Hi, my name is Liz and I’ve never been in love. Although this is a foreign emotional state to me, lust is all too familiar. I’m certain that my predicament is not unique.
My Millennial generation is comfortable with falling into bed with another person, but what about falling into love?
To begin answering this question, we must clarify the difference between sex and intimacy. Sex is a physical act, while intimacy is an emotional connection. You achieve intimacy by letting your guard down, not necessarily your pants.
A one-night stand is the embodiment of sex without intimacy. However, be careful not to be fooled into thinking that frequency leads to intimacy; it is more than possible to sleep with someone multiple times and still not know your partner.
So, why does physical nakedness not translate into its emotional equivalent?
Today, we appear to be more transparent than ever: updating our statuses on Facebook, uploading photos on Instagram or crafting witty tweets in 140 characters or less. We’re broadcasting how we look through selfies and how we feel through emoticons. At first, it may seem contradictory: Why wouldn’t we be emotionally vulnerable if we are literally always putting ourselves on display?
It is critical to separate the quantity of this information from its quality. Even though we’re constantly projecting, how accurate are these feelings?
Let’s Take a Selfie (But Only Post If We Look Hot)
While some approach social media without a filter, most of us carefully craft the image we project to others -- this is the root of the contradiction.
We post the glossy, high resolution images from vacations and life events that cast us in the best light. This behavior is reinforced through shares, likes and comments. But, what about the life events that aren’t pretty? Our disappointments, heartbreaks and fears don’t make for sharable content -- at least not in a way that plays to our advantage. As a protection mechanism, we barricade an emotional core that could be rejected.
We’ve learned through popular culture that the stakes are much higher now; the consequences of vulnerability in an age of interconnectedness are huge. If you reveal a raw part of yourself, not a part that has an Instagram filter slapped on it and witty hashtags, you cannot control how the receiver of the news will react. Ironically, we are an active participant in this problem.
Our generation has an unquenchable thirst for celebrity gossip. Positive news is reported by news outlets, websites and magazines, but scandal? That’s viral. We don’t keep up with Joneses anymore; we’re "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." We see how easy it is for a moment of vulnerability, such as sharing a secret or a sexualized image, to become a permanent mistake.
Unlike Kim Kardashian, most of us won’t be able to create a career out of a moment of vulnerability (let’s just assume she wasn’t complicit in distributing the sex tape). We worry that if we share an important part of ourselves with someone else, we can get burned. In turn, our fear of shaming impacts our chances at intimacy.
Given all of these conditions, we often keep love at an arm’s length. We love to date, especially through online services, such as OKCupid or Tinder.
The rise of online dating has further amplified our lack of intimate connections. Why? We judge potential candidates based off of a cultivated profile, with hand-selected photos and answers to questionnaires.
Many times, there is no mutual contact between you and your potential date, no friend that can vouch for you. We simply take what is posted at face value. It’s as “accurate” as your own profile, though, right? Previously, when people largely met through shared interests or mutual acquaintances, there was someone who could substantiate or refute a date’s authenticity.
I can understand why my parents are baffled by the lack of “romance” in my generation. In their day, genuine intimacy, even at a basic level, preceded sex. In other words, you knew who you were getting into bed with.
Today, the criterion is much more lax. Sometimes, good on paper is good enough… at least for tonight. How does this happen? Many times, women can get a false sense of intimacy. I am certainly guilty of this.
After texting your new date, you may look him up (read: stalk him) beyond his dating profile. You see all of his old photos and learn what he likes. You start suffering from Instagram infatuation; you start to think you know him. You only know the “idea” of him.
This isn’t intimacy, it is voyeurism. This trap is all too common; we mistake connecting social media accounts with connecting hearts. Unless we break this emotional wall, we are falling for the idea of another person instead of the reality.
This casualness amplifies itself in hook-up culture. We don’t want to be in a relationship so we don’t have to break up. If we aren’t “in a relationship” on Facebook, then we don’t have to deal with the fall out of changing this status.
It is hard to experience true emotional intimacy with someone when you’re constantly cultivating who you are to avoid rejection. We tell ourselves “it is just sex” to avoid getting hurt. Many people, especially older generations, are shocked to see how much we have decoupled sex and intimacy. So, how do we fix this?
Our Identities Have Multiple Layers
When you form new relationships, you reveal yourself in layers, like a nesting Russian doll. Our 24/7, plugged-in culture has made our outer layer harder to shed. This causes many of us to get stuck in the Instagram infatuation stage. Because we hesitate to truly reveal ourselves, we get stuck dating the idea of each other instead of the real person.
To move into the next stage, we need to back away from the Photoshop. Instead of constantly self-editing, try sharing a bit more. This is easier said than done. I struggle with it, especially when I view someone as relationship material. At a time when showing my emotional cards really matters to determine compatibility, it is tempting to bluff.
Ok, so you want to be open, but you’re concerned. How should you reveal yourself to a romantic interest to form a bond that isn’t just between genitals? Letting your guard down doesn’t mean farting in your date’s path because “that’s me, deal with it.”
It means sharing your opinions beyond what drink you want to order next. It means offering stories that shed light on your values. It means standing up for what matters to you, even if it conflicts with the views of your date.
In the past, I’ve tried to be someone I’m not to appeal to another person. It was incredibly hard because I’m not a professional actor. You can’t bottle up who you are forever; the sooner you can be transparent with your feelings and background, the sooner you can know if you’re a real match. I’ve heard that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
In a similar light, the path to intimacy begins with the willingness to be emotionally vulnerable.
With the right person, it is worth the risk.
Photo via We Heart It