Is Your Phone Ruining Your Love Life?

Jan 12, 2018

In a world of instant gratification, is it reasonable to expect the same dopamine hit you get from matching with someone on a dating app as when you meet them in person? 

The world has changed in the last 15 years. As phones have taken the spot light in our lives, are we loosing perspective? Our phones can meet almost all of our needs in seconds. We can find an answer to a question, the best tacos within five blocks, and 100 potential partners. Are we expecting our dates to move just as fast? 

Research suggests that we’re spending 2-6 hours a day looking at our devices. The majority of this time is spent on YouTube and Facebook. Both of these activities offer regular gratification hits. Are we expecting that same hit when we first meet the person we’ve matched with online? If they don’t give us that feeling of satisfaction right away, do we write them off?

Say you match with someone you think is really hot. You feel pretty good about yourself for a moment. Are you expecting to feel that same excitement or pleasure when you meet them for the first time? And if you feel anything less, are you no longer interested? 

Our expectations of instant gratification are ruining our chances of a successful relationship. We no longer focus on the long-term goal of a satisfying and rewarding relationship. Instead, we focus on the short-term goal of feeling good in this interaction now. We hold back truths that might lead to conflict because conflict doesn’t feel good. We can’t fathom how a hard conversation or the processing of a misunderstanding could make the relationship stronger in the long-term. 

If short-term satisfaction is what we’re looking for, why not go back to the dating app and hope to match with another hottie rather than have a hard conversation? But if we can’t speak our truths in a relationship because we fear conflict, how will we ever achieve the goal of a long-term satisfying relationship? The Stanford Marshmallow experiment tested if four-year-olds could wait 15 minutes to receive two marshmallows or would they rather eat the one in front of them right away. Shauna H Springer, Ph.D, describes the reasons to become a two marshmallow person, especially around choosing a partner, specifically delaying gratification. 

What are we looking for in a partner? The information we get from a dating app profile doesn’t tell us much. Yet, we can spin endless stories about them from the 300-500 characters we do get from them. We envision how they will be perfect for us and fit into our lives seamlessly. 

What happened to actually dating? The process of dating is just that, trying someone on before committing to them. Gathering information to see if they are a indeed a good fit. I’ve been re-watching Sex in the City. Carrie wants commitment and a promise of marriage from Big right up front. I think it reasonable to verify someone is actually looking for marriage, but it’s a little crazy to expect someone to commit to thinking you’re the one before a couple of months have passed. 

Dr. Helen Fisher studies human mating and reproduction rituals and argues that internet dating has not changed how we date over the years. She points out that internet dating has expanded the pool of people we might meet, but that when we meet them in person our brains still function as they always have. I agree that our experience of love and mating hasn’t changed, but that perhaps our expectations have. If our expectations aren’t met right away, do we stick around for the experience of falling in love? Not only do we want to mate with someone, we want them to impact us as frequently as our phones do. We want them to text us back within a certain amount of time, and we want them make us feel satisfied like the funny videos on YouTube. 

How can we step back and take a breather? How can we still enjoy a date without obsessing over the person?

Here are three ways to practice delaying gratification:

1.  Daydream.

Rather than immediately opening Facebook when you need a break from work, sit back, and let your mind wander for 2 or 3 minutes. Explore your feelings and create some fantasies. Facebook will still be there 5 minutes from now. 

2.  Appreciate.

Take note of what you’re grateful for. Some people like to write this out at the end of their day. Some leave sticky notes on their desks. I’ve taken to sending a snapchat of what I’m grateful for to my friends. This way I also get to hear what my friends are grateful for, and it reminds me of more things to be grateful for in my life. 

3. Distract.

When you are craving something, anything from a cookie to a cute puppy video, a pair of new shoes, or a match on Tinder, see if you can hold off satisfying that itch. Distract yourself with a phone call or walk around the block. Hold off for even just a couple minutes if you’re new to this. Better yet, distract yourself for so long the itch goes away.  

You might find there’s much more to your life than a series of instant gratifications. Listen to yourself more and plan for the long-term pleasures. That’s the beginning of a truly serious relationship. 

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