Most people would define “cheating” in a relationship as sleeping with another person, without your partner’s consent. But psychotherapist Esther Perel says some couples are cheating on each other constantly — with their phones.
“As one of my patients recently said: ‘Every night, I go to bed and she’s on Instagram, in the bed,’” Perel said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “And it’s like, ‘I’m lonely! I just want to chat, to talk, to connect. She’s just getting lost.’”
Perel, the author of “The State of Affairs” and host of the podcast “Where Should We Begin?” spoke with Recode’s Kara Swisher at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. She said our phone addictions are creating “a new definition of loneliness,” likening it to the psychology term “ambiguous loss”: A loved one is physically present, but in all other ways absent from a relationship.
“It no longer has to do with being socially isolated,” Perel said. “It has to do with experiencing a loss of trust and a loss of capital while you are next to the person with whom you’re not supposed to be lonely.”
On the new podcast, Perel also talked about how dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble are the latest in a series of massive changes to how we think about relationships, sex and love.
“If I have a choice between two people, it’s rather limiting,” she said. “In the village, I had a choice between two people. Later, I had a choice between six or 10 or 15 people, and that was a lot better. When I have a choice between 1,000 people, it’s crippling.”
One of the problems with having a never-ending feed of potential mates in your pocket, she explained, is that a person in a good, healthy relationship might still experience fear of missing out, or FOMO. What winds up happening instead is that many single people “simmer” multiple partners at once to stave off loneliness, but don’t commit and thereby surrender their freedom.
“I’m, on the one hand, looking for the soulmate, the one-and-only,” Perel said. “That one-and-only is supposed to be the one that’s gonna cure you of your case of FOMO, is going to fulfill you. It’s not just a person with whom you’re going to have the basic needs of Maslow, not even the belonging needs of Maslow — it’s the self-fulfilling needs.”
“You’re constantly checking there is nothing better there,” she added. “Basically, the ritual of commitment becomes deleting the apps: ‘I found the one! I can stop searching! I can delete my app!’”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.