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Love Online – Why Relationships Are Ending With a Click
You know that line from TS Eliot’s poem, “The world ends not with a bang but a whimper”?
Could it be possible that modern relationships have not yet come this far, with many ending up with nothing but the gentlest of mouse clicks?
Talking to a friend’s sixteen-year-old daughter, a casual discussion about her “love life” led to some disturbing discoveries about online love.
While she enthusiastically recounted wonderful conversations, brilliant games, and exciting vacation plans she had shared with the man of the moment, when I asked about actual times, places, and dates, she became strangely subdued.
He finally admitted that things were going well online…but the pair had never spoken a word face to face.
Single White Female, Seeking Committed Texter
I could see that she was upset by this fact and encouraged her to speak up.
Here’s what he had to say to a young woman who found love online:
- When we are actually in the same room, we have nothing to talk about.
- I feel so embarrassed when he looks me in the eye that I have to look away.
- Talking to someone face to face is a lot of hard work.
- It’s much better to try and edit what you want to say.
- If I see a guy in person, I get so nervous that I just tell him to text me.
It was my turn to become submissive. This list of worries seemed to overwhelm her. When I asked her if she had worked through any of these issues with a special man, she looked at me as if I had suggested she bungee jump off a building without a rope. Oh no. She and her friends had decided to take another tack.
They only have relationships with guys who are really good texts.
As I desperately tried to find an appropriate G-rated comment, he added with wide-eyed sincerity, “People are much more beautiful on their profiles, than in person.”
Forget Mr Right, or even his brother Mr Right Now.
Many of today’s young women, it seems, are just developing relationships with Mr Click Right.
You have Mail
It is a given that modern forms of communication such as the telephone and the Internet are incredibly effective and accessible to teenagers.
But they also distance the user from other people and from reality.
- How many of you out there would rather receive a text than a phone call?
- How many of you have been “abandoned” or broken a friendship over email?
- Who has a username that’s a little mysterious or fancy?
- Which avatar reflects a component of their fertility, internal person rather than their yearbook photo… (or is everyone really a superhero with a name usually reserved for birds of prey..?)
As a teenager, I had a number of pen pals, and even exchanged some infatuated letters.
Protected by the physical distance that such communications allow, I could talk openly and honestly about a wide range of topics. I don’t have to worry about my voice catching in my throat or spinach lodged in my braces. He wasn’t distracted by having to interpret the body language signals that pinged off teenage males as foreign transmissions.
But most of these pen pals lived in very accessible places like Finland and Colombia and it was unlikely that our paths would cross at the local fish and chip shop.
So, like desperate teenagers everywhere, I had to “put myself out.”
This was painful, yes, with many embarrassing moments where I suddenly lost the ability to speak English or where I tripped over a floral pattern on the carpet.
But I survived and even learned to ride that exciting wave that lifts you relentlessly towards the most humiliating moments, only to have the object of your affection smile at you and say the most perfect thing.
This – all young readers here – is a phenomenon called “encounters”.
Beyond the Pick Up Line
Dating is ultimately about communication.
If you examine those rare creatures that can turn the most horrible dating experience into a smashing success, you will usually find that they are great communicators.
I have a friend who has dated extensively and successfully for many years. She has her fair share of cringe-worthy moments, but instead of taking a setback as a personal affront, she sees it as a challenge and does everything in her power to make it work.
This includes applying some of the basic rules of effective communication.
Here are six of the principles to communicate effectively, which I apply to a dating scenario for any face-to-face first-timers:
- Know your Audience – if your online exchanges have been real, you probably know a lot about your date. Test this by asking questions about some of their interests. Encourage them to learn more about you by sharing some personal stories or insights. Focus on the story, not on your sweaty palms and before you know it you’ll be chatting faster than you could ever touch type!
- Know your Purpose – be clear about why you spend time with this person. If you’ve been honest about your intentions online, then this should be a breeze. Even say in advance what you want to get out of the date, so there are no crossed lines.
- Know your topic – in a date, your theme is simple: you and the person you are with time. Come prepared to talk, even if you have to repeat some anecdotes before you go. Years later, when you’re sitting together in the old folks’ home, looking back on fifty years of marriage, you can laugh about the cue cards you pocketed on your first date!
- Anticipate misunderstandings – face-to-face communication with someone is open to miscommunication. Expect that you will disagree on things or that you may not express your thoughts as clearly as the wonderful texts you build online. Learn to clarify your opinions and laugh at disagreements.
- Communicate a little at a time – short dates are often good dates! You can also limit the conversation by going to a movie or game where body language can do most of the work.
- It presents information in many ways – face-to-face communication is only a form of expression. Texts, phone calls, emails, letters are all excellent ways to communicate – they don’t have to be the only ways!
Reading between the lines (Blog).
Ultimately, what makes us great communicators is our ability to read other people.
With body language making up much of the communication we share with others, it is essential that we encourage our young people to develop the skills of reading the emotions and intentions of others.
But it seems to me that in the case of my young friend this was taken literally, with a focus readingrather than engagement with the people around her.
As a writer and teacher and avid reader, I urge people to keep reading and exploring the way others present themselves on paper.
But if your goal is more than a one-dimensional intelligence, then put the phone and the mouse aside and communicate with the person, instead of the profile.
The problem with communication is the illusion that it happened.
– George Bernard Shaw
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