Jack, a new patient who has been married for eight years with two young sons, rails against Facebook: “Let’s see, yesterday my wife: Felt bloated, realized she has nothing to wear, posted yet another adorable photo album of our boys dressed as Jedi warriors, was missing Michael Jackson and, oh yeah … DID NOT HAVE SEX WITH ME!”
Another patient, Katrina, complains that her husband is constantly tracking her every Facebook move. “He’s always been the jealous type, but now he’s like a stalker. Every new friend is an interrogation.” Out of exasperation, she’s decided to deactivate her account, but feels angry and smothered. “It’s like I’m being monitored by the thought-police!”
Fred complains that every time his wife posts something to her Super Wall, he realizes just how boring their lives have become. “Do I really need to know that my wife is about to do something totally nutty like go have a second cappuccino? What happened to the wild woman I fell in love with?”
We’ve all heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt,” but in this age of social networking, perhaps familiarity breeds something even worse: boredom. Our Super Walls don’t separate us as much as bring us a form of intimacy that often borders on banality, and where we gain connectivity with our partners we may actually forfeit connection. In a “Facebook marriage,” a sense of mystery is subsumed by the mundane.
We need to constantly cultivate a sense of newness and novelty in our relationships and defend vigilantly against forces that work against it: like your spouse’s Super Wall. If you think back to those early days of your relationship and the first throes of romance, there was a time when you didn’t know every little thing your partner was thinking or doing, when the pursuit of knowing each other drove you to new levels of desire and passion.
Sure, it may have been a little scary to wonder if the phone was going to ring, or if you’d like each other’s friends, but it also was thrilling. A sense of separateness and “not knowing” is scary, but it’s also essential to attraction. The conventional wisdom tells us that in relationships there should be no secrets, there should be nothing to hide, but if nothing is hidden, then what is there to seek? When you’re in a long-term relationship, you don’t need more information about your partner, you need less.
I recently went to the playground with my 3-year old son, Beckett, and watched as he ran off on his own to explore and play — but not without looking back at the bench to make sure I was still there. If I do my job right as a parent, there will come a day when he won’t need to look over his shoulder and check to see if I’m there. He’ll be able to live his own life and just know that I’m there. Which is the same way I feel about my relationship with my wife. The more we trust each other to live our own lives, the more there is to share with each other.
Which is why I’m not suggesting you deactivate your Facebook account. Far from it. Social networking is an amazing way to stay connected with friends old and new and maintain some of that much-needed separateness. A few minutes on Facebook allows us to briefly emerge from our merged lives. And we should be able to do that on our own, outside of the gaze of our partners.
So go ahead, unfriend your spouse. You might just gain a lover.
Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including "She Comes First" and "Love in the Time of Colic." He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.iankerner.com.