We all crave connection. It’s a biological, ancestral urge, and a need to be seen and loved. We want to have depth to our relationships.
However, we are also a culture of immediate gratification, and the oxymoron is that we are quite fearful of truly being seen for who we are. We fear vulnerability. We fear rejection. We live in a modern time with many different avenues of distraction (aka social media) to keep that immediate gratification of being temporarily seen satisfied. This distraction keeps us from experiencing the magic and gratification that is true intimacy, as we continuously seek out perfection in a mate. In the process, we toss aside or “swipe-away” people, as if they are objects. Social media has become a mecca of shiny object syndrome.
We have created a generation of detachment, or avoidant-attached people. It’s easier and safer to keep our options open now. To “ghost” each other, meaning, leading someone on, and then disappearing. We’re more prone to move on to the next person, if their facade appears more appealing than the last one. We are often left feeling the highs and lows, and needing another distraction, to get that ego boost. Dating becomes a rollercoaster.
Do I believe social media and online dating apps are truly evil? Not at all. I actually met my love online through similar interests. However, our connection is respectful, exclusive, intimate, and face to face. I was putting my authentic self out, and so was he. We weren’t looking for each other, but rather putting our authentic selves forward, and just happened upon each other. Social media has a place in the dating world, but the profound level of narcissism and disconnected communication that takes place is quite disturbing.
Culturally, we’ve been taught that we need to control our emotions, sooth our own stress, and not be “needy” in relationships. The focus has been independence. Play hard to get. One night stands. Collect contacts. Protect yourself. Don’t get too close. Love is a game – it says so in all the songs! However, according to Levine and Heller in their book Attached, we are all biologically programmed to connect with, and attach to someone. One someone. To be needy…and it’s not a bad thing! We view needing someone as a weakness, when actually it is quite powerful and freeing. Biologically, we are programmed for love.
“When two people form an intimate relationship, they help to regulate each other’s psychological and emotional well-being.”
This, in attachment theory, is what leads to a greater sense of purpose and independence. This, my friend, does not happen through mindlessly swiping pictures. It requires all of the senses.
Avoidant-attached people actually fear intense levels of closeness, and therefore search for the next level of “perfection”, never quite feeling satisfied in their dating/relationships, even in their marriage. They will always be focused on what is lacking in their relationship. Always seeking the next best thing, because it could be better. Grass is greener. Romanticizing and fantasizing. One can argue that the rise in social media ‘connection’ is contributing to the rise in detached/avoidant type dating patterns and behaviors among the younger generation.
In order to truly connect with an individual, we need to be authentic with ourselves, and put that authentic self forward in all we do, including in our online presence. However, with social media, we tend to put on a facade of grandiosity, as we want to show off only our best selves, not who we really are. What happens when the person you meet on-line gets to know the real you? You are not what you put out there in cyber land. You’re an image that you have created of yourself.
Sure, there are “shiny” people online. Sharing their daily selfies. People with perfect bodies, perfect hair, laying on the beach, people doing handstands, and yoga poses, and hiking. Someone with beautiful legs. Someone with an amazing smile. Someone with perfect teeth. It’s certainly enticing.
Perfect is boring, and it’s all a façade. It’s not reality. Messy might not make for the most attractive photo, but it’s real. We all have some beautiful messiness, and we can’t hide from it. With avoidant style dating, there will always be something “better” that we romanticzse about the next person. We create reasons why the last person was not good enough. These reasons are known as deactivating strategies. We create stories so we can justify our detached/avoidant dating behaviors.
What are a few things you can do now to improve your in real life connections and break away from online shiny object syndrome?
1. When you feel lonely, don’t reach for social media to boost your ego.
Stop mindless “swiping” on people. A person’s appearance is NOT indication of that person’s worth. It’s shallow, and mindless, and easy to do. It gives very little indication of who that person truly is. It doesn’t give you their scent, their touch, how they look at you, their mannerisms, the way they laugh, how they take their morning coffee, their vulnerabilities, their triggers, their fears, their favorite places to be.
2. When you find someone that you truly connect with, be it online or in person, give them your time, all of your time.
Get to know the real them. Let go of all the other mindless connections that keep distracting you, and pulling you away. They are only there on the side to feed your ego, and make you feel safe temporarily. Feed it yourself. Love yourself. Put down your phone. Drop the shiny objects. Focus on getting to know the person in front of you. The one who wants to be seen by you. This goes for if it’s your first date, or someone you have been married to for 20+years. Drop the shiny objects, and connect or reconnect with the people in your life who truly matter. Until you become aware of yourself, you will follow the same perceptions and patterns with each subsequent person. There is no ‘better’ person. Be the best version of you for yourself, and the best person for you will appear.
3. Learn to recognize deactivating strategies, and stop engaging in them.
Deactivating strategies are avoidant behaviors of searching for things to find wrong with the person you are dating, so that you can create a reason to disengage from them, and engage the shinier new person. Instead, focus on all the amazing qualities that person you are trying to deactivate from holds, including what drew you to them in the first place. Recognize your fears and vulnerabilities, rather than disengaging that person because of them. Get to know them, or re-know them. Stop deactivating, and start focusing on all the amazing qualities that person holds!
Finally, I’m just going to put this right here…because I have heard from several women that this is a ‘thing’ that happens all the time now…
4. Stop. Sending. Dick pics.
Apparently…some people think women want to see this. I’m sure it’s beautiful and all, but trust me, she does NOT want to see your goods quite yet, or consider you as a potential life partner, even if it is laced in gold. No matter how proud you are of your shiny package, please keep it to yourself for the time being.
Levine A & Heller R (2010). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find-and Keep-Love. Penguin Books, LTD. London, England.