Sex, Lies and Internet Dating
Of all the things that affect our Health, Relationships are probably the most hard hitting and the least controllable. Divorce and Losing a Loved One rank highest on the list of stressful events that impact our health, yet it is also something we are least equipped to deal with, both personally and as health professionals.
As some of you know, I work in mental health as a nurse. And 9 times out of 10, what brings people through the doors of the unit is problems with relationships.
Regardless of whether we are talking suicide attempt, drug abuse or depression, most of the time, the trigger is a broken heart.
A lover who left, or cheated, and sent the client spiraling into an out of control binge of drug taking and self despair which ended at 3 in the morning on the tracks of Wyong railway station. Slashed wrists cos he's been sleeping with the neighbour or the sheer lead weighted depression of being alone for years and years because they never got over the one that got away.
I've watched all of this over the years with a mixture of empathy and disdain. How could anyone be so stupid as to put all their sanity and even their life on the line over the connection to another equally fallible human being? The sheer drama of it all has always amused and annoyed me...
All the great works of art revolve around Love. And often around the pain of loving and losing.
And a great part of our economy is also based around it too.
Love and Sex sell better than anything else.
And that of course tosses up the next part of the equasion: Sex.
What is the difference between Love and Sex?
It's an important question, because in our wierd modern society, the lines seem to be becoming more and more blurred. Relationships can no longer be simply defined as married or single. There are so many variations in between that it takes a psychology degree to work out whats going on....
Dating, Living together, De Facto, Open Relationships, Polyamory, Friends with Benefits... and let's not even get started on the whole Straight, Gay, Bisexual and sliding variations inbetween thing!
Having been out of the dating game for the last 15 years, I'd forgotten how complicated things had become until I became single again a year and a half ago....
There's a whole world of lost and lonely people out there. And at the same time, it seems to be a battle field where the stakes are Power and Invulnerability.
Somehow our society has moved from the concept of marriage and partnership being the primary mating goal, to the concept of total independence as the highest form of evolved being.
Sex and relationships have become fleeting things that we are supposed to be able to move in and out of at will, with a strongly developed enough ego and sense of self, not to be too deeply affected by the coming and goings of these connections.
Looking back over art and literature, what emerges is variations on a game of hunter and prey. Love and Sex, Man and Woman, the words you find are all of conquest: Chase, Seduction, to Conquer, Win anothers heart, She Devil, Gigolo, Witch.....
And the most admired are always those who remain in control...those mythical figures who wander from one lover to another, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind them. Salome, Casanova, Don Juan, Mata Hari...
The concept of being the winner who comes out tops without getting their heart broken themselves....beautiful, irresistable, endlessly desireable...
There's two problems with this of course:
First of all, only a very few get to be the top dogs in this game. Most of us just don't have the detatched, cool, uncaring thing down pat enough to carry it off....let alone the killer looks that "could launch a thousand boats"...
But the second and possibly more important aspect is that being a winsome lady killer may score you points at the bar with the guys, and stop you from getting hurt yourself...but ultimately, it leaves you lonely. Really lonely.
And here's where we come back to the modern day dillemma of dating.
Everyone is out there wanting to make a connection, be loved, get some kind of human contact interaction thingy...
But no one wants to get hurt. And the older you get, the worse it is. Broken marriages, baggage in abundance, pain, resentment and the wish to never, ever repeat what ended up hurting so badly last time seems to leave us so well covered in emotional armor that it's bloody hard to see the soft heart beating underneath the hardware at all!
Roughly, you can divie the participants in the dating game into two groups. Those so desperate to make a connection that they will fall head over heels in love with anything that looks even vaguely like a prospect, and start collecting wedding china designs after the first two online conversations.
And those who are carefully laid back and make a point of telling you that they have no expectations at all beyond making some new friends.
Now the first group are obviously to be avoided like the plague, as is anyone who describes themselves as having "A good sense of humor". (They don't).
But the second group isn't without it's difficulty either.
OK, so I'm in the second group. I pride myself on being mature, realistic and reasonalby open minded.
And I approached the whole dating idea with a heavy dollop of sceptiscism.I spent some time wandering through the murky wilderness of the internet, in chat rooms which reminded me of my nights on the town in my early 20's..."No I don't wanna meet up for some quick sex. And no, I'm also not gonna send you any nude photos. Oh that means I'm a lesbian does it? How original!". Geesh, do I look that desperate? Does that approach actually work on other women? I ask around and it seems it does, according to my male collegues. There seems to be a whole world of desperate middle aged women out there...but I'm buggered if I'm going to be one of them.
