Beyond Compare: Looking for Love in the Social Media Age

Person with long wavy hair holds tablet while sitting in window seat and looks up from it to outside a sunlit windowWhen my grandmother was growing up, she had no clue what her next-door neighbors ate for breakfast or where they went on vacation—unless, of course, they went out of their way to tell her. Modern technology has made our lives not only much more transparent, but easier in many respects. We are able to order goods and services without having to stand in line or even talk to another human being. We are able to quickly obtain information about almost anything. We are able to instantly connect with millions of people from all over the world, including potential romantic prospects.

Of course, technology—particularly in the form of social media—has also invited a greater degree of comparison and envy into our daily lives. My grandmother might have compared herself with those around her, people she actually knew and saw. In today’s world, we routinely compare ourselves to people we don’t know well, if at all. All we have to do is go on Facebook, Instagram, or any number of other platforms where people tend to share their happiest moments and most notable achievements.

This time of year, we tend to see a lot of engagement announcements and Valentine’s plans. While these are lovely ways for people in relationships to share their happy news, they may also invite sadness, anxiety, and comparison among those who are not in a happy relationship and would like to be in one. Dating websites have attempted to address this by creating a space in which the busy single moms and dads, the overworked professionals, and the introverts, among others, can connect and attempt to find love. Still, the struggle is real for many uncoupled people.

Throughout my years as a mental health professional, I have found that the following four questions can serve as a guide in assisting men and women with romantic pursuits. The intention of these questions is to provide you with some clarity and hopefully decrease any anxiety you may feel about your relationship status or the dating process.

1. What are your intentions for wanting to date right now?

Being honest with yourself can save you time and energy. Our motives for dating change with our life experiences and are sometimes even impacted by our age. Before going on a date or even looking for a potential partner, ask yourself what your intentions are. Are you wanting to date for the sake of dating? Are you being pressured by societal and cultural norms? Do you feel you are being pressured by friends and family? Are you scrolling through your social media feeds, making comparisons, and feeling left behind? What, exactly, does it mean for you to be left behind? Have you placed yourself on some sort of timeline? What are your short- and long-term goals? How will finding a partner at this time impact your life?

Tip: A pros-and-cons list of being single versus being in a relationship can be a simple and helpful tool.

2. What does love mean to you?

There is a big difference between love and lack of emotional responsibility. In other words, love will not provide you with a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Even if you marry someone or end up in a satisfying relationship, you will still have to face life on life’s terms. Your partner may be there to hold your hand, but at the end of the day you have to face your own challenges. Searching for love is different than searching for a hero.

Tip: Think about the meaning of love in your family of origin. What did it mean to love someone? How did love manifest or become apparent to you.

3. Are you ready to be truly intimate with someone?

Intimacy goes beyond getting naked and having sex. Intimacy is the ability to be yourself.

The real question is this: Are you ready to be intimate with yourself? Intimacy goes beyond getting naked and having sex. Intimacy is the ability to be yourself. We all have areas in our lives that need improvement. The goal is to be willing to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, to learn to accept yourself for who you really are. No one is perfect, and you need to remind yourself of that. If you accept yourself fully, you may be able to present yourself more authentically to others, including romantic partners.

Tip: List your favorite qualities in a person. Create a separate list for qualities you would like to obtain or improve. Use this insight in charting a course for what you want, both for yourself and for a potential partner.

4. What “gifts from the past” are occupying your “suitcase”?

Think of a suitcase that is filled up with all your past experiences and is continuing to be filled with new experiences. We all have these suitcases. I like to refer to unresolved past issues as “gifts from the past.” Each gift represents what you need to focus on next in order to grow and heal emotionally. Often, our gifts from the past have a common theme and are triggered by an interaction or a thought. Our job is to start identifying our feelings and thoughts and become more aware of our reactions. If our reaction to a situation is out of proportion, it may be a sign that a gift from the past is being triggered. We must be kind and gentle with ourselves when this happens. Being aware of your gifts from the past can help you maintain your relationships with others, especially your romantic relationships. A healthy partner will support you as you navigate your way through your suitcase, but they will not unwrap your gifts for you.

Tip: One tool for self-reflection is a daily journal. Journaling may allow you to turn inward and get in touch with your raw and unfiltered feelings.

