Limitless options and dwindling patience are threatening to end love as we know it.
Millions of people around the world are trying to find love online as we speak. For years I was one of them. In the wake of my divorce in 2007, over a period of five years, I went on hundreds of dates — most of which went on to involve a sexual liaison of some kind — because I was searching for someone to replace my wife, and because it was easy and I was trying to outrun my pain. Click and you're on.
I expected to be able to find something perfect out there in the ether, beyond my laptop. I went halfway around the world looking for the perfect woman: from Sydney to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. A burlesque dancer. An escort. An actress. All incredible women with so much to give but who couldn't deliver the instant bolt of love I had convinced myself was a prerequisite for any long-term relationship to blossom.
When I did get that "glimpse of eternity", to borrow a great line from Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women, with an eccentric but beautiful artist who lived just around the corner from where I live in Sydney, our love affair ended after six months.
It was only when my daughter said something startling to me while driving in the car one day that my life changed. I was stuck in traffic. I was bemoaning my life. Getting frustrated and pissed off. Clenching the wheel. Then my little girl piped up from the back seat. "You know, Dad, you could try a little patience. Then you might find life gets easier."
Out of the mouths of babes. She was absolutely right.
Last year, I wrote a book that was published in Australia called Laid Bare: One Man’s Story of Sex, Love and Other Disorders. It was the story of my comprehensive marriage breakdown, my even more comprehensive mental breakdown, my sexual escapades in Australia and the United States as an accidental but hardcore "player", my quixotic search for love in the age of the internet and, most of all, how I came to repair the fractured relationship I had with my daughter, who was four when I divorced.
During the writing of my book — and later, in the car with my daughter — I became acutely aware of something that was not only missing from my own life, but also seems to be in danger of disappearing from all our lives. And yes, it's patience.
We seem to have lost patience with everything. We don't read books like we used to. We channel surf. We move on if a web page takes more than five seconds to download. We throw away perfectly good things. It's quicker to replace something than repair it. We take our smartphones to dinner. We no longer listen and absorb. We like. We poke. We tweet. We put up selfies on Instagram when we just can't bear to be in our own company for more than a few minutes.
When something comes along that's newer than what we already have, our instinctive reaction is to throw away and upgrade, as quickly as possible. Just look at the ridiculous cult of Apple and its products. People sleep outside a store overnight to get their hands on a phone? The world's gone crazy.
A major repurcussion of this phenomenon is that relationships — the bedrock of our society — are being treated with the same impatience as everything else. Facebook alone is blamed for causing one in five breakups in the United States and one in three in the United Kingdom. Those figures have some margin of error, of course, but they're not too far from the truth.
That's because our global culture of instant connectivity but perpetual distraction is destroying relationships and marriages. We're living in an increasingly disconnected world when it comes to emotions. I've dated women who should have had their iPhones surgically grafted in their wrists.
Patience and forbearance are some of the most crucial ingredients of any relationship. Patience when times aren't good above all else.
When I first met my ex-wife it was 1996, she dumped me after two weeks. But after I stood outside her flat in the rain like John Cusack in High Fidelity, she took me back and we went on and had a 10-year marriage that produced our beautiful girl.
She took a chance on me. She overlooked my abundant faults. But, as I say in Laid Bare, had it been today, "I wouldn’t have seen her again. She'd have put her picture on a dating site, married a Texas oil billionaire and blocked me on Facebook."
So why are so many people breaking up in 2013? Why are divorce rates so high? I would argue it's partly because we have become so impatient. We don't persevere with each other anymore.
Getting in and out of relationships is easier than ever because of mobile phones, emails, social networking and online dating. It gets back to what Douglas Coupland coined in Generation X all those years ago: "option paralysis".
When given so many choices, you make none. Or you make one, but there's no satisfaction. In 2013 we have limitless options. We're overburdened with choice. How is that so many of us are still unhappy? Keep reading...
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