by Imei Hsu, BSN-RN, MAC-LMHC, Artist
It’s July, and yet summer weather has not quite made a committed appearance in Seattle. My Twitter feed and Facebook updates are full of potshots and comments about the sun’s absence from the Pacific Northwest during a time when the rest of the country is experiencing a heat wave. Still, summer is the time when people think about rest and relaxation, summer vacations, family time, travel, and — of course! — summer love and romance. Relationships are what make our lives feel full and rich, and in spite of our efforts to be busy and active, the absence of meaningful relationships and connected sex makes those efforts feel lonely and empty. In honor of summer and relationships, this short blog post includes a few items to chew on about fanning the flames of relationship, improving your love life, and getting it on in bed: a Relationship 2.0 guide for my readers.
RELATIONSHIP 2.0: Modern Love
Why call it Relationship 2.0? Aren’t good old fashioned relationship skills and romance cutting it anymore? Relationship 2.0 is what I’m calling the addition of an undeniable feature of the modern landscape of relationships: the Digital World. We already know that technology affects the way we relate to one another. For all the devices we have, access to the Internet, and demand to use the technology to connect more often, we share more data but communicate meaningfully far less. While the world obsesses over the latest viral video about Henri the French cat going to the vet, the amount of face-to-face conversation decreases. If we are to experience the benefits of the digital age on communication, we must understand what is gained and what is lost.
In the Relationship 2.0 world, hyper connection elucidates the most valuable commodity we have: trust. Trust isn’t just about control (i.e. I trust you will do exactly what I tell you to do); trust is in context of relationship (i.e. I trust you will listen and talk with me about whatever is bothering me or causing me joy). In getting to know your loved one better, whether you’ve known this person two weeks or two decades, we have access to tools that put us in a world full of pitfalls, temptations, and confusing messages. At the same time, there are some fantastic tools, digital books, and user tips that could help you spark and maintain romance and connection, while building contextual trust.
1. CoupleFire – a great alternative to Pinterest.
I heard Emily Marshall talk about CoupleFire.com at pii2012 during a competition of startup pitches. If you like Pinterest, but you are really turned off by their privacy problems, CoupleFire may be your thing. Designed to help couples build their relationship over a sleek platform, the app keeps it just between the two of you, yet with the beautiful simplicity of a Pinterest board. Because the program is relatively new, there isn’t a mobile app for updating and sharing, making it necessary to use the website. However, you can easily add it to your bookmarks. Notifications of new messages are sent to your email, and you can rig your iDevice to send email notifications to your mobile phone as a banner alert, making it easy to know when you’ve received a message from your snuggle bunny <— that’s your main squeeze, dude.
2. FiftyShades of Grey (on eBook readers)
E.L. James runaway hit, “Fifty Shades of Grey“, was inspired by the Twilight series. What Twilight did for housewives obsessed with vampires and romanticized young love, Fifty Shades of Grey is doing for modern love and the kinky world of BDSM. From James’ interviews this Spring 2012, readers have been flocking to her U.S. tour to thank her for revving up their sex lives (and gratitude is coming from men as well as women, despite the many critics who say the success of the book is based on the buying power of bored housewives hungry for mommy porn).
James’ books hit commercial success for a topic that it certainly not new, but is experiencing a renaissance in the sex-positive culture. What happens when a woman — and in this case, a young and inexperienced woman – encounters a controlling man who introduces her to a “new” key to sexual satisfaction: the Submissive, and not the Dominant, is the one in control. While the book contains as much cliché and misinformation about “kinky fuckery” as it contains truth about the real pressures of the ultra rich, being young and undereducated, and romance under the amplification of an always-on digital world, its accessibility has put erotica in the mainstream. Some would agree with James that the book gives women readers a “holiday from their husbands”, but what I really feel James did was help women resonate with bigger issues: desire and trust.
On a side note, I think James’ trilogy did a great job of showing appreciation of the power of technology through music in your pocket (iPod) and car stereo system, private servers and the exchange of data in the pre-Cloud age, and both the sexiness and the enslavement of and to iDevices. Geeks worldwide can fantasize about what it means to have an iDevice to help them stay connected to their prospective mates, keeping their attention and romancing them over texts and emails with a little clever thinking.
You might be laughing this all off, but James is the one who should be tickled pink. By doing a little research, her book in both paperbacks and in eBooks has broken all records for sales of the first million copies. As of the date of this writing, the Fifty Shades Triology has already surpassed 20 million books sold world wide. All in eleven weeks. Not shabby, eh?
3. Hibe – a great alternative to Facebook
If you’re sick and tired of the changes and privacy violations you’ve encountered on Facebook, but you’re still enchanted and encouraged about the power of the Internet and Social Media to stay connected and share what makes your world turn, Hibe may be your thing. The marketing machine is absent from Hibe, which force this platform to derive its value and sustainability in a different manner than FB. Users have the ability to make their profiles completely private from prying eyes, yet with an ease to share it with those they designate. If privacy really means control, Hibe does a great job in offering privacy to every user without the clumsiness of opt-out programs or overnight changes without notifications.
