There is no question that technology has changed our lives, making them easier and better. When it comes to our relationships, however, the flip side of that is a loss of physical intimacy and an increase in virtual connection – including to our past. Suddenly, ex-boyfriends we had lost contact with are back in our lives by virtue of being in our feeds, and we can’t help but be curious as to how they’ve faired since we last saw them.
A friend of mine recently shared a story about her ex that perfectly illustrates this. He was someone she had dated at university and, up until recently (15 or so years later), they had had no contact. But because she still had his number saved on her phone, when WhatsApp Stories (a.k.a. Whatsapp Status) launched, there he was, back in her life.
“I hadn’t spoken to him or seen him in years, and then one day, as I was randomly scrolling, there he was, on my phone, having avocado on toast for breakfast. It was very bizarre, and I remember thinking to myself in that moment, ‘Why do I know what he’s having for breakfast?!’”
In the past, when a situation got a little dangerous, you could physically remove yourself from it.
The same can be said for anyone you find yourself attracted to. In the past, avoiding temptation meant not hanging out one-on-one, not confiding in someone you were attracted to, and not getting touchy-feely with said person. In the past, when a situation got a little dangerous, you could physically remove yourself from it. You could pull back by putting a stop to e-mails, you could avoid going to certain places, and you could retreat to your home – a place of safety.
These days, avoiding temptation has gotten a whole lot more complicated thanks to a proliferation of social networks. Now, the guy you dated or the one you find yourself being attracted to is everywhere. He is on your feed, liking your posts, watching your stories. He’s one direct message away.
“Technology is like a double-edged sword. At one end, it provides easy access and low-risk options for instant gratification through online chats, video dating sites, and adult live content that makes it easier for couples to cheat on each other. On the other hand, it also makes it easier to catch cheating partners through enablers like tracking mechanisms and insecure data access,” says Bharti Jatti Varma, holistic therapist at Illuminations Wellbeing Center in Dubai.
It would be ridiculously easy to cross the line in a moment of weakness, boredom, or loneliness; for the thrill of something new and exciting; or for the longing and desire for something you once had or have always wanted to have. Whether we like it or not, social networking sites have given us access to old flames and new crushes, allowing us to look into their lives and for our imaginations to run wild with a million scenarios of “what if”. Thanks to technology, a slippery slope can quickly turn into an avalanche.
Whether we like it or not, social networking sites have given us access to old flames and new crushes.
“Many relationships that have the compatibility and possibility to last are weakened by the continuity of past relationships lingering and commenting on social media about one partner or the other. I do believe this kind of influence and involvement definitely puts pressure on all concerned and poses a real threat for any relationship that is going through the test of time,” says Varma.
I saw a picture of a sign that read, “Whose name are you looking for in your Insta Story views?” It made me wonder: when we share snapshots of our lives, choosing only the picture with the most flattering angle of our bodies or the one that shows us having the most fun, who are we really doing it for? And what are we trying to do, exactly? Are we using these clandestine virtual “friendships” to fulfill a need for attention or a desire for excitement or something different than the humdrum of our current lives or relationships? Could we be naively looking for the illusion of love through DMs and a handful of likes?
Unless you decide to delete all of your social media accounts, the temptation is still there. And even if you do, the feelings and issues in your life and relationship that lead you here are still present. So how do we avoid falling into that rabbit hole?
Loyalty and trust, says Varma. Another way is through boundaries. “While there is no one simple answer that works for all relationships, a simple way to ward off desires that tempt one to cheat on their partner is to have clearly defined boundaries on what works for each partner and for the relationship. Open communication on what is acceptable and what is not is crucial for the relationship to thrive. Integrity and willingness to stick to those boundaries will give guidance, strength, and longevity to the relationship.”
It’s also worth asking yourself why you’re feeling this way, what’s missing in your relationship, and what could change. In the mean time, if you find yourself skating on thin ice, use those unfriend and block buttons liberally. And when temptation rears its ugly head, remember these famous words by Mark Twain: “It is easier to stay out than get out.”
Love, Etc. is a column on love, life, and relationships by Najla Moussa.