[image by Jesse Millan]

In the last year I have blogged on the topics of ambient intimacy/ambient awareness, as well as some of the discussion involving the use of technology in fostering intimacy. I was a big fan of this topic, and a believer in the use of technology in fostering intimacy. Especially how the sharing of minor details in our life online can create a sense of belonging and togetherness.

I have experienced in my own life how the sharing of myself online via Twitter, Facebook, my blog, etc. have brought me closer to those I am contact with online. Numerous are the times that I have been able to sit down at coffee with someone I met online, and it felt like we had been friends for a long time because we knew so much about each other through our online sharing.

But can technology and social media create intimacy? That I am no longer sure of.

What has me thinking about this recently is this excerpt from David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage where he talks about the pitfalls of other-validated intimacy in marriages (versus self-validation which is central to one achieving a healthy level of differentiation). Here is what Schnarch says:

3. Other-validated intimacy is inherently limiting because it leads to self-presentation rather than self-disclosure. When you need a reflected sense of yourself and acceptance/validation from your partner, your most important priority becomes getting the response you want. To accomplish this less than virtuous goal, you start misrepresenting, omitting, and shading information about who you really are (self-presentation), rather than disclosing the full range of yourself (intimacy). Self-presentation is the opposite of intimacy; it is a charade rather than an unmasking.

Self-presentation is one way we adapt to our partner’s differences in order to reduce our anxiety. Unfortunately, it never provides the security and acceptance we crave, because we know our partner never really knows us. Attempts to cajole someone into making us feel secure only make us insecure, the same way trying to protect ourselves through other-validated intimacy offers no real protection at all. Self-presentation creates an inherent paradox that sets the typical marital squirrel cage spinning. And as you’ll see in a few minutes, self-presentation brings us one step closer to emotional gridlock.
Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships (David Schnarch)

Social media is a great tool for other-validation intimacy, or why else would people obsessively track their blog stats, Twitter follower numbers and number of Facebook fans? It’s a form of other-validating intimacy. It’s a way that one seeks affirmation and validation. And have you ever seen more low-level anxiety in people than when they begin to worry about their online persona and statistics? I’ve noticed it in myself.

But is it intimacy, or is it really self-presentation? How much do we omit things about us when we create our online persona for others to see?

I would argue that even the people that present themselves, and come across to others as humble, authentic and “real” are still using a form of self-presentation since it’s something they have created on their own. It’s what they want others to see of them. But it may really not be what others truly see. We are rarely completely honest with ourselves, because we are often unaware and blind to our own shortcomings and issues. That’s why true intimacy in a relationship involves the unmasking of ourselves, often by the other we are in relationship with. True intimacy involves conflict and pushing through anxiety. It involves being able to stand on our own two feet, rather than constantly needing the propping up of ourselves by our partner.

Social media allows us to create a reflected sense of ourselves through the mirroring of online affirmation we receive from others. True intimacy in a relationship doesn’t allow us to create a reflected sense of ourselves, but requires us to see and been seen for who we truly are. Blemishes and all.

I think even those that attempt to be real online can/are still masquerading behind a created sense of self that is fueled by online other validation. I sometimes wonder about those who are constantly talking about the need to be real, or authentic. That can be as much a distorted sense of self as those they castigate.

When this makes sense, you will slowly begin to see the powerful drive that allows technology to fuel so many online affairs and inappropriate relationships.

Perhaps I’m writing this post because I first noticed it in myself. Becoming aware is the first step. It is only when we are aware, that then can we take action to live more healthy lives online.