4. Offline weekends
If your eyes are regularly glued to a screen for work and for socializing, a Relationship 2.0 mentality must include offline time. Personally, I advocate taking time on weekends, holidays, and cut off times at night (or in certain hours of the morning if you work unusual hours) where you and your loved one enjoy time together without a device in between you. If you are normally chained to your work via mobile device access, it sometimes means either turning the device off, or traveling to where connectivity is limited, poor, or non-existant. In exchange, you’ll have a priceless, uninterrupted moment with your main squeeze. If you must maintain connection with the babysitter, leave instructions to not be called except in specific emergencies.
Another option is to learn how to use your iDevices and the Internet in service to your partner, not just a pathway of escape from your partner, or a portal of access to work. A past date with a gentleman unfolded when both my date and I took an hour to share our favorite music videos by playing “Youtube VJ’s”. Not only did I learn about his musical tastes, I got a glimpse into events in his life that moved him. We took a walk down our respective memory lanes, and we ended up laughing and smiling. I’m sure this could be used between people who have been together for many years. Use the theme, “I have moves that you have never seen.” Show your loved one a side of you unseen.
5.Get a F2F relationship tune up
While there are tons of Internet resources available for relationship advice (see #6, below), nothing replaces face-to-face counseling, coaching, and small group interactions designed to help you re-attune, re-tool, and replace outdated or under-used skills to help fan the flames of your relationship, strengthen your connection and communication, and diminish over-response to long-standing challenges that will need more time to work themselves out than your anxiety or ego has the patience for. You could pay a thousand to attend a marriage conference, and it could do a whole world of good. But you could also receive individualized advice and a relationship with which to practice the art of authentic living, and by paying a little bit more, you receive much more value. I’m all for more bang for your buck (no sexual puns intended here!), and this is yet one more situation where the motto, “You get what you pay for” is oh so true. Check out what we have to offer at Seattle Direct Counseling for relationship counseling.
BTW, I’m working on a podcast for sex and relationships, with guests both local and national. This podcast will be an additional free feature for readers of the blog to delve deeper into the discussion with those of us staying on top of the pulse of the nation on the subject of developing and maintaining meaningful modern relationships in a culturally-relevant way. While podcasting is a somewhat old format, there are times people can’t be looking at a screen but want to listen to dynamic programming. We’re hoping our podcasts will inspire and provoke deeper discussions on sex and relationships.
6. Internet Eavesdropping
Not only are there videos on the topic, there are also podcasts, articles, and entire blogs dedicated to solid advice and relationship-building topics. The Internet allows you to drop in like a voyeur and sample, taste, process, and flit around to get the tools you need without having to sit through hours and hours of information you don’t need. Most of this is free information; premium services allow you to delve deeper and learn directly with the experts, or receive individualized instruction (see above #5).
You are not longer left to hand a book to your already exhausted partner and say, “Read this if you want to understand me.” You now have short video clips, audio clips on SoundCloud, images, and excerpts that you can cut, splice, and present to your lover to help him or her see your POV (point of view), and similarly, you can invite your partner to do the same. These options are more palatable, and they come in formats that help those who don’t absorb emotionally charged topics well from the written word alone.
7. Internet Dating
While many groan about the lack of decent people to date if you are a single person looking for a love relationship, the sheer statistics of the people who maintain active profiles on dating sites suggests that you have reasonable chances of finding love by using your computer. The biggest keys are two-fold: write a decent and accurate profile, and accept and invite others to a lot of dates.
An accurate profile does not mean over-sharing. Just consider the main ways people recognize attraction and chemistry: through the eyes, intelligence, shared values, the way you connect with others (extroverted, introverted, shy, or some combination), self-expression, and shared interests. You need to write enough about these topics to be inviting without writing an entire book. You also need to share a recent picture of yourself that allows someone to see the real you. When it comes time to setting up the first date, you should have a simple and short date as a meet-and-greet, with the option of meeting again if both of you agree.
There seems to be an online dating site for all kinds of people, including those who tend towards environmental issues, more progressives, millionaires, Cougars, seniors, etc. Some of the more popular are Plenty of Fish, Match, and OKCupid. Whatever online dating platform you pick, read the TOUA carefully, and understand how actions like sharing your activity on the site with other Social Media platforms could affect your personal and professional life.
8. Staying Fit as a Means to Better Relationships
I’m surprised how people forget how important it is to be fit and healthy as a means to better relationships. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to enjoy the benefits of better sex, energy, and emotional balance. People who take care of their bodies often report improved self-image, an important factor in the feeling of sexual desire. Fatigue can affect people’s lack of sexual desire. Overweight and underweight people report issues with connection and intimacy, and both types tend to experience mood swings and emotional imbalance that can affect communication.
Taking walks together, bicycling, running, and attending Yoga classes are just a few options we have to getting and staying fit, treating both body and mind to workouts that help us with physical and mental fitness. Exercise and proper diets can help us feel energized, balanced, and satisfied. Don’t forget how sleep and rest also affects our ability to demonstrate presence and connection when we’re attending to our loved ones in simple and quiet moments, as well as noisy ones in the heat of passion.
While the basic skills of cultivating and maintaining a love relationship remain the same, technology can enhance or impede your connection to the one you love. Within months, there will be new applications to add to this short guideline. The point is this: grow your relationship, use the tools, and don’t get too distracted along the way! Relationship 2.0 is simply a reminder that we have more resources than ever to help us develop our relationships, and if you’re unhappy in yours, there aren’t too many reasonable excuses to remain unhappy and failing to take action. Think about what you can do to make your relationship as strong as it can be.
Next: cultivating identity on and offline