Richard’s Blog

Is it time to swipe dating apps left?

Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, and their ilk, are now part our cultural currency. As the lingua franca of the dating scene, they are also synonymous with hook-ups and sexual quick-fixes, but there is something else they are being connected with.

Many are questioning the mental health implications of the habitual use of these apps. After all, your physical appearance becomes your premium currency for acceptance – we are reducing our selection of a mate to almost exclusively what we see and not what we experience. And that is leading us to places we may have never wanted to go.

Now, I’m no single, frustrated hater because other lads are bagging women and I’m not (though it’s true I’m single…for now!). But I am fascinated by how dating dynamics are being shaped by these apps.

I remember my first experience of speed dating, the real world equivalent of dating apps. (I was just there to support a friend…honest). After every contour of my countenance had been scrutinised for any sign of ugly, I was left kinda cold, but with a fascinating insight which I think relates.

Has this kind of dating brought consumerism to the most organic and exciting of processes: finding that spark between two people? Does this person-window-shopping slightly dehumanise us, reducing our worth to nothing more than our appearance and the first impression we’ve made? We have consumerised a natural process and taken some of the spontaneous beauty from it. Has being chosen been reduced to the length of time it takes to boil an egg?!

Chosen! Now there’s a word. Author and speaker, Shmuley Boteach, said the one thing humans seek above everything else is to be chosen. To be (romantically) chosen is about primacy and exclusively! But in a relationship, you get to choose. And in being chosen there is a deep awakening of something in us; we feel more human.

And so maybe the consumer-like use of dating apps for that next fix is telling us something else about our needs: we are built for meaningful connection. But dating apps seldom produce meaningful connection.

So where is this leading us? According to one psychotherapist, into behaviours that would have usually been classed as pathological and/or addictive.

It is the soothing effect of the swipe, mixed with the shot of dopamine when we find a match. But compared to our ancestors who would catch the eye of that special someone across the courtyard, we have endless photos to view (all at their best). Our marketplace is full of ‘plenty of fish’ to borrow the title of a dating website. Surely, this breeds a mindset in the user that who ever we meet, there might just be someone better, and so we keep on playing. To me, that feels unhealthy.

Maybe it is emotionally detached, too, created by low vulnerability due to low risk.  Indeed, creating this dating safe space it may have become more like a prison – a constant and unintended judge in our life telling us whether we have been chosen or not. But this has implications.

It reduces our relational currency primarily to what we look like. Reducing value to the physical. This is not sustainable, or desirable. Looks change and, in the end, they are not what holds a relationship together. So have we created a potentially perpetual loop of failure with each guy or girl coming and going, something Tinder is infamous for? Yet, it is hard to find a way out; these apps have forced a whole generation into an on-line marketplace where, if you leave it, you leave your largest pool of potentials. Truly, a dating catch-22.

So what can be some of the solutions? Here are three simple ideas:

First, consider a bespoke dating website (instead of an app) that prioritises personality and group identity. Your locus of value will shift to what is on the inside, rather than the outside.

Three years ago, I joined a public speaking club, not to find someone, but it has widened my social circle. I have made some potential life-long friendships and there is always the possibility…!

The more face-to-face social groups you can connect with, the greater the chance of finding a life-long mate. For me being part of a faith group has been a very healthy source of connection and dating pool. I’m not suggesting you do the same just for that reason, but you may find it is a healthy addition to your life.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to swipe dating apps left?

Happy Sober New Year

Australia is already there. In the New Year, that is. And as I have family there, my phone has been inundated with pictures of food, fireworks, and empty glasses where once an alcoholic beverage resided.

Margheritas have migrated to champagne with the usual cajoling to get one of my unsuspecting family members tipsy.

But ever thought of having a sober New Year?

As I was reading through this New Year’s narrative on my Facebook messenger, I had this crazy thought: what if I experienced their hangover before I even got to my New Year’s bash? Strange thought that could only exist in the realm of Doctor Who, but think about it, if people had to experience the hangover first, before getting inebriated, then I suspect drinking would decrease.

I met a friend yesterday for coffee. As we walked to the local Costa, she had second thoughts: “Shall we get an alcoholic drink? I fancy one!” But it was the middle of the afternoon! We stuck to coffee where she later admitted she had been drinking more to let off steam from a very difficult decision she is having to make. Many of us find alcohol an escape.

So what about tonight?

