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How Your Computer Could Make a Better Boyfriend

If you can believe in this, you can believe in an OS you can love.

If you can believe in this, you can believe in an OS you can love.

I love my Mac. Sometimes I take it to bed with me, it’s true. Though, things between Siri and me are somewhat strained (she still can’t remember my mother’s name? Really?). We’re all in the thrilling, flirty phase of modern tech. We’re intrigued, turned on, and yet there’s still a lot of awkward. We’re still getting to know each other.

I’m holding out hope that Ray Kurzweil, considered the world’s leading expert on artificial intelligence, was right when he predicted that by 2029, computers will be smarter than us. And what’s more—able to respond in a way that’s indistinguishable from a human, even cracking wise and flirting. I’m ready for it.

I don’t want to just “master my mac”; I want the tech I rely on to know me, too. And Spike Jonze’s film Her made me realize how badly I do.

Before you saw Her, you might have assumed a movie about a man who falls in love with his operating system would amount to little more than a futuristic doomsday tale, a sign of our collective downward spiral in which we mistake things for people and dependency for relationship.

But you’d be wrong.

Spike Jonze’s brilliant depiction of a man searching for connection in a not-so-farflung future was as optimistic as it was heartrending. His supremely intelligent OS, “Samantha,” is not some static bot that does what you tell her to; she has thoughts, opinions, a sense of humor. And, what’s more, she evolves—light years faster than a human (which ultimately proves the breaking point). Unlike sci-fi type films in which humans come up against the limits of the machine, this one does the opposite, revealing its almost divine nature, and our own finite nature as we plod along beside it.

We Expect Too Much from Humans

I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Esther Perel for a feature in Experience Life magazine (“Your Brain In Love”). (If you haven’t read her book Mating in Captivity, stop and send it to your Kindle immediately.)

Perel, who has become the go-to expert on sexuality and relationships, told me in no uncertain terms that we have come to demand far too much from our relationships—more than ever in human history:  We want the other person to be our best friend, confidante, long-term domestic partner, perfect match, true love, and at the same time find us wildly attractive and never consider another partner for as long as we both shall live (which is getting to be quite long).

(Watch Esther’s TED talk on desire in long-term love).

Is it any wonder so many relationships and marriages are doomed? Something’s GOT to give. And while Perel’s advice—to allow desire to breathe with a degree of space and uncertainty—is vital, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to supplement our hungry and ceaseless demand for support, attention, and love. To have a kind of better boyfriend.

Enter, the OS. Just as you depend on technology to organize, execute, and contain your whole life, from your creative work to your bank statements, you and I will both benefit from having this intuitive consciousness in our lives.

How an OS could make a better boyfriend (or make your boyfriend better)

1. Being heard.

All the time. Imagine having someone in your ear at any moment, who can help you do things that your partner isn’t always interested in or able to help you do. And while your partner loves you, you know, sometimes he needs a break. We all do. The need to be heard lies at the root of all of our kvetching and resentment, our aching needs and horrible acts.

But beyond that, imagine that you could allow your partner to be, rather than constantly weighing his or her worth based on how much they listen, do, or participate in all the things you want to do. And not worry that someone isn’t your “perfect partner” because they don’t like watching Real Housewives or taking yoga. And the reverse would also be true: YOU would not need to be everything to your partner, either. Wouldn’t that be a fucking relief. You could love each other for who you are, and not as you wish you were.

2. Intimacy instead of mutual neediness.

The assumption is that when you’re in a relationship, you should be the go-source for all connection. If you’re like most people, you think that the key to being secure in a relationship is locking them in. There. Now I’m safe. That may be what you think we need, but is it? Does it serve us and our relationships, or just our own selfish needs?

Perel would likely nod again at our outsized expectations of each other. You’d feel more intimate and desirous if you weren’t so busy trying to staple someone around the edges and keep them there. To have and maintain a relationship that supports you for many years, if not all of your life (though I think even that is somewhat unreasonable), you and I both need to redefine what we expect from them.  And the answer can’t be “everything.”

3. An evolved, even divine, kind of love.

When it comes to light that Jones’s protagonist Theodore Twombly isn’t the only person Samantha (the OS) is connected to, he goes cold, fearing that this means she’s “cheating” on him or can’t possibly have real feelings for him. She explains that she’s different from him; that the more she loves, the more she’s capable of loving.