The more heavily organized dating site seemed to weed out the desperate for sex a bit more efficiantly, but it reminded me rather of a kind of online shopping mall for people. What did I really want in a man? And how in the world did this "psychologically designed profiling system" match me with a baker from Gundegaih who likes quiet evenings with his mates watching the footy? (And of course with the obgligatory good sense of humor.)
A Man I liked. Really liked. Deep, scarily intelligent and interesting...of course he also described himself as passionate, honest and caring, but how in hell do you judge that in someone over a computer? Someone you have no background knowledge of at all?
For the first time ever, I gave in and met him in person...and the date went from lunch to afternoon tea to dinner....and two days later he turned up at my house. And after spending an evening curled up on my sofa having a heated debate about everything and the state of the universe while playing footsies, he left, and I started to panic.
You see it began to dawn on me that my carefully contained sceptiscism and realism were beginning to crumble rather badly.
When I woke up the next day, common sense kicked in and I got to wondering what on earth to do from here. You see, in my normal world up until now, I've always had some kind of connection around 3 corners to the person I was dating. I knew their friends, and often even their ex girlfriends. So I could ask around and get a bit more info about who they really were to counterbalance what I was picking up myself. But here?I'd let a complete stranger into my house...and seemingly even into my heart, all without any idea of who he really was. WTF was the matter with me?
And I guess the same thing happened for him...because suddenly, the open happy conversations got complicated. Suspicion and Guardedness started to edit the exchanges, friendly though they stayed....
We suddenly started to misunderstand each other, and went from speaking for hours to silences that lasted for days...and excuses of work and other commitments.
I was hurt, and angry, and the exchanges became more barbed. Until eventually we seemed to end up on either side of a heavily guarded border dispute full of hidden weapons and loaded catapults waiting to defend...
Is this dating game really a battle where only one of us can come out the winner? Or is it a game to be carefully and skillfully played where no weakness can be shown until one is sure that the other is just as deeply affected?
Are we playing for the integrity of our hearts? Or what exactly is going on here?
Buggered if I know. And that's where we come back to the car.
A caring friend finally grabbed me and said "You need a roadtrip!" And she was right. 48 hours in a new Colorado Diesel , over a thousand km's and enough broken speed limits to embarrass the average P plater, I was feeling a tad better. Even if I hadn't managed to get the Samoan out of my head for much of the time. But it did teach me a bit of humility. I finally began to understand the depth of emotions that so many of my psyche patients battle with.
The sheer sense of vulnerability that came with the whole thing made me both scared and angry. And defensive.
So how the hell does one play this game? Does one person eventually give in and admit that they have lost, and hope to hell that the other one is feeling the same...do you stay on either side of your border zone, carefully negotiating a series of treaties designed to save face for both sides and preserve the integrity of their pride in the hope that you both eventually end up on the same side of the fence?
Modern wisdon from all my friends says that the name of the game is keeping a level head at all costs. I should just take a deep breath and back off for a bit. Remind myself that we don't really know each other, keep my options open, go out on a few dates with other people. Otherwise "He'll think you're a crazy stalker or something!". "You need a decent shag! Go get laid otherwise you're just gonna tie yourself up on knots over the guy!"
Tempting advice that one. Though it does beg the problem as to who to shag. Obviously it's gotta be someone I don't care deeply about, otherwise it sort of defeats the purpose. So either a total stranger, or a "freind with benefits"...And pray that said friend hasn't been hiding a deep vulnerable crush on me for years himself eh..?
So to play the dating game effectively, I need to be detatched enough not to get too deeply involved too soon 'cos otherwise I'm going to either scare the guy off or get my heart broken. And to accomplish this, I need to stay a bit distant, not show that I care too much, and preferably have a backup root there to calm my mind and my hormones so I can face the guy I'm actually interested in with a well fucked air of calm detachment, just in case he's decided that one of his other dating matches that are going on in the background is actually far cooler than I am.
Does this sound completely screwy to anyone else?
I have no idea how to play this. Or if I even want to play anymore. The temptation to simply pull the plug on the whole thing is sounding incredibly tempting at this stage.
So for the moment, I'm going to hit the road again.
AccaDacca full blast and screeching the tires at the lights in small country towns.
I'm going to visit girlfriends and sob on their shoulders, get drunk and maybe even see if I am a modern enough woman to get my head around the idea of a "friend with benefits".Though come to think of it, the idea of becoming a professional assasin still sounds best of all. I can just see myself as a beautiful (if ageing) Mata Hari, wandering the world, leaving dead lovers in hotel rooms all over the place....
Tell you what though: next time I go to work and some poor soul is sitting there sobbing with slashed wrists because "Daisy doesn't love me any more", maybe I'll be more sympathetic.