Love in the time of gorging
By Jennifer Allison
couple of years ago, while perusing the clearance section at Half Price Books near Seattle, I came across a volume called "Mindless Eating" by a Cornell University food psychologist named Dr. Brian Wansink. I usually don't read diet books but I do enjoy odd little speculations about how our brains work in relation to specific subjects. I read it simultaneously with "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," by technology writer Nicholas Carr.
One was about our brain on the Internet; the other about our brain on food. Around the same time, I entered the world of online dating.
What do online dating, overeating and our brains on the Internet have in common? From my own experience, everything: They all tug at the same underlying issue.
We are a generation that likes to collect and to gorge. We gorge on food, on information, on people. We create conflict within our body and minds, and with others. But here's the thing: once we generate all that conflict, we no longer need to resolve it. Why? Well, we can always move on. We can try another diet, read a different web page or just dive back into the online world and find a different partner. Why bother eating less, reading a novel or even resolving a conflict with someone you've started dating — and care about — if you don't really have to?
Wansink's book mentioned a study involving two groups of students. While watching a movie, one group was given a bowl with 11"flavors" of M&M's — 11 colors, that is — while the other got a bowl with only seven colors. Now, I know and you know that color doesn't influence how M&M's taste. Still, the group with the 11 colors ate over 40 percent more than the group given only seven. Intriguing.
Before I began my online dating ride I had a conversation with a "veteran," a guy I knew had been at it for years. He was fortyish, good-looking, and well-educated. He leaned toward younger women, since he wanted a family and didn't think women close to his age could give him one. Fair enough.
After he described the women he'd been talking to and dating I asked him a simple question: Have you ever been out on a date with a beautiful, interesting and composed woman whose company you really enjoy, but in the back of your mind wondered how many texts, emails or the like might await you at home or on your phone — messages from other women?
Sheepishly, he said "yes." My knee-jerk reaction was that I could never be so shallow. I was above all that. But thinking about it a bit more I realized that I'd been guilty of the very same thing on occasion. I'd been on dates where concentrating on what would have been a good conversation with an interesting man was difficult because I couldn't take my mind off the text I'd received from some Mr. X an hour before the date began. Later, while alone, I'd feel guilty and promise myself I'd never let it happen again. But it did. I also found myself dismissing a potential long-term partner far more easily.
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