In the movie, My Life As a House, George Monroe is an architect who is let go from his job and discovers he has terminal cancer, of which he withholds his diagnosis from others. After deciding he wants to tear down an old house on a piece of property he has been dreaming about for a rebuild, he tells his ex-wife that he wants to take his son Sam for the summer and build the house with him.
In a powerful scene between father and son, Sam’s repulsed expression of disbelief flies out at his father, “You trying to get me to like you?” George’s response is equally telling, “I was trying to get you to love me.”
The things we do for love. Or, is it love that we’re truly pursuing?
With the rare exception of individuals with personality disorders that manifest in social aloofness, we crave love and connection. Children can create imaginary friends to fill in loneliness, boredom, or fearful emotions. And in the age of the Internet, many of us flock to Social Media to not only see what others are doing, but to curate a world where others might connect with us.
All of this sounds pretty innocuous, maybe even adaptive. Until it isn’t.
I’ve been intrigued by conversation around a fast-growing group of people who are being called out as repeat marathon cheaters. These are people, usually everyday non-elite runners, who engaged in ways to cheat the system in order to gain awards, access to other races, and followers because of their astonishing fast-paced finishes. The numbers of cheaters caught at marathons, half marathons, and triathlons are enough that there are forums and a website dedicated to investigating marathon cheaters and turning them in to the race directors and organizations to determine what, if any, consequences should be rendered. The cheating is so common place enough that Wired magazine recently published a story about the founder of Marathon Investigations and the most perplexing responses and consequences of cheating exposures.
Ever wonder why they would do it?
I suspect the numbers of marathon cheaters is actually not growing as much as you’d think. Rather, the technology used to catch marathon cheaters has improved in such a way as to punish the cheater in a public way by way of disclosure and the removal of awards, a ban from races, and potentially retroactive removal of finish times if there is a proven history of cheating across multiple races.
In other words, marathon cheaters risk being shamed and despised for their behaviour, if they are caught. And if they aren’t caught, they receive the love and admiration of fans.
Actually, I think these people stumble on another truth. They don’t receive love from their fans. They receive admiration based on achievement. Another way of putting it is that they cull conditional love based on a transaction: I perform, and you compliment me.
Is It Worth It?
As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about running and marathon cheaters as much as it is about answering a question: is it worth it? And what “it” did you receive?
What “it” are we talking about?
The subject is Love. Most of us learn about the importance of love when we are children. We see it in the sacrifices our parents and caregivers made in order to provide for our needs, listen to us, take us ball games and movies, and make sure we have opportunities to learn and grow. Love is can be hidden within a voice wishing us goodnight, folded into a homemade cake for a birthday party, and embedded in a hug and a kiss.
Admiration is a similar feeling as Love, yet with a subtle difference. Admiration involves respect and approval, usually because of something we did to earn that feeling from another. An example of being admired is when a stranger put his/her personal safety in jeopardy in order to save the life of another. We admire that person for bravery; we don’t love that person (the person is a stranger), as much as we hold in high esteem that person’s choice of action at the risk of personal injury.
So back to the question, is it worth it. It is my belief that one of the reasons why marathon cheaters continue a pattern of cheating is because they trade Love for Admiration. Finding and experiencing unconditional, non-transactional Love is rare. What they want is to be loved, but what they seek through cheating is the next best thing: Respect and Admiration for being a high performer.
If Respect and Admiration means that much to a person, I believe they can – sometimes do — pursue Admiration at all costs; therefore, it is worth it to them. The ‘likes’ on their Social Media posts, the adoring comments filled with heart emojis and ‘way to go’s, gives the person a lot of validation. It becomes its own kind of pellet food bar, of which a hungry mouse will keep pushing despite the fear of being shocked as long as the memory of getting a pellet of food remains. Rewards light up our brains, even if the reward as an emotional one.
And it works on the negative side of the equation too. Some people will do act outrageously to get attention, even orchestrating daring examples of socially unjust or violent actions. Earning a nickname that inspires fear has become its own kind of admiration in the half light of glowing screens across the globe.
