Edged on by colorful advertisements, loud media, and social platforms, our insatiable hunger for stimulation has resulted in a population excessively restricting or excessively indulging in the mass of services and products available. This excess, along with the reality that we don’t put in the effort to examine the cause of our impulses, has generated a society with an inability to control our emotional responses, especially in regards to two of our most basic needs: food and human interaction.
Food is perhaps our most base requirement. Without it, humans cannot sustain their corporal mass.[i] However, with the rising rates in obesity and dieting, it is clear that modern humans have not cultivated a balanced relationship with food. Many of us struggle with weight for two simple reasons: 1) we have an abundance of sugary fatty food at our disposal, and our bodies initial reaction is to consume this matter and 2) constant physical exertion is no longer an essential component for survival, which is problematic since our body is biologically designed to store non-exerted energy for later, more appropriate use[ii]. Therefore, we have a natural inclination to consume the sweet dense food present in abundance around us, as well as conserve our energetic output, and deciding not to buy and consume these substances or to work them off with labor takes significant maturity, a cultivated habit, and an ability to actively disregard the marketing tactics that stores, restaurants, businesses, and advertisers use to take advantage of our underdeveloped emotional intelligence.[iii]
In addition to rising food addiction, issues with over-restricting has also become a common problem. Due to the excess amount of food available, restricting our urge to eat is necessary. But this is hard to master, and as a consequence of images displaying humans with unhealthy percentages of fat and muscle in the media, a significant proportion of the United States population has developed a distorted mentality towards eating. The impact of this reality is that many of us begin restricting our intake of fats, sugars, and carbohydrates while increasing our physical output. Furthermore, as in anything with practice, we can begin to master the art of restricting until we become so adept at the process that we develop a chronic caloric deficit (and are continuously praised for our lean, sculpted appearance until it becomes noticeably jarring). Even those that don’t seem to have an issue with weight, or those that don’t succeed at becoming excessively muscular or thin, become habitual dieters, falling into a continuous cycle of restricting and overindulging, never quite taking the time necessary to balance dietary needs and desires. And the perpetual dieter is the perfect client. Instead of someone who personally addresses their problems with food and exercise, there is an individual addicted to buying both healthy and unhealthy products and services. So, in regards to profit, there is no incentive for the heath[iv] market to provide an effective solution to our obesity, fitness, and dieting epidemic.
Our issue with food is problematic and detrimental to our well-being, however it is one that is relatively overt. We might not have the capacity to adequately deal with our dietary issues due to biological mechanisms, excess, social structures, and competitive, busy lifestyles, but the majority of us are aware of the negative outcome that arises from our issues with overindulgence and under, or over, exertion. However, our issues around love, friendship, community, and loneliness are significantly more complex and not adequately thought-out, mainly due to the reticent manner in which we handle sexuality.
Currently, with the increase in technological communication, we have a vast amount of people to communicate with, but a decreased capacity to form fulfilling intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships. This is primarily due to three reasons 1) the manner in which the internet and certain social platforms link us to thousands of people via shallow, superficially curated profiles 2) our polite manners, repressed emotions, and the professional, detached manner in which the majority of us are forced to present ourselves and 3) our obsession with romance and sex, conjoined with the belief that romance and intercourse are the most powerful ways in which human beings can connect. This third reason is the most underrated.
Sex, like food, is a powerful biological drive that is felt by the majority of us. Sexual urges are pervasive, intrusive, and persistent, and with the sexy images shown in advertisements and media, along with free, ample access to porn, establishing a balanced relationship with this need is a difficult task, and one that is significantly more difficult to achieve for men, as women are excessively sexualized in modern society, and services and establishments that sell sex mainly cater to men. But not only does society manipulate and profit from men’s sexual urges, it also encourages men to form unfulfilling friendships and partnerships. Toxic masculinity, and those that abide by it, generate environments ill-suited for maintaining genuine relationships. The average male has much fewer friendships than the average female, and those friendships are often shallower and revolve around a particular pastime or vocation.[v] Men devote their effort to making bonds that further their careers and their status, but at the expense of their social fulfillment. Furthermore, it is seen as emasculating to express emotion and weakness, so many men shy away from forming vulnerable friendships. Thus, the average male often derives most of his meaningful interactions via sex, and views it as the most profound way to communicate with another human being. But sex alone is not a sufficient form of social interaction for the majority of us, and infrequent, casual sex sessions are only momentarily fulfilling, often resulting in a further craving for sex in order to curb remaining relational needs. And thus begins a compounded cycle for many men (as well as addiction, aggressive behavior, and sexual perversion for an unfortunate number).
It is important to note that this mentality does not affect all men. Furthermore, there are females who have also become negatively affected by the manner in which society portrays romance and sex. Due to the copious amount of romantic novels and movies catered to women, along with the profit generated from products and advertisements selling romance, many women- from a young age- idolize and prioritize romantic customs and elegantly exaggerated dates that are as shallow as they are enticing.
It is not to say that superficial romance and casual sex are a hindrance towards our emotional well-being. They can be momentarily[vi] conductive to happiness if those participating have a strong hold on their desires and reactions. However, the assumption that romance and sex are the most profound ways of communication, along with an obsession with orgasmic sex, partnerships, marriage, and soul-mates, only results in the construction of a lonely society ill equipped to form emotionally fulfilling relationships. [vii]
The overhauling of our emotional and biological reactions towards romance, sex and food is a daunting task. But despite ridding ourselves of the marketing professions and overturning the manner in which our current society functions, there are two ways in which we can handle our emotional responses: 1) alienate ourselves from the world around us or 2) take the time to realize when, how, and why our emotions are triggered and logically dissect the manner in which the environment around us triggers our emotional reactions. The first response, which is what religion and many spiritual sects promote, brings us into a state of isolation and repression where we escape from the external chaos of the modern world or restrain from sex, decadent food, and other highly addictive behaviors, and- in consequence- live in serenity. This is often a necessary step to take in order to achieve the second response, but it must be used as a short-term solution. Attending meditative retreats can be beneficial, as is being a chaste devotee of a religion, but these are more like the fad diets promoted in our modern culture. You practice it for a short while at a yoga center or a service, but then you return to your daily life and fall back into anxious, depressive, and aggressive mannerisms.
It takes continuous effort and practice to uphold any skill. And emotional intelligence is a skill. Even after sixty years of doing so, one can easily slip into negative, addictive behaviors. But, by continuously monitoring your emotional reactions (as well as by studying the emotional responses of others) it is possible to construct a balance in the chaotic disconnect between our internal needs and the external world that surrounds them.
[i] There are some accounts of people surviving without consuming food, but I would have to research those individuals more to write about them.
[ii] This becomes even more problematic as we age and our energy levels plummet.
[iii] It is a widely accepted fact that most of our purchases are driven by emotion.
[iv] This broad terminology includes the medical field.
[v] There are several articles devoted to the topic of male loneliness. This Personal Health article from the New York Times provided me with inspiration for this piece: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/the-challenges-of-male-friendships/
[vi] And momentarily is the key word here.
[vii] Although I break romance and sex into genders, it is important to note that this divide is not absolute. It’s just the manner in which sex and romance are marketed have made specific issues more pervasive and problematic in those with certain gender identities.
Don’t let the media influence you. Without depth, romantic love and sex are shallow forms of connection.