I’ve been experimenting. No, not sexually. With telling the truth. It hasn’t been easy. See, I’m a writer. And an advice columnist at that. And so I try to keep some distance between myself, my real self, and what ends up getting published. But, like many of you, I also go on dates and have relationships and fall in and out of love and meet new people. I try to instruct you on how to do this ethically but the thing is, I’ve been noticing myself misleading a lot of people recently. Not big lies but little ones. On dates for instance, I’ve withheld the fact that I’m an advice columnist, or been evasive about my rabid love of steak or pretended that I know something about Borges. I know nothing about Borges.
I’ve been curating myself to suit the needs of people that I’m around, whether they’re clients, dates or even friends. Online, I find myself trying to gauge from 2x2 pictures and initial cues what kind of person the stranger I am about to meet would like me to be. I dress accordingly. I only ask questions about them. I omit information that I think they will find displeasing. If the “swipe mentality” is a problem then I seem to have been answering it with the “I just wanna be the kind of girl you like,” mentality. Also a problem. That editorializing exhausts me and makes me resentful. And really, that’s not who I am at all.
David Brooks (who seems to grasp the challenge of modern love despite his advanced years and conservative politics) addressed these pitfalls of online dating in his article, “The Devotion Leap.” He writes that people who date online are “shopping for human beings, commodifying people.” I’m inclined to agree with him. I can’t be everybody’s hot commodity. And I can’t judge other people on whether or not they’re good enough to be mine. Let’s try something different.
What steps do we need to take to move away from treating ourselves and others like disposable objects or infinitely variable reflections of other desires? How do we put ourselves in a mental state where we’re able to make what Brooks calls “The Devotion Leap,”— that in-person thing that happens where you open yourself to being vulnerable and lower “the boundaries between self and self.“
I’ve been trying it out. It hasn’t been easy. And it’s made me realize that I have miles to go before I sleep. Here are my tips for making the devotion leap:
Be devoted to something else.
In my experience devotion is about feeling small and useful in the presence of something large (the divine) as opposed to feeling large and passive and hoping for something small (a body that will warm your bed). Nurture devotion in your life: Make a shrine. Mediate. Go to church. Visit your family. Send your little sister a care package. Call your dad. Grow plants. Devotion grows the more you feed it.
Stop asking boring questions.
Droning on about yourself is a social crime but so is asking questions you don’t want to know the answer to just to keep a conversation going (see my behavior above). Do you really care to hear another person’s elevator pitch about what they do for work? No? Then don’t say, “What do you do?” Do you want to know about something amazing that happened to them this week? Ask that. (Need more tips on breaking the ice? Read on, dear friend.)
See more people in person.
I’m as guilty as any introvert of hiding away in my apartment for days and then emerging at a dinner party glassy-eyed and dying to talk about the nuances of the esoteric political issues I’ve been googling. But listen up fellow INFPs—IT’S NOT GOOD FOR US. Online dating is about allowing strangers into your life. But there are a lots of random people around us all the time who we studiously ignore. Why not talk to them.
Starting a full length book is kind of like beginning a relationship. You know it will have its ups and downs, you may not always have time for it but you may love it so much that you want to return to it over and over. Read stuff that takes a while to finish—not just stuff on the internet.
Whether it’s Karaoke night or a PechaKucha presentation, I don’t care: go ahead and put your body up in front of some other people. The terror you will surely feel coursing through your veins will remind you how powerful and vulnerable you—and everybody you’ll ever date—truly are.
Mess with your schedule.
Nothing makes you feel a little more vulnerable (in a good way) than doing something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. So stay up all night or go to bed really early. Say yes to that friend who’s always trying to get you to go eat tacos in a faraway part of town. The act of saying yes to the unknown makes you feel scared a little but liberated a lot.
Try out the strip-mall reflexologist next to your dumpling spot. Go to the barber. Hug your friends. Touch is scientifically proven to be good for us and a lot of people don’t get enough of it. Being close to someone else refamiliarizes you with the senses that I believe are crucial to an erotic experience with another human being—touch and scent. Coincidentally, these are the senses that digital dating will never compete with.
In conclusion, I hope you know that I am in fact devoted to you. And while I cannot be everything you want me to be, I write to you exactly as I am with a hope that you might feel permission to be exactly as you are.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.