Digital Dating and the Wisdom to Know the Difference

Those in 12-step programs ask for the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference. Digital communication opens possibilities for dating that can be difficult to manage.

We have a kind of control when we communicate digitally that can be comforting. Simultaneously, that sense of control can stir wishes for more power than is possible to have in our romantic relationships. How can we find the wisdom to know the difference?

Digital communication offers ways to limit various aspects of communication. With texting, we can space out our comments over longer periods of time than is generally accepted in phone conversations or in person. We can takin in words alone, with no vocal patterning or inflection. The ability to control stimulation in this way can be calming.

When we choose phone conversations rather than texting, we have to navigate auditory stimulation but not sight as we do in face-to-face communication. When we do face-to-face over a device, we have auditory and visual stimulation but with a screen between us and probably miles or even cities or possibly countries, there is no possibility of touch or smell or taste.

While digital technology brings these new kinds of control in relationships, we cannot control other important aspects of romance that many of us hunger to control. We cannot dial up a partner that fits desired specifications. We cannot change other people's responses like changing the channel or volume on a television by simply aiming the remote control and utilizing our thumbs.

We can better navigate this new romantic territory if we understand how powerful our desire to control others can be. We all had a life-or-death need to control an important other that began in infancy. When we are born, we are dependent on our connection with a caregiver.

Developmental psychologist Edward Tronick is known for what are called his "still face" experiments. In Tronick's experiments, babies and mothers engaged with each other, eyes gazing into eyes, cooing in their unique way with one another. Then, the mothers were instructed to assume a blank face. When the babies were faced with this loss of connection with their mothers, first the babies tried to engage the mother, but if there was still no wake up of mom's face - no reconnection - the babies shut down. The babies' faces got still and quiet just like the face the mom was presenting.

With digital communication, the desire to be connected has a literal component. If we make a digital connection and then lose the connection, we can feel distressed like a baby in a "still face" experiment. When we cannot force reconnection with someone we have lost into the ethers of the internet, we might shut down by giving up on digital dating. We might sink into web surfing in an addictive sort of way.

The wisdom to know the difference, helps us calm anxiousness that can arise when we feel the need to take action but there is really no useful action to take - when vowing to drop the digital aspects of dating solves nothing - when web surfing might bring short-term relief but long-term overload.

Digital dating can feel life-threatening because infant connections were a matter of life and death. A shift in perspective can help us hold onto our adult selves and see our romantic situations outside of past infant truths.

When we are able to release our desire to control things we cannot control, we can stay present in our bodies. We can ease the distress that comes with our child-like desperate feeling that control is essential to our existence. As we accept our lack of control over other people, we can begin more and more to enjoy the arousing surprises that show up when we meet our romantic partners in person.

Article by: Dee Wagner, LPC, BC-DMT