Dr. Christina Villarreal is a clinical psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. For professional inquiries, visit her website here

The evolution of technology into our everyday lives is allowing us to do things more efficiently than ever. The act of finding, experiencing and ending relationships is all now widely available at the touch of a finger to a screen. For many of us, that’s a good (if not great!) thing. We enjoy curbing at least some of our social needs with the app(s) of our choice. We feel socially connected scrolling through people’s blogs, tweets, updates, photos, comments and texts.

Online engagement gives us a chance to be creative, indulge our interests, explore new tech developments, and interact with people in ways we don’t in real life. We appreciate how technology lets us avoid awkward first encounters, sidestep uncomfortable topics, and avoid people’s reactions. Want to end a connection that’s taken a turn for the worse? A response isn’t even necessary- voila! No response says it all.

Tech developers profit on people’s desire for new, lightweight ways to communicate. The new million dollar app YO lets users communicate the same generic ‘yo’ message to anyone, leaving it up the receiver to infer meaning. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) social psychologist Sherry Turkle’s book, “Alone Together” explores the ways online social networks and texting culture are changing how people relate to society, their family and friends. Turkle maintains that people who spend the majority of their time online are more isolated than ever in their non-virtual lives, leading to emotional disconnection, depression and anxiety.

As a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area work, I work with generation Y folks struggling with how to navigate face-to-face social interactions, and manage feelings of confusion and insecurity in response to their ephemeral online relationships. The trend of avoiding the emotional risk associated with live encounters has become wide-spread.

Jason, age 25, in treatment for mild depression and social anxiety speculates “why would I want to go outside and try to meet random people that will most definitely reject me? Nobody talks to anyone in person these days, not even the people they DO know and like already. I have a better chance of meeting new people from my couch with my iPhone. Plus, my Netflix queue won’t watch itself you know.”

Natalie, age 27, in treatment for panic disorder, struggles to manage her symptoms in response to dating, both on and offline. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to think when the guy I’m dating is ‘online now’ whenever I check his profile on the site where we met. When we’re actually together I can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s totally undermining my confidence. I feel like a loser for checking and there’s no way in hell I’m going to ask him about it.”

So what can we do when it feels impossible to meet people offline, or enjoy actual, in person experiences together?

Stop measuring people in real life against ‘online profiles’. People use carefully selected profile pics and behave differently online, showing others only a fraction of who they actually are in real life. Accept that difference, and learn to appreciate the wholeness of real people. Whole people are the foundation and currency of real intimacy and lasting relationships, not online profiles.

Constantly engaging with your social networks means your energy and attention are spent ‘performing your profiles’ instead of experiencing real life. Even if you have a popular profile with tons of views, it’s not your profile that feels lonely and bored, it’s YOU. Start paying more attention to your life offline, invest in real time activities and the people around you for the purpose of enjoyment rather than the chance to ‘share it’ online. It’s going to feel uncomfortable or unnatural at times, and that’s normal and healthy.

Read more: #Love: Hacking Social Isolation

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