Social media broadcasts a broad and deep data stream that permeates all aspects of our lives; balancing our online avatars with our authentic selves is part of the modern age. Sometimes, however, our online interactions become a tool to seek validation. This is the moment when we proactively make a distinction between our digital and analog selves, unplug, and recalibrate.
Often at dinner parties the conversation turns to online dating, as we outdo one another with horror and the more infrequent success stories that wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Sex and the City. Regardless of your ethnicity, hobbies, sexual orientation, religion, or even pet type, there are sites dedicated to helping us find the “one.” Whether the “one” lasts forever or for an hour, these sites are booming with their loyal followers: us.
Much like the game of roulette, we never know if our next spin could bring us great fortune. It is this hope of a potential match that propels the constant spinning of the wheel: the game of dating chance. This game of chance is familiar to the gambler who is also driven to play while repeating to himself, “I’ll stop tomorrow.” How can online dating become so addictive?
The hope of dating success and the pursuit of external validation assures we maintain our 19.99 monthly accounts. To optimize the chance for such validation, we carefully craft our online personas, scrupulously vetting our pictures, and proofing our profiles to ensure that our positive features are enhanced, whilst we distract potential viewers from what we believe to be our weaker ones. We create images of the perfect persona. And, who could possibly reject the persona we have so carefully designed?
So what happens when the Ivy Leaguer on Match.com is not receptive to our advances or, even worse, somewhat receptive but then disappears into the silent cyber abyss? If we’ve learned to measure self-worth according external sources and opinions, this can be a blow to our fragile sense of self.
Flattery can act like a drug. Seeking out this drug, in the guise of external validation, is an exhausting and never-ending cycle. Unfortunately, most people believe that self-esteem is earned through unending personal achievement. There is always more to accomplish and so the hamster wheel spins. Achievement itself can easily become the new addiction. As soon as you’ve had the fix, received the compliment or acknowledgement, its value wanes and another is needed to bolster our self-perception. Our self-esteem steps onto the rollercoaster and we live at its mercy. If the user with the prettiest images replies to my message, my self esteem rises. When the Ivy Leaguer blocks me, my self-esteem falls, and so the cycle continues.
Early life events and the inferences we make about them, help craft the beliefs we hold. If we develop self-downing beliefs, such as “I am not attractive,” or we make demands such as “I must have love,” we may turn to external sources for validation. When we think this way, we give others control over how we feel. We seek out validation from everyone we meet including people we don’t know and who know nothing about us. Does that seem logical?
So let me offer another approach to external validation and self-esteem, which I hope should make the world of online dating easier to navigate. First, we need to identify the negative thoughts we tell ourselves. We have rehearsed these for many years, so it may take time to form new beliefs. In their place, we develop more rational alternatives. We would like to be loved by others but don’t have to be. In fact, we can tolerate a solo life. We can meet our own needs. We don’t need to rely on others for validation, approval, or self-worth. These statements need to be reinforced until they are as strong as the old beliefs. How is this done? Practice, practice, and more practice. When we begin to learn the difference between a desire, a wish, and a need, we realize many of the things we crave can be lived without. It would be nice to get validated by others but we don’t need it to survive. When we truly believe our survival isn’t dependent on outside validation, we take back the power we’ve given to others. Once again, we are in control over our feelings, choices, and behaviors. While I can be disappointed that I was rejected by a Match.com user, I am no longer vulnerable to overwhelming rejection. I refuse to allow it to overtake my personal value and confidence to care for my self. In time, I become assured that no one has the power to break my heart!