Romantic love in Western societies is often portrayed in a stereotypical way: two yearning halves, who search for each other to find their complete, original state. Few find this bliss because it’s a myth, dating back to Plato. In Greek mythology, the perfect lovers were joined together and sliced in two. Love, then, is the desire of each part to find the missing other.
This myth lingers on in popular culture, love stories and romantic comedies. It affects our social identity, which for many is formed by stereotypical, scripted portrayals of relationships. Often, less consciously, we keep on searching for our “missing half” – the ideal – but divorce rates attest to why this ideal doesn’t exist.
Nowadays, many people escape into the virtual world in their search for the ideal relationship. Online dating, flirtatious messaging and “sexting” are often used as an antidote to loneliness, lack of intimacy and the painful experience of loss. In cyberspace, we can be whoever and whatever we desire to be. This gives us pleasure, but it seduces and lures us into the imaginary: the world of the unconscious where desires we didn’t even know we had are immediately satisfied in the virtual world.
It’s easy to become addicted to this virtual world because real-life love can’t compete with it. For some, a return to reality is difficult, or even impossible, as rising internet addictions and online infidelity show. This can result in various emotional (stress, hopelessness, anger, pain) and behavioural reactions (fights, revenge porn, divorce, substance abuse, binge eating or not eating). The link between stress, a broken heart (love sickness), mental health (depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, insomnia) and physical health (exhaustion) is well documented.