Do I dare write a blog about love in the digital age? I mean romantic love? We talked about theater and it seems a reasonable follow-up. Romantic love has been more the subject of drama and literature than any other topic in the world. And, like theater, love is not ideally suited to the limitations imposed by technology, right?
I make no pretense of writing a definitive treatise on love. In my view, that must be left to those great poets, artists, musicians and writers that have left their footprints on the sands of time. I can point out however that love is a basic human emotion that begins in infancy with the gaze of the newborn as she searches out the cherished face of her mother. That vital connection is reinforced by the touch, the stroking, the smells and murmurs and, of course, the food that passes from mother to baby. It is within that cradle of intense sensation that love is born.
Babies grow into toddlers, then children and teens. Their world expands to embrace other family members, friends and teachers, classmates and sports buddies, but their need for love remains. Sadly, however, in our Western culture the physical contact between parents and children diminishes greatly as the children grow up. It is not surprising then that when they reach the teen years, awash as they are in powerful hormones, their need for physical contact can easily propel them into sexual activity for which they are emotionally unprepared. But we are all pretty sure that sexual activity does not necessarily equate to love.
Just what does it take to fall in love? I ran across an article in the NY Times (Jan. 9, 2015) called To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This by Mandy Len Catron. She participated in an experiment with a colleague in which they first answered a series of questions that involved increasingly intimate topics. They then set a timer and gazed into each other’s eyes for four full minutes. Well, you guessed it! They fell in love. I am suspecting that her male colleague was already interested and set this experiment up to move things along. Nevertheless, it created a sense of intimacy, mutual respect and mutual trust—conditions that are an essential foundation for love. Those conditions indeed hark back to the original moments in our lives wherein we first experienced the tenderness and caring of our primal relationship.
Ms. Catron describes it in the following way: I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected. I felt brave, and in a state of wonder. Part of that wonder was at my own vulnerability and part was the weird kind of wonder you get from saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning and becomes what it actually is: an assemblage of sounds.
It’s a pretty good description of falling in love. Now my question is can we achieve that state of being on the Internet? I know that there are hundreds of dating sites and that you send a picture (one that is not 20 years old) and you find a person who seems compatible and you both answer a bunch of questions. If it seems appropriate you then meet them face-to-face. But I hear so many tales of meetings in which the person does not look or act as presented on the dating site. The experience of love requires time and familiarity, mutual trust and admiration as well as the feast of physical sensations that we first began to encounter in our earliest moments on the earth. My takeaway is that technology may not have too much to contribute. Love is, in fact, another example of a crucial human activity that we must preserve in our ever-enlarging digital world.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.