Have you ever tracked how much time you spend per day staring at a screen—phone, computer, or otherwise? For many of us, the hours spent absorbing data and information on the digital highway outnumber the hours spent interacting in real life. Human beings are social creatures who seek connection and crave belonging. We might be digital pals with every person we ever went to high school and college with on Facebook, or have thousands of followers on Instagram, yet people are lonely as ever.
Parents frequently tell me how their kids will sit in the same room with friends or siblings, texting each other to communicate. Is it now so painful, to look into the eyes of another and muster up the courage to speak? Or is it simply the constant need to chase the next dopamine rush of digital distraction?
Not only are we not physically interacting as much, but people are losing the ability to understand each other, feel empathy, engage in deep conversation, and explore ideas and beliefs contrary to their own. In fact, it seems we find more connection in communities and groups where the only thing we have in common is who we hate and what we’re opposed to, rather than who we love and what we’re working toward. We spend so much time being anti-this or anti-that, we’ve forgotten how to come together and find a way to work through instead of against.
The reality is, we spend more time distracted by this sense of counterfeit connection than we do self-reflecting, creating, and cultivating real relationships. We are seeking external solutions to internal problems.
And it’s not making us any smarter.
One of the main pillars of erotic intelligence is social intelligence. Can you preempt the needs of another? Pick up on the subtle nuances of body language, movement, and breath? Hold a meaningful conversation beyond basic small talk? Find a way to see the beauty in all people? The more we stare at screens, the more we’re losing these capabilities.
Knowing every position in the Kama Sutra isn’t as valuable as picking up on cues from your lover on what he/she/they may want next. The erotic dance of mystery, and the not knowing what will happen is all part of what makes sex exciting and magical. But for a generation who texts their friends in the same room, for a culture that derives self-worth by the number of followers and likes, affirmative consent is now necessary. Erotic dance over. From Twitter-trolls to Tinder dates who ghost, respect for our fellow humans is in decline.
So, what can you do to increase your social intelligence as we continuously evolve with technology?
Learn to interpret other people’s nonverbal behavior. Be the Sherlock Holmes of those around you, analyzing and observing every sound, eye glance, breath, voice change, yawn, and movement. Real connection happens when you’re able to understand where someone stands emotionally. And emotions are life’s greatest aphrodisiacs!
Stop the small talk. A recent study published in Psychological Science found that happiness and well-being are related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations. Try removing questions like, what do you do, where are you from, and where do you live, from your dialogue. Instead ask questions like, what are your biggest passions? What has inspired you the most this week? Who has been the most influential person in your life?
Don’t be a conversation-narcissist. Most people who are conversation-narcissists don’t even realize it. For example, say your friend’s dog dies. You go to her house to comfort her and offer support. She starts reminiscing, eventually crying. You feel awkward and don’t know what to do, so you tell her you understand because your family dog died when you were 12, so you know it feels. Except you don’t, actually. This was her single-girl companion best friend who had carried her through cancer twice, snuggled her after the heartbreak of a cheating partner, and saved her life. Your friend looks at you, now even more upset that you are incapable of understanding or giving space to how and why her experience is different. While your intentions might have been good, you took the focus off of her and put it back onto yourself. This is what it means to be a conversation-narcissist. Sometimes, we just need to shut up, hug, and listen with the intent to understand, rather than the intent to respond.
Never make assumptions. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point in our lives. But assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. They can steer us down a path of rage, injustice, revenge, and incorrect judgements. You can use your intuition but seek evidence too.
Stop comparing yourself to others. This is so imperative in the age of social media. As Brené Brown so wonderfully said, “Comparison is the root of all conformity.” You are unique and the only person in the entire world who can do what you do. When energy is spent focusing on the successes of another, it takes away time and energy you could be focusing on yourself.
Take time for self-reflection. Put the phone down. Journal. Go for a hike in nature. Set the intention to look inward and process rather than seeking external distractions. Sure, it’s definitely harder and more painful to dive headfirst into our internal struggles, but it’s also definitely more rewarding! The more self-aware you become, the more empathy you’ll be able to have for others.
Eye gaze. Looking another human in the eyes is a proven way to earn trust and create a deeper bond. One thing I say to couples in my practice frequently: when you first wake up, don’t look at your phone. Instead, spend at least one full minute staring in each other’s eyes. It has proven to be a completely transformative exercise.
Set boundaries and learn to say no. The healthiest happiest people know how to set good boundaries. It doesn’t matter if it’s with your partner, your colleague, your kids, or a stranger standing too close in line at the store. Being able to communicate diplomatically, assertively, and effectively will make setting boundaries a breeze.
Being in tune with yourself enables you to be well-tuned to those around you. Think about it. Two instruments don’t sound good if they’re not in tune. Two dance partners won’t jive if they’re not in step. And two lovers won’t swim in the realm of erotic connection if they are not attuned.
Mal Harrison is the Executive Director of the Center for Erotic Intelligence. Follow her on Twitter @AdviceFromMsM or Instagram @MelodiousMsM