Consider these questions and some of the tips provided as you navigate your feelings regarding dating. When you stop comparing yourself to others and start focusing more intently on who you are and what you want, the result may be a more fulfilling relationship with yourself that sets the stage for more fulfilling relationships with others.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ida Khamesy, M.A., LMFT, therapist in Irvine, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Olivia

    Olivia

    January 24th, 2017 at 8:08 AM

    I don’t believe that the rules of dating have changed that much since the advent of social media, but I do think that it can be harder to decide to go out with someone because being on social sites really does take away some of the mystery. You don’t have to invest that much time getting to know someone because there are some of us who already feel like we know them from everything that most people post online!

  • Leila

    Leila

    January 24th, 2017 at 11:29 AM

    what has happened to meeting ppl IRL?

  • Rylee

    Rylee

    January 24th, 2017 at 3:50 PM

    For many of my friends they are so busy looking at what other people are doing, or say they are doing in their relationships, that their own home lives take a nose dive because they start thinking that there is someone out there who has it way better than what they have.

    It can become very dangerous to try to keep up with others that you see online because A a relationship is not a competition and B who even knows if they are telling the real truth anyway?

    You have to know what works best for you, what feels right for you, and don’t try to compare what you and your main guy or girl have to what others have.

    Online living can literally be all smoke and mirrors.

  • Tori

    Tori

    January 25th, 2017 at 7:08 AM

    I thought that I was ready for a new relationship after ending a pretty bad one but I have recognized that right now I think that more than anything I need a little bit of alone time just for me, time to really figure out who I am and time to see that I can get through this without having another relationship right now.

  • Brylan

    Brylan

    January 25th, 2017 at 10:24 AM

    Life is always going to be hard, even harder if you can’t own up to what you want or need from it.

    I think that the more that you look at what others have, it can seriously become a little depressing if you start looking at what they have versus what you don’t.

    Being on social media can be a really cool way to meet some new people, but not if it is going to be at the expense of you being able to live your own life to the fullest.

  • carson

    carson

    January 25th, 2017 at 2:11 PM

    Good grief I want to be in a happy relationship too but just because I’m not right now doesn’t mean that I am gonna be angry or hurt if my friends are. I think that this is my time to support them knowing that one day they will do the same thing for me.

  • Kendall

    Kendall

    January 26th, 2017 at 7:06 AM

    Don’t you think that in some ways social media has made some relationships seem so fake? Or like you have to make yours sound so outstanding to keep up with others?

  • Abe

    Abe

    January 26th, 2017 at 1:45 PM

    There is such a thing as too much information- I wish that some of my fellow Facebook friends could come to understand that.

  • Aaron

    Aaron

    January 27th, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    After a pretty terrible break up with my fiancee I just thought that I needed to have someone in my life. I looked for anyone who could fill that void that I felt like was in my life and of course that never works because I just wasn’t really in the right state of mind to even be pursuing that. I thought that ultimately it would be easy to replace one person for another but I found out pretty quickly that it is more than just having someone, anyone. It is about having that person in life that you can really relate to on a serious, soulful level.

  • eric F

    eric F

    January 28th, 2017 at 7:28 AM

    It’s all smoke and mirrors

    people putting out there what they think that other people want to see

    and never quite the reality that it actually is

    that for me sums up love in the digital age

  • Garrett

    Garrett

    January 29th, 2017 at 9:49 AM

    So it could sound too simplistic for some but I am assured that journaling for me is often the one thing that helps keep me focused on what my goals and ambitions are. I can always go back through the weeks writing and know whether i am focused on the wrong things or if, yeah, I am going the right way to achieve what I want. It has been good for me as I pursue a new goal of having new people in my life, out with the old and in with the new… You meet someone and think that they could be great for you but then you reflect and you see that if they are causing you pain, then they probably don’t need to stay a part of your life.

  • miranda

    miranda

    January 30th, 2017 at 2:39 PM

    Great analogy- I have decided that my own suitcase is much too full of old baggage to try to add anything else to it. If I did all that I would really be doing is covering the past up with something new, when what I know that I really need to do is clean out before I can ever move on with new things.

  • Josephine

    Josephine

    January 31st, 2017 at 10:24 AM

    You have to begin with focusing on what your own priorities are and not what you think the priorities of other people are.
    Their priorities are not the things that are going to allow you to live your life to the fullest, much less the happiest.

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