Q. How can you feed a relationship?
A. Ask yourself, what’s new about this person that I have missed or ignored? If you box people in and stop looking for information, the relationship suffers. In healthy relationships people don’t assume they already know everything about a partner. It’s one of those small maxims, a mindset shift that’s very helpful. If you’re not curious in your relationships, they will die.
Q. How much does meeting people online hurt us socially, culturally, when we can’t see body language and other subtle cues?
A. I see social networking tools as good for sustaining real world relationships. But as soon as they replace those relationships, they’re very problematic. Part of what makes a social interaction stick is the enthusiasm, the shared laughter and intimacy. There’s a hormonal experience that binds us to a group. All of those things are minimized when we don’t get the nonverbal cues, the physical touch. Of course, especially as we get older and people get farther away, networks, the technology, these are a great way to lubricate a relationship until the next time you meet. But it shouldn’t replace the real thing.
Q. Should you always look for novelty that is positive?
A. Not always. But we forget to focus on things that go right in people’s lives. It’s not enough just to wait for someone to have difficulties so you can be supportive. It’s about being there for them when things go well—which I see as an even greater predictor of trust and love and commitment than being a shoulder for the bad times.
Jennifer S. Holland is senior staff writer at National Geographic magazine specializing in biological sciences and natural history.