Slouching Towards Love

by Jessica Corne

Thanks to the internet, single people have become paralyzed by the conviction that dating is an act with as much significance and lasting value as a bowel movement. Through Tinder and Match we ask someone to fulfil our heart’s romantic notions, that intolerable itch for intimacy, for about three hours on a Tuesday evening. And then, any thought of them – our data-selected guardian angels – dissolves into a grey, barely-hidden gloom of discontent. Our ways of love are slowly dying;  if I was ever going to engage with internet dating, and one can only survive by fitting in, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with impermanence, to the reduction of humans to objects on the personality market, the circle of manipulation and discard – in short, to the death of the person.

Where the Kissing Never Stops

We live in a culture where the kissing never stops, and the intimacy never starts. To date via the internet is to accept the monotony of electronic orgasms, where flesh has been replaced by plastic and glass, and people have exchanged their hearts with charming, soulless machines. The promise of a fulfilled relationship is broken. There is this infinitely romantic idea that love is a kind of secret, confessional room of the soul where one discovers their personal destiny. Today that secret has been deciphered. The language and intonations of love have been commercialised, watered down, diluted, packaged, organised, mechanised, stream-lined, dry-cleaned. Love and dating now have rules which work your conscience like a glove-puppet. We love, but with a budget. We use love’s words like capital to disguise our very real emotional poverty, an absence or bankruptcy of feeling. The absolute fact that we can mechanise, commercialise, mass-produce love corrupts people’s emotional lives, undermines them, frightens them, and reduces humans to corpses whilst they live.

I’ve been prewashed, precooked, preheated, pre-screened, preapproved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze dried, double wrapped, vacuum packed and I have an unlimited broadband capacity.

George Carlin

The Opposite of Love

Perhaps the opposite of love is not hatred or indifference, but Tinder. Meeting the modern myth of the solitary, emotionally closed off cave-dweller in search of grand romance, Tinder has created a place in which feelings do not exist, and we measure love like money. It is a symptom of a culture which views life as a movie and the people as performers, where commercials show us how normal we are, and no one ever suffers from body odour or bad breath. We have made ourselves beautiful, but in doing so we have crushed out the human element, a social vitamin which bonds us to one another. In short, we tore off our own flesh.

Here is where the modern cult of love enters: it is the main way in which we test ourselves for strength of feeling, and find ourselves deficient…The cult of love in the West is an aspect of the cult of suffering—suffering as the supreme token of seriousness.

Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation”

But flesh, blood, sweat, arrogance, and love, is the glue which binds relationships, a glue which internet dating tries to pretend doesn’t exist. The truth will conquer our resilience: the reality of permanent relationships is far more awkward than Tinder will allow us to admit. To know someone, to commit to love and tolerance of that person, looks a lot like pushing the dreadful weight of hope up a hill, it is a leap of faith, a triumph of the will over nothingness.

It’s callous of me to say this when you’re having a rough time but oddly enough, I don’t care. I’ve taken your feelings into account far too often. Being considerate killed our love. Had I not been side-tracked by guilt; I’d have known that everything we did was wrong.

Ingar Bergman, “Scenes from a Marriage”

Dating should not be taken so lightly. Every message, every moment, every touch or look exchanged, every word spoken, or not spoken for that matter, it all counts, all of it. Tinder cannot set aside the monstrous complexity for much longer.  We place no value on perceiving reality, and instead we have substituted personality for white shining teeth, donned masks instead of faces, substituted our voices for an interiorised public script of quotations: “20, likes concerts, dogs, walks on the beach.” We may ask ourselves in a rare moment of sombre reflection, with the kind of honesty that makes one humble because it is at the mercy of so many things that are beyond our control: even after all the dates, decisions, revisions, exchanged contact details, diary entries and coffee spoons… why are we still alone? 

MovieLand

There is no arguing with faith, no disagreeing with the emotional sway of the heart, no escaping from the times in which we are forced to live, because as Larkin asked, where can we live but days? For the world we live in today can best be described as Movieland: a place where the artificial and inauthentic has driven out the natural, the genuine and the deceptively mild. In short, life has become a movie. The inhabitants of Movieland have learned to prize social skills that permit them, sort of like actors, to “perform” their lives rather than just exist. Tinder, Match, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube have spasmed the inhabitants of Movieland into one immortal and bored existence; facing the screen, untalkative, out of reach. 

If it is made the absolute sovereign of a human life the seeds will germinate. Love having become a god, becomes a demon.

C. S. Lewis, “Four Loves”

But if Movieland is where we live, then you want a real ending with plausible plot development don’t you? However long we postpone the truth of love through lies, evasions, smiles, swipes, and the anguished exchange of small talk, we may eventually have to face up to the reality of getting to know someone. Consider the following passage from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”:

Because he loves only as a male, and not as a human being, there is something narrow in his sexual feeling, something that seems wild, malicious, time-bound, uneternal, which diminishes his art and makes it ambiguous and doubtful. It is not immaculate, it is marked by time and by passion, and little of it will endure.

Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet”

To draw on Rilke, the way the inhabitants of Movieland love one another as though we were born as characters inside the movie of our own lives, with the visuals before us, the audio surrounding us, the lovers and the enemies, the tricksters, warriors, mentors, b-plot characters and bystanders unfolding as necessarily as plot development. As romantic as that sounds, it’s also a very glib, because it encourages us to view the world through the lens of adult magic, a kind of illusion born out of disillusion. People don masks, and eventually their faces grow to fit them. We act like clichés, and eventually we become them. I am reminded in part of the closing lines of Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: 

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside look from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. 

