Dear Wayne and Wanda,
“Julie” and I met online and talked over phone calls and texts for a few months before we finally met. We both had reasons for wanting to go slow. She had been through a bad breakup. We were both unsure of our age difference: she’s 34 and I’m 49. Personally, I wasn’t interested in casual dating, and wasn’t sure she’d be able to make a long-term commitment.
When we finally met in person, the connection was instant and we soon became engaged. Many of my close friends were worried that I was moving too fast, but I felt confident in her and us, and we planned to have a long engagement.
But I’m less sure now and it’s all because of her phone. She is on her phone constantly. For example, when we go to dinner, it’s face up next to her, lighting up with alerts and messages, and it’s like she’s not able to wait and respond later. When I’ve told her I feel it’s rude when she’s on her phone when we’re out together, she tells me I’m “old” and I sound like her dad. She constantly posts pictures and asks me to take her picture so she can post pictures, and she gets stressed when her pictures don’t get many likes and reactions.
Julie is a beautiful woman. That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to her in the first place. But this constant need for validation and attention, the way she so desperately needs her friends’ approval, and her inability to be present in our relationship is killing it for me. I feel like at age 49 I’m on a different level on this issue and when I try to talk to her respectfully she gets defensive. Any tips?
I suspect this topic will resonate with many of our readers, as you may experience a more extreme version, but nonetheless a version of what has become a common point of contention among couples, families, work groups and more: with the sheer volume of communication avenues available through today’s technology, what is the right balance between engaging and unplugging? When do we owe it to the people around us to focus on them and put the phone down?
We see this dynamic at play all around us all the time. Whether it’s the family of four ignoring each other while looking over their screens during a dinner out, or a table of cute 20-somethings snapping selfies and chatting away while ignoring each other, smartphones definitely seem to have dulled our ability to focus on our IRL relationships.
The age difference in your relationship probably plays a factor in your frustration with Julie. You didn’t grow up with this technology; frequent phone use is not that ingrained in your daily life. For Julie, however, it is a lifeline to her friends, an acceptable and regular aspect of social behavior and a source of positive boosts to her self-esteem. It also affects your relationship negatively. Next time you bring it up, don’t just give your feelings about the problem, but bring some solutions. Example: “Julie, I feel like I’m boring you when you’re on your phone while we’re on a dinner date, so I was hoping we could go out but leave our phones in the car.” Hopefully, she’ll be willing to compromise when you suggest putting the phone away for some periodic and relatively short stays that help you enjoy quality time.
Leave the phones in the car? Brilliant idea, Gen Xer! How do we scan the restaurant’s QR code for our menus? We also can’t check in and receive a Yelp alert about off-menu deals or get friend suggestions for top picks. And we won’t be able to let everyone know that we’ve finally made it to Anchorage’s busiest restaurant. And what about meal photos? And worse, if someone steals the car, they also steal our phones. Totally not worth it. Besides, we can always put our phones away after dessert pictures…
Your girlfriend is addicted to her phone and everything on it and about it, and your concerns for better communication, being present, and uninterrupted quality time fall on deaf ears—especially if she’s got earplugs in and she’s on TikTok.
See, you two don’t exactly interact as a couple. You seem more like a set of siblings separated by 15 years. And in reality, you are old compared to her, and you probably sound like an uncool parent at times. Especially for someone who, while in her mid-30s, prefers to act like an immature teenager who really isn’t that into you. I would think she would now have a better perspective on communication, partnership and emotional intelligence, but I guess she doesn’t subscribe to those videos.
This is the rhythm of your relationship and I don’t see it changing. She doesn’t give up her phone, call it back—ha—or even open adult conversations with you about it. And you don’t want to stop feeling annoyed or upset about the behavior either, do you? So select or set this ratio to airplane mode.