Let's be real about some of the ways the digital world affects our lives.
Living and loving well on- and offline can be like trying to live in two countries at once. And, sometimes it seems that people forget which country they're in.
Why else, when people's goal is to meet someone offline, would they lie about the way they look in the land of posts and pretty pictures?
"Did he really think I wouldn't notice that he's shorter than I am," asked a client. She had been excited about meeting this man. Online, they had really seemed to connect. She had told him, "height is an issue for me." She grew to her 5'10" height at an early age, and being with shorter men fired up her self-consciousness again. He had told her things he was self-conscious about when he was young, and she thought they had "bonded."
"He said he was 6'1". One of the things I liked about our connection was that we both seemed so open. Ha! Why would someone lie about something so obvious? I got turned off immediately. What else had he lied about that I couldn't see?"
And it's not uncommon to hear someone complain about meeting someone whose picture "must have been taken 10 years ago." Again, people are surprised by the obvious misrepresentations. "Didn't she think I'd notice?!"
In the world of profile pictures and taglines, you don't get to hear tone of voice, or see expressions, or energy level. You don't get the aliveness or dullness of someone's manner. You don't get to experience the appeal of someone's voice or their laugh.
Looks may matter even more than offline. Maybe that is why plastic surgeons report an increase in cosmetic procedures among younger people.
As a result people seem more dissatisfied than ever with their looks. Maybe that's what the lies are about. Maybe people are dealing with insecurity by making things up and hoping no one will notice.
Had the 5'9" man been honest about his height, he might have gotten fewer first dates and more second ones. He might have learned to be proud of who he is and less focused on who he’s not. The 35 or 40, 45 or 50-year-old woman might have focused on how much she has grown in the last 10 years, and realized that she didn't want to waste her time on anyone who couldn’t value that.
In our ageist culture, I just fell into the trap of not including the 60, 65, 70 and older segments of the population even though evidence shows they are online, they are dating, and they are looking for and finding love. But in a world of surfaces, it's hard to think with any depth.
Online life seems to fuel and promote a confusion of good appearance with living well. Everyone has a chance to be like a movie star creating an image. And then people get increasingly unnerved by not living up to their own public image, or to the surface feelings of happiness and connection they can get online.
People talk about feeling surprised when one moment they are happily connected to many people and then are swamped with feelings of blankness or loneliness as soon as they are offline. There are 100 things they should be doing but what they want is to run from the uneasiness that sweeps through them. Community is only a click away — or it seems to be. So they go back online because the offline country is more complex.
It's easy enough to click back online but, as with any addiction, the hurt and the losses are hidden while we’re under the influence. That, of course, is part of the appeal.
Recently a client complained that everyone she knew seemed more and more superficial. We're all trying to be so clever — "we're tweeting our lives away." It was bothering her because she wanted to talk about a relationship that ended "and all I get is platitudes. Quips!"
It's ironic that in this world, people feel unseen and unheard and they admit this with some shame as though they are the only ones feeling it. But they're not.
I don't expect any of us to stop socializing online but let's be real about some of the ways the digital world affects our lives. Here are some things you can do and be aware of to shore up your confidence.
- Looks do seem more important than ever when you don't get the aliveness or dullness of someone's manner. But believe it or not, in the offline country, we all react to more than looks: the way people carry themselves, their tone of voice, their energy and aliveness, and, of course, what they have to say and how they say it, what they do and how they do it. We’re affected by how someone listens to us or doesn't.
- I almost laugh at how many people tell me they are irritated by or attracted to the way someone eats, or walks, or listens, or hugs — you just don't get this online.
- We really are more than two-dimensional creatures, and it would be wonderful to see people value their own and other people's three dimensional-ness, flaws and all! Offline, pay attention to what you respond to. You're likely to see it's more than looks.
- Many people gain confidence and appreciate themselves more when they give themselves time to pursue interests — sketching, music, writing, quilting. Often the interests are solitary, and people’s confidence gets a boost not because of what they produce but because they connect to something inside of themselves.
- People seem more perplexed than ever by what to do with their unhappy feelings — loneliness, sadness, discontent as though those feelings don't naturally go along with being alive. But unhappy feelings are as natural as shadows on a sunny day. Sometimes sadness can help people know what they are missing and need to work towards. How many times have you said to yourself, "I ought to be happy but ...." Pay attention. Maybe your feelings are telling you something important. You are not only a surface creature. Maybe your sadness is a sign of longings that you need to work toward fulfilling.
- Too much online time can result in less connection to ourselves and to a few others to whom we can reveal our pains as well as our joys, our ugliness as well as our beauty, our uncertainties as well as our confidence, our longings as well as our achievements.
The online country is great in many ways. That's why so many people have immigrated to it. But our homeland, where we are embodied and three dimensional, deserves more of our time. Many have to learn again to appreciate our depth and our real life connections, and the ways we are different as well as alike
When we know our uniqueness and what matters for us to develop in ourselves and our lives, we may post ordinary real life pictures of ourselves online, and be happy to see the other real people who we attract.
Recently, I heard someone say that the internet is young enough so that we are all like giddy adolescents getting used to it and overusing it, and in time, our use will be more proportionate. If so, maybe we'll all appreciate our homeland more and know it's worth spending more time in.
As a therapist, who specializes in helping people know and appreciate their own depth and uniqueness, I invite you to contact me if the on line world has contributed to you feeling lonelier than ever. You can e mail me at email@example.com or check out my website: www.carolfreund.com