Can’t Buy Me Love
If Love can’t be bought, can its next best feeling, Admiration, be had by lesser means? In the Age of the Internet and the viral nature of Social Media, the answer could very well be Yes.
Let me propose an example. You are a woman, a mom, a wife, and you’ve worked all your life to help your family. You do good things in community, volunteer for charities, do your share of duties in your local PTSA, and help the kids with school. At the end of a long day, you take a glance at your Social Media feeds. What do you see? The accounts with thousands and millions of followers for women are often in the world of beauty, celebrities in film and music, wellness, politics, and sports figures. Oh, and cat ownership.
While you have changed diapers, helped the kids get launched to college, supported a spouse through think and thin, perhaps you have not been celebrated and noticed. One of the ways we feel Loved is when we have been seen. And one of the ways many of us have sought to be seen by more people is through Social Media.
One of the ways we feel Loved is when we have been Seen.
The strange thing is this: even accomplished people, celebrities, and sports figures can fall prey to the this online search for recognition. In those cases, there may be money involved in the form of exclusive sponsorships, and a poor performance could translate into loss of income. There would be incredible pressure to cheat, lie, or embellish a story. I’m not excusing cheating, just providing a possible explanation of why someone who was already accomplished might feel pressured to cheat or lie in his or her industry.
What about the Age Group athlete (a non-elite, non-professional athlete), in running or triathlon? Why would they cheat if there was no other financial reward for an Age Group win?
I suspect that the search for Admiration and Respect are in play. It can feel so good to be called a, “Badass” because you are fast and strong. People are curious about seemingly unreachable feats that require commitment, sacrifice, dedication, and focus. We elevate athletic pursuit to be characteristics of the gods.
Still, you can be the head of a tribe of people – a leader! — if you promote a certain kind of lifestyle that others find challenging — such as being a Vegan* or being Sober**, but in the world of Social Media, being Vegan and being Sober aren’t necessarily enough to win the attention of others. If you’re aware that you hunger to be Admired, you’d better match that Vegan lifestyle with something else, something Hard, something Ideal, something Extraordinary.
Of course, I am pointing out the flaws in this formula for living. Why can’t each person be celebrated for these decisions, just as they are? Why don’t we see them?
My point is, that rabbit hole has no end. If you search for a sense of worth by Doing instead of Being, you will be tired. You might get some followers, and you will be exhausted.
Valentine’s Day has come and gone. I personally don’t subscribe to the romantic overtures of expensive dinners and romance packages. You’re more likely to find me continuing to do the little things behind closed doors that lets my loved ones know how much I care. I still make the bed every morning, as much for myself as for my husband, so that the pillows are plumped and inviting, and a fresh pot of brown rice is ready for dinner at the end of the day. It’s mundane, yet it has it’s own Truth.
The love I feel is about having read people. It is not, “love at all costs” based on the accumulation of achievements. It is love based on our ability to see a person and choose to bestow warmth and affection for who they are.
Love is given because we can choose to love someone based on who they “be” in your life, not what they do. If you knew you were loved that way, you would never feel the need to cheat your way to being admired or respected. You would not worry so much what strangers thought about what clothes you wear when you’re on vacation, or what foods you do or don’t eat.
Yet, as I mentioned before, this kind of non-transactional Love is rare. It takes time to cultivated, because not everyone learns it early in life, and there are social forces around us that whisper other truths about what our essential worth is based on: appearance, agility, youth, genius, gender, economics, work performance, possessions.
The false form of love that people seek or fear on the Internet is costly. Yet, if you choose to See, it’s possible to learn how to cultivate Love versus Admiration based on accomplishment.
Note * and **: In case you were wondering, I have nothing personal against either lifestyle choices of Veganism nor Sobriety, and I have seen how some have healed aspects of their physical and mental health with both. I have simply chosen these two examples because of the abundance of writers on the subjects.