7 Things I Swear I Never Wore in the 1990s

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What It’s Like to Visit Your Aging Parents in Boca Raton

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11 Reasons Sex in Your 40s is the Best Sex Ever

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5 Things Your Child-Free Friends Would Like You To Know About Our Lives

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A Letter to the Girls of GIRLS About Your Sex Lives, From Your ‘Cool Aunt’ Stefanie

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I Don’t Have Kids and I’m Not Selfish (Or Sad)

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My Lifelong Love Affair with David Duchovny (Or Why Fox Mulder is My Animus)

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It’s Valentine’s Day: Stop Swiping and Start Living (And Loving)

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(Originally published on Lifescript.com.)

It’s Valentine’s Day: Stop Swiping and Start Living (And Loving)

Love is terrifying, and rightfully so. As Amy Adams’ character famously said in last year’s Oscar-winning film Her, “Anyone who falls in love is a freak. It’s like a socially acceptable form of insanity.”

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we gravitate to online dating and mathematical formulas for finding the perfect mate – we’re told that there’s safety in numbers.

Between OKCupid, Tinder, Match and the like, we appear to be inundated with romantic opportunities. If you’re single, the pressure to have at least one online dating profile is all-encompassing. If you don’t comply, you’re out of the game, doomed to life-long loneliness. Dating online was embarrassing ten years ago, in the age of Myspace, but it’s de rigeur now. Even the marrieds are in on it – witness the massive success of the adultery-friendly site Ashley Madison.

It took me until a few months after my most recent (major) breakup to create an online dating profile. I was vehemently against it – the very idea of inserting myself into this strange marketplace roiled me to my core. I’d briefly been on a few sites in the early aughts when dating online was still a fascinating wilderness, not the ubiquitous requirement for human connection it’s since become. Even though I tried to approach it anthropologically the first time around, I found it all to be a disgusting, humiliating experience that I never wanted to replicate.

Yet I did create a profile on OKCupid at the urging of a close friend who’d successfully dated via Grindr, an app for gay men that launched in 2009 (preceding the straight-friendly Tinder by several years). The Cupid wasn’t as awful as I feared, to be honest. But it wasn’t exactly the utopia that the app-wielding masses suggested it would be – not by any stretch of the imagination.

Algorithms increasingly rule our lives, mostly because we live so much of them online. They are the hidden cogs and wheels that determine which of our friends’ posts show up in our Facebook feeds – not to mention which ads show up there. But I often wonder if friendship, love, sex and dating are not meant to be the stuff of 1’s and 0’s, no matter how efficient it feels to type and swipe.
We’re repeatedly told we must “brand” ourselves for both personal and professional success, to create social media platforms the way that Cheerios and Tampax do. Approaching Valentine’s Day, the pressure to be online can come crashing down on you like so many heart-shaped boxes of cheap chocolate bought at the last minute at CVS (near the boxes of Cheerios and Tampax).

Except that we’re not brands. Branding ourselves – essentially curating our personas for the best possible chance at a date or a relationship – distorts not just the serendipity of a first interaction, but also our core sense of self. When we have to constantly sort, update, and rejigger our profile to keep up with the competition, we can quickly forget who we really are. The rampant consumerism of Valentine’s Day might push us to take a deeper dive into this sometimes-misleading technology, one that can feel like a hall of mirrors. Warnings about this have been sounded for years – in 2011 Jonathan Franzen wrote an op-ed in the NY Times in which he essentially said that we’re so concerned with being “liked” that we’re forgetting how to love. This idea has resonated with me since the dawn of Facebook, and yet a few years on, all of us are even more deeply invested in the erotic options inside our iPhones.

In selfie culture, where we’re all in our own wannabe reality TV streams, we gravitate toward this 24/7 identity-curation. Perhaps we distract ourselves with this because we actually want to forget who we really are. Real relationships force us to contemplate our inner lives, yet our technology makes the project of intentional forgetfulness too easy. We can crop, filter, and Photoshop our images until they’re perfect. We can continually tweak the descriptions in our profiles until they read like the ideal pithy ad copy – making ourselves into products for sale. We are human Cheerios waiting on the shelf to be liked, favorited, and re-Tweeted. On Tinder and OKCupid and Happn, we await matches, evidence that our profiles have been approved, that someone out there has glanced at our photos and swiped right.

And doesn’t it feel safe? After all, we can block unwanted suitors and erase their messages. We don’t HAVE to go out with anyone that we chat with – we can simply move on to the next possibility, quite endlessly. For those of us who really aren’t ready for love – even if we tell our friends and therapists we’re TOTALLY ready – app dating is the perfect choice. It’s a no-commitment commitment, really.

But love is terrifying because it should be terrifying. It shouldn’t be safe. It should be messy and ridiculous and hilarious and heart-opening. In order to truly love – you must allow yourself to be vulnerable, and not just via a list of 36 questions. You must strip away the shame, the protective 1’s and 0’s, and allow yourself to be who you are. Dating and relating should force us to take risks and face parts of ourselves that we’d rather avoid. It’s not always hearts and flowers IRL – but I, for one, find it much more gratifying, even when it scares the hell out of me.

Getting offline can help us to reconnect to our sensual selves. Reading a physical book can be an erotic experience – the smell of the paper, the sound of its pages rustling. I’m going to reward myself with that experience this weekend, instead of reading everything on my iPad.

Meeting peoples’ gazes while walking down the street is a lost art that I want to bring back. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to texting while walking – but I’ve recently decided that I’m not doing it ever again. I am only allowed to look down at my phone while seated – the exception is if I’m lost or running late. I’m not going to hide out in my devices while living, breathing, crazy beautiful humans are all around me.

So stop being efficient and start being daring. Get off your apps and go outside. Smile at a stranger. Talk to someone in a coffee shop instead of staring into the blue light of your phone. I’m not telling you to delete all your profiles and stay offline forever. There’s something to be said for dating apps, in certain situations. Human connection, however, is right at your fingertips – you just have to venture outside and actively seek it.

It’s Valentine’s Day – now is the moment for us to stop swiping, and start living.

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My interview on the Green Divas Radio Show: Eco-Sex Toys: Go Clean & Green While You Get Down & Dirty

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On Being a White Ally in the Age of Ferguson

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