Sugar - it is the basic unit of energy for our body. Without it, we would die. Everything we eat is converted ultimately to glucose, and this provides the energy we need for the body to function. So, over millions of years of evolution, our bodies have developed a highly efficient system designed to seek sugar - our instinctive love of sweetness is a powerful and primal desire. As long as this sugar came from natural sources, our bodies remained healthy. But, somewhere along the way, we developed technology and the ability to extract and refine sugar. Now you can eat sugar in its purest form - crystalline and potent. This form of sugar hijacked ancient evolutionary systems, spiking blood sugars and causing havoc in the metabolic system. Yet we are unable to resist the appeal of sugar, driven as we are by powerful evolutionary forces. Now the same systems that evolved for survival are confused and overwhelmed when presented with sugar in its most refined form. Ironically, the same substance that we were designed to seek for our survival had now become a cause of disease.
Love, sex and romance is similar to sugar.
Your brain and body are driven by subconscious powerful mating strategies and primal desires that evolved to perpetuate our species. On the one hand, it would benefit a species to procreate rampantly and not just with one partner. And indeed, this is the case with many animal species. However, the human baby, if it is to survive, needs caregivers and parenting for years. Evolution then had to create a way for parents to stay around long enough to ensure the child’s survival. And so, our biology has two opposing desires and forces - a desire to connect and form long-lasting romantic bonds, and a desire to find new sexual and romantic partners. The human brain therefore carries a tension and conflict between monogamy and polygamy. In our country, for centuries, these powerful primal forces were held in check by equally powerful social mores and values, the desire for polygamy curtailed by society.
In the last decade, two social changes are transforming Indian sexual and romantic behaviour:
The gradual attrition of social norms - India is a young country and one where socialism and traditional norms are giving way to more individualistic lifestyles. People are more free to do what they want to do, rather than worry about repercussions in society.
The explosion of social media, Tinder and similar dating apps - for the first time in history, people can meet and connect with those outside their immediate social circle anywhere, anytime. The promise of love and sex is only an app away.
Our biology, already designed to seek love, sex and attachment, is now inundated with choice. Not satisfied with this person? Swipe left and find another person. Not happy in this relationship? Why waste time trying to figure it out when a better person may be waiting for you on your phone. Tinder and dating apps are the refined sugar of love, romance and dating. And so, relationships start to breakdown, sometimes even before they have begun. Commitment is more difficult; tolerance and patience are less. Apps make comparisons inevitable, and the person you know can easily seem less appealing than the glossy fantasy offered by the next profile.
Dating apps increase the pool of potential partners and make it easier to meet people. But, on the other hand, they also make sex and romance, perhaps even the people who are on the app, a commodity; the human element is lost. Everyone projects their best self and have to, in a sense, sell themselves to prospective partners. Many people report feeling empty and dejected by interactions on dating apps, as they begin to shy away from genuine connection, shielding themselves from rejection by not allowing emotional investment in the first place. There is a danger then, that technology can create an epidemic of meaningless sex, empty relationships and trivial intimacy.
But, as a psychiatrist who has worked with couples and individuals in the US and in India, I have great faith and hope in the human spirit. Ultimately, I believe, the appeal of easy intimacy from these dating apps will fade. Like a child who grows up, tires of candy and starts becoming more discerning, we will ultimately realise the emptiness of transient and meaningless hookups.
Deep down, we are aware of our existential position, transience, mortality and our relative insignificance, being adrift in a vast universe. True love and commitment connect us with a greater power, something larger than ourselves. And so, the desire for genuine connection, authentic intimacy and commitment will assert itself. Ultimately, of the two forces in our brains and hearts, it is long lasting connection that will triumph.
Someday, instead of dating apps, we will have love apps - designed not to decrease commitment but to help us find true love, intimacy and trusting relationships. And then, we will swipe our way into genuine love and intimacy.
Bhat is a Bengaluru-based psychiatrist and founder of seraniti.com