(above) Her: Spike Jonze, 2013
The Lovers (IV): Rene Magritte, 1928
Dating: a term that strikes dread in the heart of any millennial.
Although we live in a time when we are more connected than ever, it also ironically often leaves us disconnected and alone, watching the world pass us by behind our glass screens.
Walk on any college campus, and you’ll see thousands of youth walking in herds, eyes glued to their phones: sunglasses on, headphones in. Everyone lives in their own world and bubble.
While technology has created an age of free information, with that information comes an incalculable price: that our selective exposure can divide us from those in immediate proximity, and connect us to those eons away.
How can you connect with that cute boy in your class, when you can’t tell if he’s a Republican or not? Better yet, why should you when there’s a cute stranger on the internet who mimics your political beliefs but lives in Canada?
Our connection online could be argued as more authentic. Online dating apps, e-mail, social media, video chatting, text messages, phone calls, have all adapted how we meet and interact with others, dare I say, even how we fall in love.
But what do I know about being in love? I only know of an intense emotion that might have been close to it, that only existed here: in the digital world. But it was fraught with tension… distance… Expectations versus reality. Feeling like you know someone very well, when truthfully you have no idea what their day to day is like.
And although the internet can be a beautiful, wonderful place where humans can find connection and community, and even someone new to love, your love cannot live here forever.
The first boy I felt this way for would tell me in text messages for months that he loved me and I was beautiful. The first time we met in person, he brought his girlfriend to my school play and made out with her when the scenes changed.
The second, told me he was infatuated with me and wanted to see me when he came home, in a cyclical text message exchange that amounted to nothing but empty words for 4 years.
Recently, I felt a connection with a man online similar to the ones above.
We talked about shared interests, what we wanted to do with our lives, our imaginings of the future and who we were, all in a matter of hours over text message. We sent each other selfies and photos over snapchat, mirroring images of ourselves to foster a sense of connection.
I was afraid that my fantasies of him would get away from the reality we could share, so I wanted to meet as soon as possible. I wanted to change the cycle I knew I fell into.
But when the day and time came, I was terrified. As I slowly showered, and applied my makeup, I could see a thousand different scenarios playing out in my head. One where I found him repulsive. One where we had sex. One where we couldn’t speak. Every scenario I saw in a film strip above his head; a kaleidoscope of all the different realities we could become. It was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.
How could I pick one? What if I was wrong?
And in that moment, I realized why the two before had seemed so appealing. During my parent’s divorce, dating was impossible; so my romantic relationships mostly consisted of fantasies in my head. At the time it was the only option that was safe, and comforting; but it colored my idea of love and connection in the present.
And it wasn’t real. Sure, it was real in a hyperreality sense, in that presented with so many simulations of what was once an authentic sentiment, one is bound to resonate with us.
But these boys I had known did not love me. They did not even know me. They only saw a mirror image, a digitized representation of a person. They were fantasy relationships, between two personas that existed in the digital world.
And living in that world was depriving me of the opportunity for genuine human connection. Being present with another person. Being present with myself, who I was, and what I really wanted.
That was not how I needed to live my life anymore. I no longer need to escape into a fantasy because I have no control over my reality. I could create what I wanted in front of me.
And at a certain point, you’ve just got to stop living in the realm of possibility, and pick a narrative.
So, we met. Although it was a nice evening, upon meeting him I saw a mirror of myself and was taken aback. We were ultimately too similar for romantic chemistry to develop, so I let him know. He said he’d want more if we were friends, and that it was nice to meet me. And that was it. So it goes. My fantasies of him were gone.
Yes, intimacy is hard. And it’s even harder to connect with people when we all go through life, digital shields up. But what we have to keep striving for is the people who are willing to put down their phones, and meet us face to face. So we can read them as they are, and not as they seem to be. Engage in honesty, presence, and reciprocation: the foundations of intimacy.
And you should only give your heart to those willing to show up.
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