I once knew a girl from work in the Internet heyday (circa 1999). We worked together remotely building online support groups. We developed the largest ever online health communities. My colleague and I worked together for many years without ever having met. I knew her. I came to rely on her. And we are still friends. In fact, we have the same first name.
But with my young adult and teen clients who have “ended it” with a guy (gal) they never met face to face, what did they end exactly?
Talking via text or IM or messenger every day is definitely something, not nothing. Is it real? Yes. Of course you can learn a lot about a person this way just like my colleague and I. Is it a relationship? My clients say unequivocally “Yes.”
You hear stories of men and women who literally “talked” this way for years who say they’re in love. Fine. But for the teenagers in my practice, please learn to demand more, says Lisa Damour, Ph.d. As scary as it may be, you have to meet someone face-to-face eventually, don’t you? You need that spark, that chemistry, that “je ne sais pas quoi” quality to create trust going forward. Trust needs two ingredients: time and patience.
Yet like Alex in “Free Solo,” you have to trust yourself first and foremost. This makes intuitive sense. How can he climb a sheer rock face without some inner compass of self-reliance and faith?
Still some guys seem to be just fine with hit-and-run, ghosting, [Ghosting, for those of you who haven’t yet experienced it, is having someone that you believe cares about you deeply, whether it be a friend or someone you are dating, disappear from contact without any explanation at all. No phone call or email, not even a text]. Women seem to have permitted this in recent years during the so-called “hook-up” culture. And yet, there has never been a woman in my therapy office who said a “hook up” was good for her. All they say is they were lowering the bar in order to have a novel experience. But since this behavior is intolerable to most decent people, we need to make some changes.
According to a Damour NY Times article, “In the wider culture, it appears we have suddenly come to the limit of our tolerance for the sexualized abuse of power by adult men. A logical next step is to recalibrate some of the toxic norms that have taken hold among teenagers.” In other words, why tolerate it? One of my new patients decided that she’s going to put her foot down and block anyone who cannot make a commitment to meet after an initial positive Tinder match.
To be really “Free Solo” you have to learn to love yourself, be without your phone for at least half an hour and to not check obsessively if the guy (or gal) was online when you happened to not hear back from him or her immediately. In addition,
- You know it’s real if you’re able to express your needs.
- You know it’s real when it’s a two-way dialogue, preferably face-to-face.
- You know it’s real when you’re not anxious and upset all the time.
- You know it’s real when the effort is satisfying and you are appreciated for who you are.
Couples will struggle with trust throughout their lives depending on the attachment bonds of their childhood. People may have attachments that were too chaotic or too careless or just absent or addicted (See: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth). But the way to build strength in your relationships and yourself is to meet, talk, date, fail, pick yourself up and grow. It’s the only way. Hiding behind your phone or a computer is ultimately the loneliest place to be.