Dear Wayne and Wanda,
“Julie” and I met online and for 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 break-up. We were both unsure about our age difference: she is 34 and I am 49. Personally, I wasn’t interested in casual dating, and wasn’t sure she would be able to commit long-term.
When we finally met in person the connection was instant and we were soon engaged. Many of my close friends worried I was moving too fast, but I felt sure about 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. When we go to dinner for example, it’s face up next to her, lighting up with alerts and messages, and it’s like she’s incapable of waiting and responding 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’s constantly posting photos, asking me to take her photo so she can post pics, and she gets stressed when her photos don’t get a lot of likes and reactions.
Julie is a beautiful woman. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn to her initially. 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 am on a different level on this issue, and when I try to speak to her respectfully, she gets defensive. Any tips?
I’m guessing this topic will resonate with many of our readers, as you’re experiencing perhaps a more extreme version but a version nonetheless of what’s become a common point of contention among couples, families, work cohorts and more: with the sheer volume of communication avenues available through today’s technology, what’s the right balance of engaging and unplugging? When do we owe it to the people around us to focus on them and put the phone down?
We see these dynamics in play around us all the time. Whether it’s the family of four ignoring each other while poring over their screens during a dinner out, or a table of cute 20-somethings snapping selfies and chatting away, all while ignoring each other, smart phones certainly appear to have dumbed down our ability to focus on our IRL relationships.
The age difference in your relationship is likely playing a factor in your frustration with Julie. You didn’t grow up with this technology; frequent phone use isn’t as ingrained in your daily life. For Julie, though, 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’s also negatively affecting your relationship. The next time you bring it up, don’t just offer your feelings on the issue, but bring some solutions. Example: “Julie, I feel like I’m boring you when you are 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 when you suggest setting the phone aside for some periodic and relatively brief stints that support the two of you enjoying quality time, she will be willing to compromise.
Leave the phones in the car? Brilliant idea, Gen Xer! How will we scan the restaurant’s QR code for our menus? We also can’t check in and receive a Yelp alert about off-menu specials or get friend suggestions for the best choices. And we won’t be able to let everyone know that we’ve finally made it to Anchorage’s buzziest restaurant. And what about meal photos? And worse, if someone steals the car, then they’re also stealing our phones. Totally not worth it. Besides, we can always put our phones away after dessert photos …
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 are falling on deaf ears — especially if she has her ear buds in and she’s on TikTok.
Look, you two aren’t exactly interacting 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 do occasionally sound like an uncool parent. Especially to someone who, while in her mid-30s, prefers to act like an immature teenager who’s really not that into you. I’d think she’d have better perspective on communication, partnership and emotional intelligence by now, 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 isn’t giving up her phone, dialing it back — ha — or even open for adult conversations with you about it. And you aren’t going to stop feeling annoyed or upset by the behavior either, right? So opt in or put this relationship on airplane mode.