Scrolling for a Soul Mate

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While dating apps and social media make it easy to meet someone, they may also hurt your chance of a healthy relationship.

By Amanda Pinney

In the search for a soul mate, modern technology gives us easy access to hundreds of connections through popular dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid. With the simple swipe of a finger, we can match and chat with strangers. In today’s digital age, we are also able to maintain constant interaction with our social circles through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which encourage us to share the details of our everyday lives with our friends and followers.

While the ability to connect with others has become easier, swiping and scrolling may not be the answer to building a healthy romantic relationship. Author and psychotherapist Esther Perel sat down with Recode during this year’s South By Southwest event to discuss why the digital screen is hindering our ability to make face-to-face connections and creating boundaries in our relationships.

Connection without commitment

Online dating apps promote the age-old idea of finding “the one,” but for many adults, the ability to connect with multiple people at once eliminates the desire for commitment. This environment has created a dating pattern Perel calls “stable ambiguity,” in which a person engages in several simmering relationships that are not actually going anywhere. According to Perel, stable ambiguity is just enough involvement to fill the void of loneliness without sacrificing freedom. It allows for modern daters to remain involved with a few people at a time while pursuing a long-term life partner. The strain comes from living in two extremes, or going from meaningless romantic connections to finding the ideal partner, a mentality that is often hard to recover from when the right person does come along.

Too many options

Advancements in technology let us live in a world full of options, but when it comes to dating, the freedom of choice can be overwhelming. With the ongoing creation of more online dating websites and apps, the number of choices keeps increasing. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of American adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps, up from the 11 percent in 2013. Although these dating platforms provide many potential suitors, Perel believes the incredible amount of choices has left us with a tremendous amount of uncertainty, a chronic case of self-doubt. These feelings can bring uncertainty into a relationship, building a barrier of caution and mistrust.

A new definition of loneliness

Mobile devices are an integral part of the modern adult’s life, keeping track of work schedules, social events and daily plans. With an attachment like this, it’s no surprise our smartphones are often the last things we hold at night and the first things we reach for in the morning. But the nagging sensation that we need to scroll through our social feeds may be causing us to detach from those around us. Couples that are on social media in restaurants and before bed instead of interacting with one another are creating a new definition of loneliness based on the sensation that one’s partner is there, but not really present. Based on Perel’s studies, she believes loneliness no longer has to do with being socially isolated; it has to do with experiencing a loss of trust and a loss of capital while we are next to the person we aren’t supposed to be lonely with. This sense of “ambiguous loss” is the reason many people feel an ever-present distance between themselves and their significant other, even when they are sitting right beside one another.

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