George Orwell, “Animal Farm”

Just as the pigs became men, or the men became pigs, a similar fate has befallen the inhabitants of Movieland: We look at the Hollywood screen and see real life staring right back at us. Perhaps I should dispense with the drama, and prepare to be boring.  Our pursuit of emotion via the internet only leaves the heart over-fed on fantasy, belching, smelly, brutal, cold, arrogant, drunk, prejudice, stupefied and no closer to love than when we set out on our heroes’ Three Act Journey. We are so embarrassed by ourselves that we cannot love as we are, only as we pretend to be.

Self-Respect

To have the courage to be oneself, and not to hide behind an electronically cultivated personality, is the source from which all self-respect springs. Without self-respect there can be no trust, without trust there is little intimacy, without intimacy we are left unable to love, unable to live. 

The 80/20 Principle

 At the risk of sounding like an elitist, perhaps professionalism in love is required. Perhaps we should view relationships as something like a job contract, requiring knowledge, skills, and an office where we orchestrate our emotions. Perhaps love demands the ability to tolerate adversity, persecution, insecurity, and much like a business, the recessions and depressions which may occur.

Although we may find the idea wholly unattractive and vaguely cynical, in order to win love back, we might have to risk being discriminatory in order to be a better friend or partner to the few. We might dare to be a little ruthless, in short, grow some teeth. Maybe it’s time to put away your copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and leave the nice business behind for good. Think about all the people you spend time with. How many of them do you actually like?  The 80/20 principle was devised by Richard Kock: 

  • 80 per cent of the value of our relationships comes from 20 per cent of the relationships.
  • 80 per cent of the value of our relationships comes from 20 per cent of close relationships that we form first in our lives.
  • We devote much less than 80 per cent of our attention to the 20 per cent of relationships that create 80 per cent of the value.

Beyond Good and Evil/Kant

It is curious how readily we apply the language of morality to dating, words of good and evil, right and wrong. We use terms like ‘red flags’, ‘toxicity’, and ‘fuck boy’ to vilify, to destroy, and suggest that someone is quite literally possessed by some kind of demon. That is why they won’t reply to our texts.  And once these toxic hell monsters are blocked, ghosted and eradicated from our all too precious lives, then, and only then, shall we have peace. Of course, this is a fallacy, even the most decent person is capable of committing moral atrocities, slamming doors, breaking dishes, texting 48 hours late, and cheating. The questions of the human heart, the line between right and wrong, good and evil, to murder or create, why we are being left on read, never disappear — we are horribly at the mercy of ourselves and others. My reason for caution in applying the ‘fuckboy’ diagnosis is that these terms put no value on actually perceiving reality. Dating nowadays has achieved a whole new level of cynicism: we have divided the human world into the pure and the impure, the guards and prisoners, the saviours and the sinners, those we love, and those we choose to let die. We may murder the villains who don’t conform, but we are no closer to ever understanding love. 

How can we remove superstition from love? One way is to move, with a quietly dark humoured dignity, from a language of morality to a language of duty, and to do so we can use Immanuel Kant. According to Kant, a moral action is to be distinguished from an amoral one by the fact that it is performed out of duty and regardless of the pain or pleasure involved. The essence of Kant’s theory is that morality is derived from the motive from which an act is performed. To love someone is moral only when that love is given free of any expected return, if that love is given simply for the sake of giving love. To love is to view love as an end in itself. Paradoxically, the demands and duties of a high-quality relationship supersede the needs and inclinations of the individuals. 

Conclusions

Our need for love will erupt, no matter how deeply we repress it. Internet dating is nothing more than a restaurant of self-interest, where the diner must be satisfied only with the menu, be forced to read from a list of tasty dishes, and never get to experience the full meal, in short, never to eat. And it is this starvation, this perpetual stomach rumbling for intimacy which lies at the bottom of human nature. Given my appetite, I am tempted to avoid the invisible noose of cheap evenings in sawdust restaurants with rented smiles. I will try my best to avoid escaping myself through the narcotics of chatter, where freedom from loneliness in itself becomes a form of loneliness, and where fear and inadequacy crawl out from between the words. The predictable and borrowed words of love reveal how little we know of ourselves, how disloyal we have become to our own person, let alone another.

Beware the irrationality of the internet, no matter how seductive. Distrust personality which presents itself as nothing more than shining white teeth. Build a wall against a society fundamentally alienated from itself, the unspeakable loneliness so terrifying to admit too that oftentimes we don’t. If you don’t like internet dating, try getting to know someone. Don’t be afraid to go it alone. But accept that the war has already been lost: the triumph of the online dating world over the will is that we continue to search for love in these private wastelands of the screen, despite seeing right through it. 

If you would be loved, be lovable.

Ovid

Here I am in a dark house somewhere in the world with my arms around you and you are here in my arms. I lack empathy for my fellow human beings. I’m low on imagination, I suppose. I don’t know what my love looks like and I can’t describe it. Most of the time I don’t feel it. You think I love you too? Yes, I do. If we harp on, love will vanish. Let’s stay like this all night. Oh let’s not. One of my legs has gone to sleep. My left arm is dislocated. I’m sleepy and my back is cold. Then let’s snuggle down.

Ingar Bergman, “Scenes from a marriage”

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