I’m having a quiet one. I’ll visit a friend in Stevenage. I offered to bring a small Gin & Tonic for us both (my favourite alcoholic drink) but my friend declined. Her reasons? “I get really bad when I drink.” I respected her honesty. But I suspect the worst comes out in many of us when we have a little liquor running through our life blood. Author of the bestselling book, Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig describes himself as a part-time teetotaller, “I love drinking, but if I drink too much then it can trigger anxiety and then depression.”[1] So maybe, in 2019, we need to rethink our relationship with alcohol.

Indeed, ever asked yourself if you are a drink pusher? I remember the most recent stag night I attended. Us lads, as if it has become a rite of passage, played beer pong…(with some things that were a little stronger than beer). I played but deferred on the drinking if someone got the ball in the cup. Yes, I’m a big wus! But I also wanted to stay sober. One of the guys didn’t like it and made known his discomfort about me not being ‘one of the lads’. It’s funny how drink pushers need an accomplice to have fun and to validate their behaviour.

Drinking alcohol is so embedded in our culture, but that doesn’t mean we have to be swept along with it. So here are some ideas if you want to adjust your relationship with alcohol in 2019.

If you are drinking to deal with a problem, there is probably a conversation you are not having. Whether that conversation needs to take place with a person in your life or a professional, take steps to start talking. Drinking is only a one-way conversation that seldom gets the results you are looking for.

If letting off steam is what it’s about, then a good dose of exercise might be for you.

And finally, if you want something in your hand that keeps the drink pushers away, go for a virgin Bloody Mary – the great taste of a Bloody Mary, just without the vodka.

Enjoy tonight.

Notes:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46632332

‘Peace on Earth.’ Really?!

Ever wondered what all this ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ is about?

Maybe you have heard it at this time of year in the songs on the radio, or from the lips of choirs standing at supermarket entrances singing carols. Well, you are about to hear it one more time in the Queen’s annual Christmas Day message to the nation.

She will share with us that “peace on earth and goodwill to all” is a message that is “never out of date.”[1]

This is something I like about the Queen: so understated in her views, yet so sure in her faith. It’s not just admirable but somewhat attractive.

But the cynic in me does want to question the ‘peace on earth’ bit of her message, or, rather the Christian message. As she says, we need the message as much now as ever. I would agree. If you take a look at this map created by IRIN (an organisation reporting on the the inside story on emergencies) which plots the on-going wars around the world, then you can see we are not a world at peace, or anywhere near it.

But how did Jesus bring it?

Looking at baby Jesus – helpless and needy – he doesn’t strike me as a change agent to bring peace. Babies usually disrupt the peace with their crying. But, I know, Jesus did grow up, as the story goes. Maybe we are not fully familiar with his life story, but we probably know what happened in the end. He was accused of breaking a religious law by the over-zealous religious Jews of the day, convicted in a very questionable way, and sentenced by a Roman leader called Pilate, to death by crucifixion. At the end of his life, he appears as helpless as he was when he was a baby. Unable to bring peace at all.

Some may argue, when you look at Jesus’ life and especially how he acted in the midst of the injustice and his subsequent execution, that he was a man of peace, exemplifying peace through his speech and actions. But I think there is another reason why when it comes to Jesus, there really is hope for ‘peace on earth.’

As someone who has read the words of Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible, I have come to realise that Jesus was not under any delusion that he was somehow going to bring peace to this world now. In fact, his words (some of which you may be shocked by) stated quite the opposite. Jesus was aware of our ability, or inability, to achieve peace. Simply, we’ve never been good at solving conflicts and we will never achieve peace by ourselves. So is peace on earth ever possible? Jesus chimed in on this question and had something to say about it.

One of my favourite songs about the birth of Jesus holds a glimpse of the answer. It is called ‘Mary, did you know?’ and has been redone by the group Pentatonix[2], with over 195 million views on YouTube. One of the lyrics goes like this, “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

The message brought to earth by Jesus was not a pipe dream that humans would now find peace by themselves because baby Jesus had turned up. But a message of hope that through the help of a returning Jesus (often referred to as his second coming) he will bring peace to earth as king over all the nations.

It is this message that will never be out of date. A message we can look forward to when on that great day we will hear not from the greatest monarch of our day, the Queen, but from the greatest Monarch ever, Jesus.

Notes:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46666362

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE

“Aw, hello hen!”

Have you seen the viral video showing a granddad’s doorstep reactions, posted this week? This door-opening diary compilation is of a granddaughter’s visits his house. It is heart-warming seeing this head pop round the door and give a similar greeting, with different nuances each time he opens it to Jenny Barclay.

