DATING APPS ARE THE NEW PORN II: Examples in Real Time

 

In the following examples of one partner going online/on app (to: relieve boredom/feel wanted/reduce FOMO/identify self as worthy, etc),  I describe it from the vantage point of the partner who’s venturing online for these purposes – and thus, I mostly address what’s going on for that person – and less so from their partners’ point of view.

Discussing the other partner’s participation as well would entail far more treatment specificity than can be addressed in this short post. But do understand – the other partner invariably contributes to their relational difficulties as well; they certainly don’t cause the other person to stray, but they’re a factor in the dynamic. It’s important to acknowledge this, given that the other partner finding out about the online dating typically moves into the victim role rather than looking at the ways they also foster a sense of disconnection in the relationship. 

Anton is insecure in many realms: particularly career, smarts, and sexual orientation. His parents have pushed him to be an engineer, PhD or attorney because that’s what their reference group believes is valuable. So the more he focuses on his animated cartoons, the more they deride his choices. He’s in a mercurial relationship with Kerry who often storms away from arguments leaving Anton feeling worried and panicky. And so he’s on Tinder whenever he’s left feeling anxious and lonely.

Anton is typical of a lot of users. He admires Kerry, in some ways believes she’s superior to him – and – he’s conflict avoidant. So when Kerry becomes reactive and angry with him (what many people call “drama”), Anton retreats into a resentful, passive aggressive mode instead of asserting that he’d like to talk once she’s taken some time to reduce her volatility. That’s a start, but Anton still has to learn to discuss the problems he feels in interacting with her. (See the various posts on Metaconversations on this blog).

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Maude lives with Axel. She idealizes Axel, and always tries to please him – which, to many people is what they call love. But trying to please someone else is generally about getting one’s own needs met. In her case, she wants the stability of a relationship in which her partner will never leave her, and so, as Axel depends on her more, her worries about being alone decrease. But one issue that she’s never addressed is her attraction to women; she worries about it, and worries about her desires to act on it. So she sets up a profile seeking women on an app – calming herself at first by thinking that this is just funny and that she’ll ‘get it out of her system’. But she doesn’t. It only serves to both increase her sense of shame as well as her desire to seek a woman for some sort of cyber relationship. It’s fine if that’s ultimately what she decides to do – but she’s creating deep schisms in her relationship in the process. Why not discuss with Axel her attractions and see whether the relationship could handle that – even if simply in fantasy?

__________

Collin is perplexed as to why he can never seem to find a partner. He’s smart, successful and handsome and finds plenty of women online, but after the first meeting (and almost invariably,  a quick hook up) he feels shame, and then in quick succession, disgust with himself and the woman. He amasses hundreds of women via apps to connect with, and the women all seem to think that the sex – which he leads with – is the only way he’d stay interested. Yet, to Colin, though he was never aware of this before therapy, the sex is actually a sort of test; the only women in whom he’ll stay interested are those who seem to feel confident enough to avoid hooking up right away: A Catch-22 for sure.

Our primary work was to help desensitize him to the sexual shame he learned early. And then over time, to come to integrate feelings of attraction and sexuality with meaningful closeness. And, for sure, to be able to discuss some of this with the women who really matter.

__________
Mario is larger than life; he’s a successful painter and met Max on OkCupid. Max is someone with whom Mario can finally talk deeply and honestly and he’s allowed himself to become close in a way he never has before. He’s troubled by Max’s career struggles, often being out of a job for long stretches of time, but hopes Max will work it through. Suddenly after two years together, Mario inadvertently finds out that Max stayed on OkCupid during the entirety of the relationship and he’s dumbfounded. Mario is distraught but, as usual (and instead of metaconversing about his fear and sadness), he approaches Max with a cold, judgemental stance, and begins berating Max for how aimless and socially afraid he is. He actually takes on the very critical stance that his mother does – which he hates. But he can’t seem to stop himself. Finally, they discuss taking a temporary break – but they first seek couples therapy to see what they can accomplish.

__________
Sydney has always been the pivotal person in all her relationships; they adore her and make her central to everything they do – which ultimately turns her off. She needs to be with someone who can ‘share the limelight’. She’d met Paolo on The League and at once felt she could stay interested because he seemed to truly have a life of his own. The problem was that he’d constantly need to pull away before diving back in, but he was never able to tell Sydney that he did that mostly due to his periods of depression – during which he was afraid for her to see him and get turned off. And, unfortunately, Sydney never learned to to talk about the fact that she was fully interested but needed some degree of ongoing communication to be able to maintain her closeness with him. She too withheld information in the fear of turning him off or him thinking of her as needy.

So she stayed on the app for the full year of the relationship – always hoping to find someone with whom she’d feel more loved and secure – despite her fierce attraction to Paolo.

__________

Gemma and Melissa go on the apps together – but they take turns as to who will be the prospective dater. They both know that it’s highly unlikely they’d ever choose to meet the people they’re contacting.

Because Melissa feels a strong sense of sexual guilt, their sex is often awkward and clumsy.  As well, Gemma feels inept compared to Melissa in managing the roles of professional and partner, and so she’s resentful of Melissa – which makes sex far less joyful. But when they go searching for their ‘unicorn’, they both suddenly feel more sexually free and alive; in those moments, the shared fantasy eases the sexual doubts, even though they never follow through. But that only lasts so long, because neither of them is working through the particular problems that make them feel sexually (and romantically) dissatisfied. And, soon, both feel turned off and uncomfortable again – and they compulsively go back to the joint online flirting. A vicious cycle if there ever was one.

__________
Loneliness, inadequacy, boredom, shame – and anxiety seem to be important triggers for this online hunting, but the activity of combing through profiles remotely is the very thing that makes it less likely for the person or couple to seek out actual routes to changing their relationship and learning about themselves in the process – all of which are eminently achievable if they just begin.

 

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