There’s an opiate we’re all hopelessly addicted to. Validation powers our trials, endeavors, and everyday lives. If I have this problem, you do too.
When I finished my run this morning, I looked at the distance run and the time and then burst into tears. I was hunched on a chair on my front porch when I felt a hand on my shoulder; my crying had been so loud that it had woken my girlfriend. These were not silent respectable tears, they were somewhere in between the tears of the “leave Britney alone” guy and when your dog died.
I showed her the time and distance and the confusion deepened.
“But that’s great?!”
“I know,” I spluttered. And descended again into James Van Der Beek.
I had run a PB [personal best].
Pathetic, right? And the more I reflected on it, my response was totally bewildering. I am not an exercise fanatic. I am not training for anything. It had not been a race.
I looked again at my phone and it dawned on me. With the little gold medal hanging on my screen and the writing underneath it, “Congratulations, you have run a PB,” I cried again. But this time it was for a different reason: I realized that my initial tears had been relief. Not relief that I had run a PB or that my best years of fitness were behind me, it was the overwhelming and uniquely intoxicating relief of validation.
Consequently, my second round of tears were born out of the realization that I was completely addicted to it. A message on a screen, powered by a hollow algorithm had given me more relief and stability than I had experienced all week.
The source of the validation was particularly unnerving, particularly given that for so long I have been a skeptic of technology’s potential to replace genuine “relationships” with artificial intelligence. In fact, just this week on radio we were discussing the potential of robotic prostitutes in Houston. The company making the robots is deploying them as a means to stop sex slavery.
It’s the same logic which was applied to reduce the amount of Rhino horns being bought on the Chinese black market. Animal activists flood the market with perfect, digitally printed rhino horns and hopefully the customers are unable to discern the replica from the real deal. In terms of the prostitutes: that they would enjoy their experience with the robot as much or, in some cases, possibly more than the real deal (Westworld anyone?). Hence, the desire for human sex workers and in turn the market for sex slaves evaporates. Add in there vastly cheaper costs, unconditional love, no baggage, no STIs, and as many cuddles as you want, and it seems like a good idea.
We are powerless in the clutches of unrequited love, no matter where it comes from; an app’s algorithm, a robot, even your dog. They approve of us without question.
I looked again at the cartoon image of the gold medal on my screen. If that can make me sob like a child, imagine something that could support and nourish my ego intimately? Something that could soothe my doubts with words or the warmth of a carbon-fiber hug?
Going from being a sketch comedian on a stage to working in a radio studio, I could never have imagined the vacuum that was created by the lack of a crowd. I see this nearly every week when we have a guest in who is used to working with a crowd. You can feel how bare they are in a studio; their eyes are constantly flickering outside to search for a laugh or a clap from either our producers or their posse. I can empathize completely. Having a crowd responding to and enjoying something you have written or a character you have developed is an elixir that can only be experienced to be understood. That level of rushing validation is surely the class-A heroin of this drug. Indeed, of all Elton John’s other former addictions, it could only have been this one which has dragged him back to Australia in his late seventies …
As a fangirl learning the radio ropes, I would pore over Hamish and Andy’s show whenever I got the chance. I distinctly remember Woody and I sitting out the front of their studio on a Friday with a six-pack. And those guys never looked outside. The nourishment for them was in each other’s eyes. I witnessed exactly the same phenomenon when I went to go and watch Christian O’Connel’s show the other day: even though he is technically “performing,” his eyes never left Jack and their studio. I have since deliberately positioned myself so that I can no longer see what is going on out there; who laughs and leans into what Woody or I are saying. It took time for me, coming from the stage, but the enjoyment of our show, I have found, lies so clearly in the fun of what I am doing with Woody – regardless of approval.
Former Barcelona superstar Xavi once said of football that “the result is an imposter.” Easy to say from a man who won far more than he lost, but maybe that was the reason he was so successful.
Our need for validation stems from our primal need to fit in; safety in numbers has always been necessary for survival. We are now experiencing the hangover of that instinct. And in some ways, we are incapable of stopping its primal urges. Perhaps the expression “love is blind” should be changed to “validation is blind.” We are powerless in the clutches of unrequited love, no matter where it comes from; an app’s algorithm, a robot, even your dog. They approve of us without question. And what do we crave from our relationships if not someone to tell us that we’re alright, that they approve?
Back to my tear-drenched porch, and the conversation with my girlfriend broadened into other areas where “validation addiction” reigns supreme. She linked it to why many of us give to charity or really do any good deed. She questioned whether benevolence had ever been autonomous, or was it always for the approval you receive afterwards? I argued that, for her, it was not the latter. She has never been one to toot her own horn. She smiled, “I’m not talking about other people’s approval.” As in all the conversations of any worth in our relationship, she had raised me one: nobody else knew about the PB, I was weeping with relief as I was washed with my own validation.
And I suppose that’s a whole other kettle of fish …