addicted to text

Reader N. M. writes:

Whenever I’m with my boyfriend, whether we’re out with friends at dinner, or on the couch watching TV, he is constantly on his phone checking for text messages, looking at Facebook, etc. I don’t think he realizes he’s being rude, but it’s kind of embarrassing, especially when we’re out with friends. He does it particularly when he’s either not interested in what other people are talking about or if he doesn’t know very much about it, which is incredibly disruptive. I want to say something, but how do I say it without coming off like a mom?

Dear N.M.:

This is definitely one of the biggest issues with our delightful 18-35 age group. Smartphones have wrecked our ability to be fully present or social in a face-to-face situation. And being constantly bombarded by all this media isn’t just rude; it’s bad for us and makes us stupider. People who are constantly plugged in are less capable of actually switching between tasks than people who aren’t.

In fact, this media addiction we have has started a new movement in romance: turning off your phone to show someone you love them. You can even get a handkerchief emblazoned with the term “My Phone is Off For You” that will block cell phone service while the phone is wrapped inside. (I guess chivalry isn’t dead after all!)

However, the biggest problem with the text-Facebook-IM addiction our generation has is that we are so often unaware we’re participating in it. Just like in the case of your boyfriend, our casual affair with technology has made it no big thing to keep your phone on the table during dinner, or whip it out while you’re in the midst of a conversation with friends.

the phone in the foreground

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So there’s one consolation: your BF may not be aware that he’s being rude. I think that, since it bothers you, it’s your job to let him know. Tell him directly that it bothers you when he has his phone out during social engagements because it doesn’t feel like he’s interested in the conversation. He may tell you that his lack of interest in the conversation is actually the reason he has his phone out in the first place, in which case your boyfriend is kind of a brat. But also you need to communicate your feelings in this matter — even if he is bored to death by your friends’ conversation, for your sake, could he please just pretend to be interested?

I don’t think it’s scolding or mom-like to communicate with your partner about what troubles you in the relationship. If he’s interested in continuing the relationship, he should be interested in compromise at least.

Of course, you should be prepared for your BF to let you know of any quirks or personality flaws you have that bother him. Your goal here is not to accuse him of anything, but to be open. He may feel defensive anyway. It’s hard to hear that we’re not living up to our partner’s ideals, so keep that in mind when you’re letting him know.

But moreover, you could tell him that you’re not just concerned because he’s embarrassing you in public. You should let him know that it’s a health problem, too. And it makes you two less intimate. And it makes you not want to have sex with him! (That gets the boys listening EVERY TIME, Lysistrata.)

If he recognizes it’s a problem and is willing to give up a bit of ground, set up a few ground rules to wean him off his Facebook checking. Start small. Talk about when it’s appropriate to have the phone out. Can he check his email while waiting for a movie to start? Can he look at Facebook while he’s alone for a few minutes standing at the bar or in line for the bathroom? If he can handle those without keeping the phone out the rest of the evening, maybe he can keep his phone on him, in his pocket. If not, he should have to put it somewhere inaccessible during the meal or night out. Have him leave his phone in the car when you’re out with friends. After a few trips out without the phone, it gets easier.

If he won’t leave the phone in the car or at home, make up a signal you can give him to ask him to put his phone back in his pocket without having to say, out loud, “PUT IT AWAY” in front of other people. Agree on it and make sure he understands that you’re trying not to embarrass him by mommy-ing him, but that he has to be just as nice about not embarrassing you with his phone usage.

If you want to be extremely antagonistic, go on and embarrass him. Call him out in front of everyone. I say this should be a last resort, after you’ve talked about it and he’s acknowledged that it bothers you, and not something you should just do out of the blue. But if you’ve had the convo and he knows it’s a problem for you, but he does it anyway, then I say you can make it a problem for him, too. You don’t have to be passive aggressive about it by saying something like, “Gee, sorry we’re not entertaining enough for you.” Just say to him, “Can you please put your phone away?”

Or you could buy him one of those handkerchiefs. As a hint. And one for yourself, too. I think it could be the new promise ring, honestly.

Which brings me to the most important aspect here: make sure you’re not being a hypocrite about it. If he can’t play with his phone while you’re out with friends, neither can you. You may not realize that you’re just as addicted to texting and Facebook as he is, because you just do it when nobody else is around. Take this opportunity to check yourself for your own tech addictions. If you’re 18-35, you probably have a similar problem. Let him know you’re committed to getting on the wagon with him, for the sake of your relationship.


1 Response to “addicted to text”

  1. 1 ALBert
    December 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Id prefer the method of texting him to call him out -“Put the fone away, more flowers” … “damn autocorrect, i meant mother fucker!”

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