Virtual Love

Nothing says "I love you" like multiple murder attempts… and "Give me some time" after a decade of chances…

Are you stuck in a virtual, fantasy relationship? Are you dating an unavailable, emotionally distant person? Are you frustrated because the lover of your dreams largely exists in your own imagination? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, the post below may be for you…

In this day and age of social media, social interaction has become, paradoxically, increasingly difficult. As ironic as it may seem, many people with social or intimacy phobias rely on Websites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to gain a sense of social self and an illusion of social life. Don't get me wrong, social networking platforms can be great to add to an already rich and fulfilling social life, but they hardly completely eliminate the need most human beings feel for face-to-face interaction and deep, meaningful relationships.

Naturally, psychology, the social science studying behavior and the mind, has many subdivisions. The disciplines branch out into such concentrations as social psychology, interpersonal psychology, personality psychology and child development psychology, among others (as of interest to this particular post, there are many more branches, obviously). Cognitive psychology or the study of cognition, outlines several types of intelligence. Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences will be discussed here, since the other subtypes are beyond the scope of the present short entry. Intrapersonal intelligence relates to people understanding what is going on within them, while interpersonal intelligence has to do with interacting with others. Interestingly, social psychologists define social competence as getting what one wants from others, while still successfully maintaining positive relationships with them. However, as with most processes involving the human psyche, all is not as simple as it seems…

For example, take Theory of Mind (ToM). Most people have malleable mental schemas guiding them through the social world; these mental representations of others' emotions, intentions and mental states are called ToM. Notwithstanding, some conditions are characterized by a pronounced lack of ToM, for instance Autism Spectrum Disorders, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Autism in itself is a mental health diagnosis, largely characterized by a deficiency in communication skills, social interaction, repetitive or odd behaviors and, an almost complete, lack of Theory of Mind. In fact, the disorder, usually detected in infancy or childhood, may be diagnosed using the Sally's Hidden Marble paradigm. People with autism may be completely unable to understand what another person is feeling or thinking, which sometimes results in extremely unpleasant consequences.

Another social interaction disorder is Asperger's disorder. Some believe Asperger's can be loosely defined as "autism light", others claim that Albert Einstein had Asperger's, but both conditions translate into difficulties with human interaction, albeit to different degrees. Nonetheless, social and personality differences in sociability need not always signify a mental health diagnosis, obviously. Still, social withdrawal is a symptom of many illnesses outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the APA. Regardless, most disorders in the DSM specify that the symptom must cause distress to the person in order to be considered dysfunctional, in most cases. Yes, the mental health industry is indeed a very complex and sophisticated one.

Humans relay on social cues (tone of voice, facial expressions, body language) to understand each other, communicate effectively and coexist. Numerous psychological studies have confirmed that cultures across the world appear universal in their understanding of facial expressions, an exception being persons suffering from ASDs. As is usual in psychology and psychiatry, other factors remain at play. So, alternatively, abused children are better at reading facial expressions. Numerous studies have confirmed that emotions are expressed and understood universally across cultures, unlike customs which are often quite diverse in collectivistic and individualistic societies, among others.

At the other side of the spectrum are people high in Emotional Intelligence or EI for short. Unlike IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) refers to people's ability to manage their own and others' emotions, motivation and so on. Successful managers are usually said to score high on EQ tests. Although these two intelligence scoring methods need not necessarily correlate, intelligence helps in that it makes one a lot more resourceful in regards to coping with shortcomings in, or difficulties with, social skills.

On a slightly different note, to go back to the questions at the beginning of the article, some people get stuck in impossible relationships with unattainable or unavailable individuals. As unbelievable as it may sound, some dreamers may remain in love with the same person, fantasizing about the life they could have with the object of their affection for years, despite hardly ever seeing this person. Sometimes, the situation involves a celebrity and a fan who never actually got to meet the star. Other times, it may involve an amorous, hopelessly in love person who, despite all odds, believes that their beloved will someday change and be with them. Sadly, most of the time this never happens. To make a long story short, if your partner is not giving you what you want or need - let them know. If they continue ignoring you, avoiding you or plainly refusing to see you, not acting like the adult they are or treating you badly - you are faced with two choices: keeping your self-respect, leaving and finding the happiness you deserve with someone else who is willing to have a real, mature, meaningful relationship with you; OR staying with the dreamed up lover, losing all your self-worth and self-love for putting up with their antics (hey, after all, if you put up with so much, you'll never leave them, and they know!) and remaining miserable. Your choice, just don't write to us complaining about it if you choose the latter…

Some people may malevolently use, manipulate or lie to others to gain advantage. In contrast, other people may wish you well but simply be unwilling to take the next step, or to have the kind of relationship you want. To illustrate, let's take my sister's example, let's call her Emma for anonymity purposes. She has been involved with a wonderful man for many years. But, the man she is dating (yes, hardly even dating after years together!) is a bit of a commitment-phobe. He refuses to move in with her, hardly ever sees her at all (yes, we suggested she got self-esteem counselling for thinking someone who never sees her could actually have feelings for her, but bear with me), communicates with her sporadically and, absolutely, under no circumstances, wants to have a real-life, adult relationship with her. He even stubbornly declines any invitation to couple counselling! calling her dramatic, conflict seeking and selfish, when she so much as brings up her dissatisfaction with the (largely non-existent) relationship.

Why is she still with the guy? Is she the ugliest girl in town? may you ask, and you would be right to do so. No. She's quite pretty, and even self-confident, at times, but… Well, for one, she tends to put his needs above her own, exacerbated by the fact that the gentleman has ginger hair and is somehow horribly ashamed and insecure about it. What's more, every time she tries to leave said gentleman to have her natural and normal needs fulfilled elsewhere, he hounds her down, harasses her and just plainly refuses to let her go. Convinced that someone who fights so hard to keep her against her wishes must love her, or at least have a genuine interest in her, she goes back to him. And what happens? Back to square one. He ignores her, refuses to commit, to meet or even to talk, gaslights her, destroys and endangers her life and so on…

Tragic cycle of no-life! We all tell her, he does this because you accept it. He knows you love him and he can treat you like garbage, throw you under the bus, literally, because he has good excuses. But no matter how hard it is, he must make a choice. He must either take the difficult step to face his fears and make the next step (i.e. have an actual, real-life relationship with her), or they both must realize that their love is hopeless and has no future. Likewise, she must be strong in making him understand that he has to respect her needs and wants, or she will leave, for good. And he must understand that "I love you" and flowers sent through a coworker do not equal quality time spent together.

No one is perfect, and no relationship is all happiness and no struggles, but unconditional acceptance brings its own pitfalls. Thus, at the end of the day if he truly cannot be with her, then he should stop trying. Because if he is unwilling or unable to give her the relationship she deserves, then why waste her time and stop her from finding someone who will and forget about him altogether? Sometimes, in our affections for others, we forget that even someone closing in on their 50s can be quite selfish and childish, but we forgive them since they're suffering. Hey! What about us? Aren't we suffering too? Popular English saying, a bit too vulgar to write here, ……… or get off the pot!

flowers sent

Flowers sent through a coworker do not equal quality time spent together.Illustration : Megan Jorgensen