Kevin Smith maintains profiles on both Scruff and Grindr. I do that because back when I was first looking to explore a hugging connection, I looked in places where people were also looking to connect for sex. I just didn’t know where else to start.
Even Craigslist was confusing. I’d meet men from the “strictly platonic” section who were ultimately disappointed that I wasn’t looking for sex (is there something unclear about either “strictly” or “platonic?”) And posting in any of the “sexual” categories for men interested in “just hugging” was met with so many electronic grenades that I quickly withdrew from that particular venue.
Most users of these kinds of online services are hoping to connect with others in some way. For some the preferred connection is sexual, but for others, it often isn’t. As one of my friends describes it, “sometimes the blow job is just the price of admission. But what I’d really like is the deeper connection.”
I continue to maintain online profiles now because, like it or not, there are some guys on Scruff and Grindr who would rather be held for an hour than find yet another blow job. I’m interested in finding those people and connecting to them, or connecting them to the idea of Touch Practice and similar practices across the country. So I spend a good amount of time online chatting with men about various forms of erotic, non-sexual touch, and the constructive role it might play in our lives.
And that time online can sometimes be, well, brutal.
I am constantly surprised at the level of unkindness online. Even when I’m prepared for it, it catches me by surprise every time I log on. So many people who search for deep connection, people longing to make themselves vulnerable to each other, simultaneously treat each other with such suspicion, cruelty, hostility and unkindness that, well, it’s a miracle that any connection of any kind could come out of that. “Be completely honest and vulnerable with me while I poke at you with judgmental, opinionated cruelty” doesn’t seem to be a formula for happy coupling on any level.
Because I’ve been studying attraction, aversion, shadow and projection, this has been an interesting place to watch these things and understand how they work. When we’re online as a “profile,” no one knows anything about who we truly are. They see an electronic image and a description. That’s a magnet for projection. It’s a target. An online profile can be like a very neutral therapist: the person we’re talking to can imagine us to be any way they want to, and the way they are inclined to imagine us will be projected from their own experience.
There are those who project that I’m anti-gay, anti-sex or ashamed of my sexuality, those who project that I’m doing something secret or shameful that my spouse doesn’t know about, those who project that I’m trying to ‘convert’ people somehow; those who project that I’m covertly looking for sex but not willing to say so.
Sometimes the projections are so vivid and quick that it’s hard to imagine how they get constructed. In one conversation, the fifth exchange from the man behind the screen was, “it would be a fucking nightmare to be married to you, and I feel very sorry for your spouse.” And then he blocked me to prevent my further response.
Really, that’s quite an analysis for an exchange that lasted less than 5 minutes and involved, oh, less than half a typed page of text!
On the plus side, there are guys who project that I’m the nicest guy in the world, that I’m loving, that I care about them, that I’m a beautiful physical hunk of a guy, and more. Now, the temptation is for me to want to “own” that second list but claim the first list is about others, but alas: projection works in both directions. Neither list has much to do with me, at least not in the first 120 seconds of online relationship! The truth is, I am neither as beautiful nor as horrid as people project I am.
Turning around the negative projections, what I am experiencing as the target is their shame, secrecy, insecurity about their sexuality, awareness of their own covert or unclear practices, fears around sexual motivations, and so forth. Turning around positive projections, I’m the receiving target of the person’s inner kindness, desire to find beauty, willingness to be open and non-judgmental, and so forth. But, clearly, as you can sense, I am more reactive to projections I perceive as “negative” than I am to others, so that’s where I’m trying to wake up and get clear.
My practice now is to try to stay awake enough that when I get something stinging on the second or third line of an online exchange, I remember to ask myself, “so what information does this give me about this person’s experience?” If I can feel my way through my annoyance, it sometimes allows me to figure out my strategy to build compassion for them and, ultimately, to connect with them, even a little.
Identifying myself as someone who feels “happily married” in my profile invites a particular projection, especially from those who feel “unhappily single” or who are in a marriage where they’re not behaving with integrity. Very often people will go after the integrity of my marriage within two or three lines online, which is curious, because, really, how can you analyze the quality of a marriage where you haven’t met either party and don’t have any more information to go on than a profile?
Their starting assumptions seem to be that my spouse doesn’t know about Touch Practice, or that I cuddle or snuggle in some furtive, covert practice. Those are bad assumptions (my spouse is looking over my shoulder at this blog at the moment) but it does tell me that they might have something secret or covert, or some integrity issue, which is bugging them, that they’re hoping to solve or at least engage.
I find projection just annoying, on some level. Any of us who have interacted with someone, live or online, where we can sense that they’re throwing “their stuff” onto us and reacting to something they imagine in us, can probably identify with some feeling of exasperation around that.
Nonetheless, as I continue to work to get clearer about my understanding of shadow, projection, attraction and aversion, being online is a useful exercise into the exploration of human nature. As the Talmud says, “we see the world not the way it is, but the way we are.” Paraphrased, when we look at each other, we don’t (can’t) see what’s going on inside of each person–we see what’s going on inside of us.
I do wish the online world could become a little kinder. Kindness makes all sorts of work possible, deeper and more comfortable. In your place in the online world, either through one of these services, or facebook, or e-mail, remember that kindness is an option. It’s a great option. I urge you to try kindness; model it, put it out into the world, including the electronic world. Don’t expect it from others first; be the first to do it. And in time, have the courage to insist on it as a condition of engagement.
I’ve taken to giving a warning when an online conversation “heads south” along the lines of, “listen, I’m happy to explore this with you, but kindness is very important to me. I am going to continue this conversation with kindness towards you and I’d like to ask the same from you towards me.”
If after two or three warnings the person isn’t able to stop using the phrase “fucking asshole,” well, you know, my practice is about compassion, but it’s also about healthy boundaries, too. There is a time and place for the holy sacrament of “blocking,” and while I always feel a sense of defeat when it comes to that, as they say in the airplane, “put your own oxygen mask on before attempting to assist others.”
I think the online world offers us a powerful way to connect with each other on so many levels. My hope is that it will become a kinder and gentler place for many people who come there lonely, vulnerable, and tender, looking for many different sorts of connections.
Have thoughts you’d like to share?
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