traumas, leading towards a constant obsessive hunt via cyberspace and consequently, IRL.
The issue lies in a very simple truth: most of us are not self aware. Most of us are coddled by our illusions and therefore become unable in handling connections. Most of us are masochists who on some level, enjoy self sabotage because deep inside, we haven’t forgiven ourselves for our past. Most of us refuse to look at ourselves and decipher our emotions and rumblings of thoughts.
Dating applications, DMs, etc only amplify this. They promote the implicit thesis that compatibility is something you find rather than achieve from love and an authentic relationship. They legitimize it as a precondition with the subtext of “keep swiping ‘till you match”; “match” being the key word here. People do not just “match”; people grow together by firstly being honest with themselves, and then with their partners. Human interaction of any kind is not easy and if it is, then it’s not real. An ocean will always be preconditioned to have waves and waves simply add texture to its liquid canvas.
When we enter casual relationships or relationships powered by external things such as status, money, looks, etc, we inherently enter a cycle of always looking for the “next one”. We never feel fully satiated and take being triggered as an exit sign.
Only through self-awareness exhibited through an acceptance of both personal and each other’s flaws, can we reach “true” compatibility.