Love in the time of Tinder: why you can't blame technology for a rise in affairs.
of Relate, Chris Sherwood, discusses on 'Wired' why our dependency on
technology is blurring the boundaries between digital and non-digital
"Technology has revolutionized our relationships,
changing how we find, organize and even finish them. As a 36-year-old
gay man living in London, I’ve had a front row seat in this revolution. I
started my dating life in the 1990s, responding to personal ads in my
local newspaper. In the 2000s I started exploring internet dating. More
recently apps like Grindr and Scruff have become a dater’s best friend.
day job is CEO of Relate, the UK’s largest provider of information and
support around relationships, so you may think I have all the answers.
In fact, Relate is encountering new and different ways that technology
impacts out relationships every day, so we, too, are learning how to
navigate this new digital world. Technology is one of the top reasons
people come to us for counseling, whether it’s the couple where one
partner’s had an affair via Facebook or the individual who’s struggling
with an addiction to online porn.
It’s interesting that 62 per
cent of our counselors say technology has had a negative impact on
relationships, compared to just 13 per cent of the public. However, we
also see that technology has brought huge benefits to relationships,
from the serving members of our armed forces who can now rely on video
calling and email to stay connected with home, to young gay people who
can much more easily connect with one another in less liberal parts of
the world – something I discovered myself recently whilst traveling
through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
""One of the challenges we see in this 'swipe generation' is the commodification of people""
Chris Sherwood, CEO of Relate
no denying, though, that technology is disrupting our relationships in
ways that previous generations could never have imagined. There are more
than 1,400 dating sites in the UK alone and finding a partner online is
the fourth most common way to start a new relationship. Could this be
changing how much value we place on our fellow daters? One of the
challenges we see in this "swipe generation" is the commodification of
people. Research tells us that the key ingredients to a successful,
long-term relationship (something that the majority of us continue to
aspire to) are honesty, commitment and communication – characteristics
that are hard to deduce from a Tinder profile picture. Quite simply, if
we don’t like what we see in the first few seconds, we swipe left and
it’s gone. It’s easy to forget we’re talking about real people with real
We’re also navigating this new digital world without a
roadmap. People used to date, become girlfriend and boyfriend and get
married. Today, announcing your relationship on Facebook or agreeing to
take down your dating profile are new staging posts on this more complex
relationship journey. We know from the counseling room that many of
these staging posts only become clear when an unspoken rule has been
Couples tell us that they like being able to send
romantic and flirty messages to one another. But are we becoming too
dependent on technology? Can we turn it off? According to a survey by
the Science Museum in 2012, four out of five under 25-year-olds report
feeling lost without the internet and the vast majority of smartphone
owners reach for them within 15 minutes of waking up. The 2013 Mobile
Consumers Habit survey in the US found that nine per cent even admitted
to checking their phone during sex.
This “dependency” could also
be affecting how we form intimate relationships in the real world as the
boundaries between digital and non-digital become increasingly blurred.
A study by Essex University in 2012 found that: “Merely having a phone
visible in the room — even if no-one checked it — made people less
likely to develop a sense of intimacy and empathetic understanding
during meaningful conversations.”
Technology is additionally
changing the nature of affairs and blurring the boundaries. We used to
think of an affair as an intimate or sexual encounter between two
people. Does sending sexualized and flirty images to another person
count as an affair even if the people don’t meet? What about watching
livecam porn, using remote-controlled sex toys with another person, or,
in the future, sleeping with a sex robot?
""Does sending sexualized and flirty images to another person count as an affair even if the people don’t meet?""
Chris Sherwood, CEO of Relate
a danger in this debate that we end up blaming the technology but that
isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s how we use it.
We can’t stop
the digital revolution but we can learn to better integrate technology
into our lives, in ways that enable us to form and sustain loving and
supportive relationships as well as to better navigate the dangers out
there. For example, we’d encourage people to talk to their partners and
family about how to handle the technology in their lives. Work out
whether you need regular tech time out, like no phones in the bedroom or
turning all screens off an hour before bed. There aren’t any hard and
fast rules but communicating what works for your circumstances will make
it easier for you to stay in control of technology and not the other