We live in a world filled with too much of everything. Americans in particular are infamous overconsumers. I can’t help but think that this overstimulation is harmful to us as individuals. We are bombarded by images on tv, online, in magazines, in newspapers, on billboards, and who knows where else. These images tell us about fashion, love, beauty, intelligence, prosperity, success. The hidden harms in images have been written about, but what about the harms of social networking and meeting so many people?
I can’t help but wonder if the constant overload of meeting new people and having the ability to communicate with them in so many ways at any time of day or night can be harming our ability to make good decisions and fall in love the way people used to do. Love used to be a committment. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they get married, and they live happily ever after, or something like that. I have watched the great examples of such a love story throughout my life-my aunts and uncles who have surpassed 50 years of happy, faithful marriage, my grandma who never remarried once my grandfather died, and my parents who have been in love for over 30 years. The devotion of these relationships has always amazed me and I have aspired to find such love of my own. Given the recent statistics about marriage (50% end in divorce) and even more recent stories about the Mexican government trying to make marriage a temporary and finite institution with an expiration date, my discouragement seems to be growing. I have even read articles discussing the importance of time apart in a marriage. What?! How can that be? In my experience, the successful marriages are those in which the couple relies on each other and does not want to spend time apart. They are each other’s best friends. They vacation together, they laugh together, they learn together, they sleep together, they cry together and they support one another through thick and thin.
So what is the change that has occurred? No doubt there have been changes in values and beliefs over the generations, but could there be more to it? There is a constant stream of temptation and fantasy being fed to us daily. Even the most devoted lovers can be tempted, especially when marriage seems to be disposable. There are subconscious competitions happening inside our brains consistently, who has more friends on facebook, how many people have commented on my photo, can I dress skankier than the other girls, can I be more witty with my online quotes, how many followers can I get on twitter. As we become increasingly more connected, we ironically become more disconnected with reality and thus, more lonely. Whereas our parents would go about their days, call people on the phone to catch up, and discuss things with each other over dinner, we post our lives online for all to see. Nothing is special as we share so much with so many. And the simple feedback from a spouse or a friend doesn’t seem to be enough; we want people to ‘Like’ our status and comment and commiserate. We seem to have forgotten the interactions that are meaningful and fulfilling. We have replaced a few gratifying encounters with hundreds of dissatisfying ones.
In the past we would cut contact with old boyfriends and girlfriends. They would become part of our memory and that would be that. Save for a few old letters and photos, they would be history. Now, we have digital cameras to capture every moment and we end up with thousands of photos to supplement our every memory. In addition, we have social networking sites where we keep tabs on exes. If we don’t add them as a friend, we certainly look them up to see what they are doing (and if their current flame is as good looking as we are). Adding exes as friends is dangerous territory since it is so easy to forget about the reasons for the breakup and we could fall back into old habits with the familiar face. Having contact, even if only by a social networking site, or an online game, or text (any electronic means of communication, really) is not fair to your current significant other. If the feelings for this person are in the past, why not keep the person in the past? Are you keeping them around just in case?
What about those relationships that “might have been?” Those are just as dangerous. Keeping those people as friends on social networking sites is another huge temptation. Keeping in contact with someone you had an interest in is not fair to your significant other or anyone who might come along while you’re single. Whatever didn’t happen with you guys probably didn’t happen for a reason, but keeping them in the loop is just making it harder. John Greenleaf Whittier said it best: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” We may dwell so much on the things that might have been (but never were and never would be) that a fantasy is built up in our heads and we lose sight of reality. Who could compete with a fantasy? Nobody! In the end, the fantasy will win out because nobody will compare to it.
Maybe I’m just an old fashioned kind of gal, but I like the whole idea of formal dating. If we go dancing, ask me to dance. Hold the door open for me, bring me flowers, oh yah, and don’t keep in contact with your exes (ex-girlfriends, ex-lovers, ex-crushes, ex-flings, ex-whatever). I will be a devoted wife and mother and I expect that my husband will adore me, support me (emotionally people, sheesh…I’m gonna be working too), and love me unconditionally. I hope I live to see the day when old fashioned values, true love, and hard work are part of the norm.
While I do believe that men and women can be friends, I think it is important for us to differentiate between the types of “friendship.” Is it a true friendship in which both sides care for the other and support each other? Is it a friendship grounded on mutual respect and platonic love? Or is it a friendship in which one party only wants more to develop? Perhaps a friendship of convenience?
All of our behavior and comparisons that we make to unrealistic visions of happiness and love are self-destructive. We have destined ourselves to failure in love as we are penetrated by the constant visions of something better. We don’t even know a true friend when we find them because we are so caught up in the business of ‘checking in’ online. Perhaps it all grows from a deep dissatisfaction with ourselves. With everything in the spotlight and so much information accessible, we constantly see things we consider better. There is always someone more successful, more attractive, more fun, more adventurous. How can any of us ever measure up? We seem to try to measure up in the emptiest of ways and we have been trained to think it’s ok since it is socially acceptable.
So are people more inclined to cheat (on exams, on lovers, on spouses, etc) due to the constant stream of information coming to us on a daily basis? Or are we just more aware of things that have been going on for years and years (and people are getting divorced because of it because divorce is now socially acceptable)?