Are the digital tools that make it easier to find sex compounding the confusion that accompanies it? New York mag’s Wesley Yang explores the different anxieties that we face in this digital dating age, based on two years of confessions in their Sex Diaries:
The anxiety of too much choice.
A fact so readily apparent that it has escaped reflection: The cell phone has changed the nature of seduction. One carries in one’s pocket, wherever one goes, the means of doing something other than what one is presently doing, or being with someone other than the person one is with.
The anxiety of making the wrong choice.
One with any game at all has unlimited opportunity. A few find this enjoyable and are up to the task: Identify the single best sexual partner available, or at least the person most amenable to their requirements at the moment. They use their cell phone to disaggregate, slice up, and repackage their emotional and physical needs, servicing each with a different partner, and hoping to come out ahead. This compulsive toggling between options winds up inflicting the very damage it was designed to protect against.
The anxiety of not being chosen.
The worry that one will make the wrong choice is surpassed by the fear that one might find himself without one. To guard against this disaster, everybody is on somebody’s back burner, and everybody has a back burner of their own, which they maintain through open-ended texts, sporadic Facebook messages, G-chats, IM’s, and terse e-mails.
Sometimes being relegated to the back burner is a sign of uninterest: the late-night booty call, the option of last resort. As often, it is a place to confine anyone who might become emotionally dangerous. The back burner is a confusing, destabilizing, and exhausting place to be, and yet none of the Diarists—even ones who appear sexually sated—appear to view it as anything but a fact of life. It is clearly less terrifying than the alternative, which is to not be on anyone’s.
The anxiety of appearing overly enthusiastic.
The back burner is a game, and while the Diarists have various ideas about what constitutes winning, they all agree on how you lose: by betraying a level of emotional enthusiasm unmatched by the other party. Everyone’s afraid disarmament won’t be mutual.
To disarm unilaterally is a strategic error on so many levels—it commits you to a degree of openness you might not be able to maintain, and it exposes vulnerabilities that your counterparty might not be able to resist exploiting. It signals desperation, clinginess, high-maintenance. Most of all, it risks exposing the fond hope, better kept to oneself, that one yearns to leave behind the serial fuck buddies, friends with benefits, and other back-burner relationships to which one had, at some significant expenditure of effort, inured oneself.
The goal of any Diarist playing the game, therefore, is to withhold one’s own expectations until one understands what is expected by the other party. These negotiations require supreme discipline. If you betray the wrong kind of avidity at the wrong moment, your counterparty will not hesitate to pitch you into the shark tank.
The anxiety of being unable to love.
True love! Who could say these words in public without acute embarrassment? It is nonetheless something that the Diarists keep referencing, despite the impression they convey that it is an ever-receding ideal. It’s an odd, negative sort of tribute—a vague longing for something all but lost, but perhaps worth clinging to nonetheless.
10 p.m. I want to love her. And I should. I just, well, don’t. She’s the best girlfriend anyone could ever hope to have. I wish that were enough to love her.
These are just five I hand-picked. If you want them all–and trust me, you do want them all–you’re going to have to visit A Critical (But Highly Sympathetic) Reading of New Yorkers’ Sexual Habits and Anxieties.
Image by Dushaun.