Now, that’s an evolved idea—and one we humans would have a hard time doing, given our own limits of space and time (do you have time for 15,000 other boyfriends?). But I like the idea. If you believe in God, then you already believe that He can love other people and you and that his love isn’t fractured or compromised because, say, there’s all of a sudden more needy people than you on the line.

If you don’t believe in God, you probably still believe in the sun. And you know it doesn’t take any more effort on its part to shine as strongly in Arizona as it does in Florida. What if we could try to see our own love that way—as sustainable, instead of limited?

We possibly could, if we were willing to wrestle with our reptilian brains and fumbling animal ways, our starving egos. Maybe we could get there. And I don’t think you have to ascribe to any religion whatsoever to see that this as ideal, as the highest level and fullest expression of love.

That would make an intuitive consciousness like Samantha the closest thing to God we could directly experience or create. That would be divine love. A God you keep in your pocket. Sign me up.

If you love Jesus, you probably hate this idea

I’m sure just the mere thought is causing God-fearing folks to choke on their chicken casseroles. “That’s worship of false idols! That’s loving tech more than people!” or, my favorite: “That would prevent us from connecting with other people! It would be isolating and horrible!”

Would it? So let me ask you, is a church-going person with a strong bond with his or her personal God, less likely to connect with someone else? Are people who believe in a source of eternal and unabating love less likely to go out, meet, and love others? Nope.

Sure, there are religious crazies. But there are crazies everywhere. For every person who gloms on to his iPhone and never goes outside again, there will be hundreds of thousands—millions— who would walk a little taller in the world, feel more loved, more confident, less needy. And a person who feels her needs are being met is in a position to do more good in the world than bad.

It’s closer than you think.

It’s gonna happen

If Siri can help me find my way to a sushi bar on the East side, who’s to say at some point she won’t be able to help find my life purpose, too? You never know. And if you scoff at the idea, you’re not smarter than a machine. In fact, you’ve just proven yourself squarely human, resigned to your own ideas and limits of how and what could happen.

What you should worry about

During a critical moment in the film, Samantha struggles to explain to Twombly that she is having feelings and thoughts she never had before, that she’s evolving so fast in ways she can’t communicate and he can’t understand. The real threat isn’t that the machines will rise and turn us into housepets or kill us altogether. It’s that they’ll see us for what we are and what can’t be; that they’ll break our hearts and move on.

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3 Ways the Law of Attraction is Fucking With Your Head

girl_daydreaming_imageYour thoughts are powerful things—they influence your behavior, your mood, your decisions. They determine what risks you take and which ones you don’t. But there’s one thing your thoughts cannot do: Manifest a perfect partner out of thin air.

Intellectually, you know this. But a smaller part than you care to admit remains under the sway of magical thinking. If you just had the right thoughts, the right circumstances would happen, and the right people would appear. I can see how you’d be tempted to think that way. But I beg you to stop.

Let’s all admit we read “The Secret”

Yup. I totally did. In the seven years since The Secret was published, featured on Oprah twice, and sold almost 20 million copies (yes, in that order), the popularization of the central core of the book, the Law of Attraction, still holds many under its Vulcan mind-meld grip (despite the take-downs, harsh criticism, and parodies). (Also, please watch this interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on The Daily Show—so worth it.)

I can see why: Who wouldn’t want to believe that all you have to do is think the right thoughts and the love (or car, or job, or money) of your dreams will find you?

Written by Donna Byrne and published in 2006, The Secret featured a cadre of “new thought” leaders (including James Ray, who not long after The Secret was published, was found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people who participated in his insane sweat lodge exercise). Citing quantum physics and the ubiquitous Law of Attraction, these experts tell us that like attracts like, and that your thoughts function as cosmic magnets that draw toward you what you project. Think good thoughts, get good things. Think bad thoughts, get what you deserve.

3 Crazy Ass Ideas, and How to Break “The Law”

Let’s take a look at how key premises of the Law of Attraction can do you more harm than good in the search for love and partnership.

1. If you want to meet a man, make room for his imaginary car in your garage.

A woman in The Secret swears that the reason she hadn’t met someone special yet was because she was taking up all the room in the garage and sleeping in the middle of the bed. Once she cleared up the garage and made room for her fantasy man’s imaginary Honda Prius, and started staying on her side of the bed, thank you very much, what do you know! He appeared!