After posting the compilation on twitter it racked up 8 million views. The 87-year-old granddad, Robert in Methil in Fife, Scotland, has become quite the Twitter star with his “Aw, hello hen,” greetings.

What is so captivating is his joy mixed with humour and a smile. The welcome is infectious; it is as if you feel he is greeting you. Like we are participating in an intimate moment, yet so public. This has made me think.

Think about how I react when I meet family members. Is it with the same unhindered open joy? Maybe some of us, me included, are a little grudging about saying hello at our front doors or on the phone (we are always so busy). Do people get a weary or frustrated greeting from us? Maybe an angry one?

This got me thinking about another comment I heard this week. This time from my colleague.

She was leaving our shared office. And in a very odd occurrence, religion flashed into our parting conversation (…come to think about it, I don’t know how it shoe-horned its way in, but it did). Somehow God was the subject, maybe it was because I said I was going to church on the weekend, or something like that. But whatever the reason, what was more interesting was what she then replied with. Maybe you share her opinion.

Reflectively, as if she was making a micro-evaluation of the concept, she said, “I don’t have faith…it was the fear factor. We were taught to be fearful of God.” I realised my colleague had fallen out of favour with faith because of a negative concept of God. Maybe this thought resounds with you. Maybe you’ve heard this before. Maybe the fear factor turned you off faith. Maybe you don’t believe in God at all.

What could I say to my colleague?

Ok, I believe in God. But I have never identified with a God that felt like the one that had taken form in the mind of my colleague. A kind of capricious, angry God whom I’m fearful of. I have another picture of God. One that is based on a description found in the Bible. A picture similar to the granddad in the viral video. One when you knock on his door, he’s happy to see you.

I guess this is one reason it is my favourite Scripture. It was written by a man who was pretty low. Things had not gone well. In fact, his city, had been surrounded and destroyed by an army, and he was facing possible death. Yet, for comfort, he recalled something he knew about God to mind and said this, Because of the Lords great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.[1]

Maybe you feel fearful of God. Remember, he’s happy to hear from you.

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

[Photo by Mathias Konrath on Unsplash]

Too Close to The Flame

This blog tries to avoid commenting on politics, but occasionally things get so confused and heated it’s impossible to resist the temptation. It seems our political class and the media are in a mad frenzy regarding Brexit, with some calling for an immediate vote on the Brexit plan, others a second referendum, and others still for Prime Minster Teresa May to go.

Some MPs and the media are going around in circles trying to convince us that the UK faces a massive disaster if there is no deal, that this deal is the only one on the table, and if MPs don’t back it, we could end up with no deal at all.

We are not here to argue the case for or against the deal, but we are here to suggest there is a completely different point of view in all this turmoil.

One healthy question we can ask ourselves is, should we get so passionate and fired up about it? We probably know the story of Icarus from Greek Mythology who flew too close to the sun, resulting in his feather and wax wings melting. He consequently fell into the sea and drowned.

Likewise, we can fly too close to the politic heat and debate, becoming too passionate about politics, getting too involved, and end up burning relationships with other people who have a different point of view. Passion is a good thing in many ways, often passion and enthusiasm go together, and those qualities lead people to achieve many good things. But our passion for what we believe should never lead us into a situation where we forget the other person who has a different way of looking at things and might be just as passionate about their views as we are about ours.

When our passion for our political views becomes intolerant, judgmental, and set in concrete, we stop listening to other peoples’ points of view. It can happen to all of us, especially on the issue of Brexit. When we stop listening to the other person’s perspective, then our opinion becomes hardened and narrow, and feelings can quickly escalate to hatred and even violence. We become contemptuous of the other person, putting ourselves on a pedestal which pride won’t let us climb off.

Flying too close to the flame of passion in politics, or in any other area, can create a self-satisfied disregard for other people. Eventually that damages us; people get fed up of our single-minded obsession with our own views.

So while it’s fine to have an opinion about matters, either national or local, even to feel passionately about the rights and wrongs of a situation, always remember balance and control are much more attractive in an individual. I think I am a passionate and enthusiastic person with strong opinions, but I hope I am always willing to listen and learn.

After all, when you stop learning you start dying! There is also a valuable proverb that I try to remember, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper, than one who takes a city.”[1]

Keith Hartrick.

[Keith is a retired Managing Director and the church leader of our Leeds congregation, Grace Communion International. He is editor of Richard’s blogs.]

Notes:

[1] The Bible Proverbs 16:32 (NIV)

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