Monthly Archives: December 2016

Getting our Religion: When relationships are like cults, and other mysteries

Last relationship article for Industry, just found as I dust off this blog. The original had more explicit details about said religion, but had to pull back. Ah, culture reporting, how I’ll miss you?

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getting our religionI saw a play recently, a solo performance about one woman’s time in a certain popular and celebrity-focused religion—one that has been much in the news over the past year. The performance was manic, self-effacing, and very funny. At one point she mentioned, almost in passing, that she’d been drawn to the church after a series of personal setbacks, including the breakup of a relationship. Well, of course. The salient detail leapt out of the surrounding scene and established itself as a vaguely formed question: Why do people get religion just when they are the most disappointed by life?

Was it simply a consolation for loss, or does the upset applecart of expectations serve some useful purpose—do setbacks motivate us to something greater than ourselves and our piddling desires? Perhaps in the dashed hopes of material success (which either falls flat or doesn’t do what you thought it would) spiritual rewards are all that are left.

relationships not so different

For some relentless (or so they think) rationalists, religions and cults are as good as synonyms. Similarly, good relationships and dramatic trainwrecks are of the same species.

Religion’s significance in people’s lives has decreased in modern life, so maybe now weird cults and idolized relationships are replacing them.

The former often have brutal indoctrination techniques using techniques of sensory deprivation, for example, to create malleable subjects. A charismatic guru type puffs up and then flattens young recruits’ self-importance, often tangling romantically with devotees.

relationships like cults

There’s…

  • Indoctrination from early ages
  • Possibilities for isolation, you-and-me-against-the-world thinking
  • Potentially controlling dynamics, both aggressive and under the surface
  • Resistance to learning how relationships work to learn how to “do” them better, and instead a reliance on emotion, instinct and magical thinking
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • A certain smug condescension toward outsiders

The proof is not just a guess. Looking through the average ladymag, incredibly heavy marketing techniques surround love, religion, inner peace, etc. Ecology: Save the World! Business: Get Rich Today! Cosmo: Find your Soulmate!

Lastly, similar to cults, relationships are easy to get into, and hard to get out of. When we do leave a dominating relationship, we find we have all this extra free time and energy (and sometimes money). Our focus, now free from obsession, can be self-directed, motivated towards something personally meaningful.

cults natural/temporary

We both crave and fear this kind of total devotion in love and life that relationship brings. We want the greater meaning but dread having to own up to the process. Likewise, the difference between the awe we feel for the state of love and for god is so slim at times as to make their objects indistinguishable. In early country songs, religious songs were always about love and love songs were usually about murder.

As for any expectation of rescue, we can’t help a little pining for Love or God, periodically.

Most of the rewards of life are to be had on more solid ground, in the details, where we live. Everyday needs and challenges are met, and we get closer to each other like a fabric worked over time.

But one day again, it’s not enough; we want something of greater significance. Challenge and conflict over comfort and stability. Lofty goals are hard not to want, but age tempers the impulse, brings them down to earth. Maybe old-fashioned religion (the sudden call to God when, “I never do this!”)  and the tendency to fall crazy in love is the balloon we try to float off on, to keep things moving.

The disillusionment of material success (gained or lost) provokes bouts of spiritual or emotional growth, however crazy their tactics may seem.

Originally posted in Industry magazine’s September 2016 issue.

 

Hack Your Love

hack your love online datingWhen I ask about it, many people describe their experiences dating online with a kind of tired resignation, the same way they feel about keeping up with a million different online offerings. We even have a new word for ennui in this new universe: FOMO (“fear of missing out,” for the grampses). But there are ways to make the process easier, more productive, and even enjoyable….honest, though, like certain waxing techniques, the effort’s never going to be completely painless.

 Be Yourself (No, really!)

Take some time to make your presence be consistent with your personality. OkCupid found that the people who received more 5-star and 1-star reviews were more likely to be contacted than those who mostly received 3 stars. This suggests that it’s better for people to have a strong reaction to you for your own particular quirks. So for pity’s sake, don’t be generic. Flaunt your big nose rather than hide it, talk about your penchant for shower balladry—it’s far more interesting to people than a banal “I like music.” A Note on Pictures: First, have more than one, and from more than one angle, with at least one showing more than just your face. Include an action shot, perhaps doing something you love. Unless you are looking for a co-dependent Peter Pan, don’t have a ton of bar pics with friends, and though you should definitely be you looking your best, your pics should also look like you. Don’t post a 19-year-old pic if you’re in your 50s.

Hone that Chat-Craft

I can only observe from the woman’s perspective, but many men don’t really try to engage us in a real way. They use the same tired come-ons and clichés, thinking maybe women don’t immediately know what they’re doing (working the numbers game). They sometimes they use the comfortable distance of the online experience to vent frustration. To this I say, relax, and step away from the computer. As in any interaction, the first one to get angry loses. Treat every new interaction as an opportunity to meet someone new. Ask questions, and listen.

Hold Yer Judgment Horses

Perhaps it’s crass to put everyone on a reductive rating scale, but everyone does it, especially at first. And it’s worse online, but try not to get too enamored or too dismissive of anyone before meeting. If you have a rapport, move on to a real-life meeting as soon as possible. You’ll find out much more quickly what the person’s about. Plus, people are a lot more forgiving in person than online. If someone isn’t interested in meeting in real life, it’s a sign they may be using the site for validation or as a pass-time.

The Ultimate Hack

The best E-modifications to make are to your own attitude. Check your baggage, and use the feedback you’re getting to turn what can be a time-suck into a useful place to learn. Though we are doing all this with a goal in mind, it still pays not to be too goal-oriented. Have fun, try different approaches (and talk to different people) and remember that most people are just as curious, insecure, longing, and interested in making a connection as you are. Then…limit your time on any site, get off the computer and go do something worth sharing!

This essay first appeared in Industry magazine’s Spring 2016 issue.

hack your love online dating