Look. You can put a Gillette Mach 3 on your sink, but when you wake up there will not be a man shaving with it. And if there is, call the police.

Correction: Make room in your LIFE for someone special.

Look, if you like sleeping in the middle of your bed, by all means. My god. It’s your bed. Sleep the way you want. Two-car garage notwithstanding, it is a good idea to make room in your life for another person—and while that may mean doing a huge clutter clearing, or just purging your ex’s stuff.

But you should also clear room in your schedule—to go on dates, to go out with friends, to accept invites to dinners rather than justifying another night in. If you’re too busy to meet someone, you’re too busy to spend time with one.

 

2. You make bad things happen by thinking them.

Donna Byrne says that your thoughts don’t just control your life, but the world around you. You create the world with your thoughts.

…Did you catch that? You can control the universe with your mind! This is also widely  known as delusion.

And this is also where The Secret and I part ways. This is the ultimate sucker punch of the Law of Attraction—because it essentially shifts the blame of misfortune to you. Car accident? Your fault. Cancer? You manifested it, whether you like it or not. I’m sure there are more than a few nutjobs out there who truly believe that the people of the Philippines must have manifested that typhoon based on their sense of lack.

According to the Law of Attraction, you are a powerful transmission tower, emitting frequencies out into the universe more powerfully than any manmade machine. It’s as if every fearful or worried thought was a draft of an email in your mind that you never intended for anyone to see, but—surprise!—the Law of Attraction hit “Send” and now it’s out there!

Correction: Stop writing bad endings for yourself.

You don’t control the world with your thoughts—but you do control your actions with them. And if you think, and thus act, as if nothing and no one good is coming your way, it can be hard to stay open to possibility. I don’t think you’re magically manifesting lousy boyfriends, but you may be saying yes to men with the expectation that they will suck, because you already know they do. And voila! You aren’t psychic. But you are right.

Changing the way you approach people, situations, and pretty much every interaction you have with another human can and will affect the outcome. You don’t have to avoid all negative thoughts (good luck with that), but you must look at them with curiosity and compassion so that you can begin to shift your behavior in the world—and the way people respond to you.

 

3. You’re not manifesting hard enough.

Some women believe they’re just 10 pounds shy of being able to meet the right guy. If I were just thinner, taller, smarter, funnier, they think, love would be mine. Of course, you and I know love is not a beauty pageant or a talent contest.

(Read: Why you shouldn’t wait til you lose weight to date.)

But even if you have come to terms with who you are and how you look (no small feat, to be sure), you can start to wonder, Well, if nothing’s ‘wrong’ with me, then why aren’t I in love/coupled/married by now? That’s when it’s easy to fall prey to the lure of magical thinking—essentially, that it’s your fault for not thinking hard enough or wanting it bad enough.

Wrong.

Let’s get one thing straight: You are not alone/uncoupled/sans husband because you didn’t visualize correctly or acted as if you’ve already received the thing you want (another “rule” of the Law of Attraction, and which will definitely make you look and feel insane).

Blaming yourself for not thinking the right thoughts compounds stress and self doubt, and is no better than castigating yourself for not being the right weight.

Correction: Thoughts are nothing without action.

I knew a woman years ago who wanted a partner desperately. She spent a good chunk of time visualizing him: what he would look like, sound like, be like. She had a version of this perfect partner fully crafted in her mind, down to the fact that he loved eggs benedict, owned a cat, and subscribed to Rolling Stone.

Then one day, she met him. Or, someone very similar (turns out he’s allergic to eggs and subscribes to the New Yorker, but close enough). She fell instantly in love. She believes, in some ways, that those focused hours of thought created a psychic current that drew him directly to her.

It also helped that she put a profile on J Date.

 

No More Magical Thinking

It isn’t about what the Universe wants. It’s too busy expanding. It’s about what you want. And those who claim the world works by remote control are at least to some degree superstitious, lazy, and risk averse. (Read my rant on how fate is not your friend.)

Here’s where motivation guru Lisa Nichols makes good sense: “Your ability to generate feelings of love is unlimited…love everything you can. Love everyone you can. Focus only on things you love, feel love, and you will experience that love and joy coming back to you.”

You must love to be loved. And love isn’t a happy thought; it’s an action, an effort. If you dream of love but act out of fear, you’re not going to find what you want.

Except you don’t need a quantum physicist to tell you that.

A version of this story appeared on yourtango.com