Everything has to feel like a game these days.
There are apps that make meditation feel like a game…
Apps that turn fitness into a game…
Apps that make dating into a game.
(In fact, if you don’t have—or want—a real boyfriend, you can download apps that give you a virtual boyfriend to text and chat with.)
If dating is just “a game,” then you don’t have to worry about real people’s feelings.
Online, you’re all just avatars.
You can type things and send pictures that reflect who you want to be. No one has to know that you’re not like that in reality.
So how do you even know if your connection with someone is real or not?
Is he just playing with you, or is his heart true?
Read on to discover how to test his ability to love you…
A Romantic Story?
At a Christmas party several years ago, I met a woman in her 50s who was unhappy with her life.
She didn’t like her body and was finding it hard to do simple things like walk up stairs. She’d sold her business and had too much time on her hands as she figured out what she wanted to do next.
But there was one bright spot in her life, and that was her boyfriend.
Or rather, her “boyfriend.”
He was a young man in his 20s. He lived halfway across the world. They’d never met. He’d never seen a picture of her. He didn’t know her real age.
He just knew that this American woman poured out her heart to him, and he thought it was love.
She thought it was love.
Did it matter that she wasn’t who he thought she was?
Would it have mattered to her, if she’d discovered that he was also not who he portrayed himself to be?
Real Life Happens Offline
The internet has done many great things. It’s helped us feel less alone.
But it’s also helped us normalize inauthenticity.
If you think that no one will ever love you the way you are, because of something about you that you believe is off-putting, then is it justified to hide that aspect of yourself online?
After all, you’re just giving men a chance to know your insides first, your heart and soul and personality, without the baggage of your outsides. You’re helping them NOT judge a book by its cover.
If the internet had been around when I was a teen, I would have thought I’d found nirvana.
Finally, a place where I could be my mind without being held back by my body.
But I’d also have missed out on one of the great lessons of maturity…
Which is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my body OR me.
It simply wasn’t true that no guy could love me as I was.
I had to learn to love and believe in myself first.
Only then would my self-love naturally and effortlessly invite love in.
They Like Your Avatar But Do They Like You?
The internet is a great place to get more male attention.
It’s not a place where you can get love.
Anyone can create a compelling online dating profile.
(There are even coaches and companies that will help you do it for a price.)
But getting more matches and messages doesn’t mean you’re winning at the game of love.
It just means you’re getting more attention.
One of the saddest things about the online age is the way we’ve trained ourselves to believe that positive attention online means people like us and approve of us.
It doesn’t matter how many people agree with your comment. It doesn’t matter how many people like your picture.
They’re just interacting with your avatar… and your avatar is not you.
Not all the likes in the world can compare to a real human being sitting across from you, looking into your eyes and smiling with the pleasure of your company.
And this is what I think is so sad about the story of that woman I met that Christmas.
She was surrounded by people at that party who knew her, but she made little effort to connect. She was quiet and standoffish and prickly. She disappeared partway through the evening to be by herself.
We couldn’t give her the attention and approval she got from her online boyfriend…
But was our company such a poor substitute?
Our Online Fantasy World
More and more, people prefer online connections to offline.
It’s easier to catch up with friends over Facebook than it is to catch up for a coffee.
It’s easier to text than to pick up the phone and call.
Life seems easier online. It’s less demanding.
Folks who’d never compliment you in real life are always liking your posts.
To me, this is the greatest danger ever posed to love.
We mistake approval, attention, and engagement for genuine human connection.
We find ourselves alone on the sofa with our phones, looking to fulfill our human needs through a wifi connection.
We’re addicted to the dopamine hit of notifications.
We’re addicted to the way we can be our “best selves” (though not our REAL selves) online.
Offline, who knows what could happen?
You could blurt out the wrong thing. You could break out with a huge zit hours before your date. You could find yourself sitting across from a guy who clearly doesn’t like you at all.
It’s just not worth it.
Love Asks More From Us
Beloved Black activist, author, and scholar bell hooks believed we have turned away from love.
Love requires more than we’re willing to give.
It requires practicing a love ethic.
Practicing respect, honesty, care, interdependence, and responsibility in all our affairs.
hooks saw love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth,” a definition she took from M. Scott Peck.
And few of us are willing to extend ourselves for that reason.
We’re much more willing to extend ourselves for approval and attention.
You can see this in the dating scene: women jumping through all sorts of hoops to get male attention.
They’re TOLD to do this.
They’re told to dress sexy and send dirty texts and bolster his ego and play helpless so he can feel strong.
They’re told to shut down their own strength and power and confidence for fear of threatening his masculinity.
And their reward?
The thrill of “He likes me!”
That’s ALL they get: his approval.
Yet even that thrill is tenuous.
Because at any moment, he can pull the rug out from underneath them. He can turn his attention elsewhere.
So they have to keep performing. Keep pleasing. Keep avoiding anything that might turn him off.
Don’t Settle for Less than The Real Thing
Extending yourself to win someone else’s approval and attention is just NOT worth it.
No matter how much you crave that hit of good feeling.
If that’s all he’s offering you, then take your energy elsewhere.
Because what you’re looking for is the big L-O-V-E.
Someone who’s capable of extending himself for the purpose of nurturing another person’s growth.
That requires more from him than good texting game.
It requires more from him than making you feel fine.
It requires heart, sweat, and commitment.
It requires that HE do the work… rather than outsourcing it to his avatar.
hooks noted that “in patriarchal culture men are especially inclined to see love as something they should receive without effort. More often than not they do not want to do the work that love demands.”
And let me tell you…
It takes WORK to put down the phone and spend daylight hours with someone getting to know them.
It takes WORK to emotionally support someone when you’d rather watch the game.
It takes WORK to value another person’s work and dreams as much as your own.
He is not doing the work of love if he spends more time with you online than offline. He’s not doing the work of love if his loving words come typed through his phone rather than out of his mouth. He’s not doing the work of love if he only shows up after dark.
As much as you want to believe that the affection and attention you’re getting through your phone reflects the way he feels about you in reality, don’t delude yourself.
The truth is what happens in person.
When you come out from behind your avatars and see each other face to face.
He can’t hide then, and you can’t hide yourself, either.
What you say and what you do when you are together in the flesh says more about your relationship than all the passionate texts you’ve ever exchanged.
So let this be your test for love:
Pay attention to whether a man is willing to extend himself to help you grow and reach your fullest potential as a person… even if he receives no benefit by that.
Because that shows you he’s not playing games.
He’s in it for real.
 bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001) 114.