Sexual Intelligence

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Manti Te'o Reveals a Generation's Intimacy Problems

Today's young people don't look forward to actual experiences of intimacy.

Forget the hoax, forget Notre Dame, forget college football.

What I notice is that this guy was in love with someone he never met, devastated by her supposed death, and everybody thinks that’s perfectly reasonable.

Crank up the ol' Model T and excuse me if I sound like an old curmudgeon, but this is one of the problems with today’s young people: high school and college kids don’t date. Many don’t actually date in their 20s, either. Instead, they show up at clubs. They hope they run into someone at a party. They don’t make plans. They tweet “Hey, ‘sup?” on Saturday night and wait for a tweet from someone, somewhere.

In short, they don’t look forward to being alone together. This is developmentally reasonable—for 10-year-olds.

According to the New York Times, many students and young adults have never been on a conventional date. They haven’t experienced the excitement, the disappointment, the longing, the courage, the insecurity, the loneliness, or the triumph of connection that late-20th-century courtship customs (imperfect as they are) require or bring. Young people are thus deprived of the growth such experiences offer.

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It appears that many young men and women don’t entirely recognize each other as fellow beings. They’re just not that curious about each other, and so they don’t see face-to-face, personal communication as a wonderful opportunity. Rather than being a familiar, foundational activity, face-to-face talking is an intrusion into what really matters—checking your iPhone.

And that’s exactly what we need to be concerned about: we’ve stopped teaching our children how to communicate face-to-face with other human beings. We take children too young to have fully learned how to participate in relationships, give them the most advanced technology for impersonal, asynchronous “communication” in the history of the world, and let them use these devices at the dinner table, while being driven to school, and any other time they have to interface with adults—people who might actually help them learn something about relationships. And kids naturally use them with each other, too—an average of 93 times per day.

What happens? When the time comes, they have little idea how to date, court, or create one-on-one, face-to-face relationships. They haven’t learned how to ask a real person real questions—watching that person’s face as they listen to the answer. They’ve never experienced the risk of reaching out to take someone’s hand—and watched that person’s face as they agreed or declined.

If we don’t teach children to relate, don’t demand that they engage, and give them the means for endless solitary entertainment, they cannot and will not learn to relate in a deep way.

Historically, most people have had their marriages arranged for them, and they’ve managed well enough. But they rarely thought they were in love, and they generally weren’t pursuing some ideal of “intimacy,” which people today claim they desire. In contrast, today’s young people (eventually) want to fall in love, and say they (eventually) want intimacy. You need skills for that. And today’s young people simply aren’t learning those skills. It’s easy to have sex. It’s way harder to have a relationship in which you have sex.

Now please don’t blame porn. It’s true--and ridiculous--that some men expect women to be porn stars, and some women are trying to compete with porn actresses, but that’s not the point. If porn now provides a template for the non-relationships that young men (and increasingly young women) value, we have to ask why such a template looks attractive. The answer is that too many young people have nothing more intimate to compare it to. Young people aren’t learning to embrace anyone—because they’re not learning to want to embrace anyone.

So moms and dads, don’t give your kids smartphones and unlimited digital access until they’re at least 40 years old.

OK, here’s Plan B: demand that your kids learn how to interact with actual people. You, of course, will have to be some of those actual people. Those phones your kids use are your phones, not theirs, so establish phone-free hours in their lives (including between bed-time and breakfast, when kids exchange millions of text messages).

Was Manti Te’o in on the live/dead girlfriend hoax? It really doesn’t matter. Because we’re all participating in a much crueler swindle—depriving our kids of the need to see the human face, hear the human voice, and sense the human heart while communicating. That has to be part of learning to love an actual human.

Marty Klein is a certified sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist. He has written five books and 200 articles about sex; his TV appearances include 20/20 andNightline. more...

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