By Lindsey Chadwick, BounceBack.com Editorial Staff
This week, I dealt with a confusing text message exchange with a guy I've been dating casually. At one point, a friend literally said, "Well, since you said, 'I'm still out!' instead of 'I'm still out at drinks!' that shows him you are willing to just be a booty call." Is it possible that leaving two words out of a text message may mean the difference between appearing popular, unavailable, and hard to get, and being desperate, available, and just "there"? Apparently, yes.
It made the BounceBack.com team start debating whether Smartphones have actually helped or harmed the relationship world. Smartphones allow us to take our email, phone calls, photos, and the internet with us wherever we go. Not to mention we can text, which didn't even exist earlier. We can now, in seconds, get in touch with anyone from anywhere, friend a new crush on Facebook, or learn what we need to about the NFL in order to chat up the new guy at the Super Bowl party.
But is this a good thing for relationships? At the same time, we can stalk an ex, obsess over the meaning of text messages with a budding romance, and learn of a partner or spouse's affair simply by stealing a peek at an incoming message or call (though some argued learning the truth is actually a good thing). Not to mention, where did the fun go? Where's the face-to-face contact? What happened to proper dates, timely phone calls, and traditional courtship? There's probably an app for that.
Though there are advantages, this particular debate uncovered more "cons" than "pros" at the beginnings of romance, during relationships and marriages, and after breakups. Here are 6 reasons (in no particular order) why Smartphones have more potential to harm - rather than help - relationships.
1. Distractions are the first…"Sorry, what'd you say?"
The New York Times recently wrote about the hit game Angry Birds, reporting that people around the world rack up 200 million minutes of game play EACH DAY. Imagine how many of those 200 million minutes were played by someone on a date? Probably more than you think. And that's just one game - there are hundreds of thousands of opportunities for distraction on a phone. From looking through photos and checking in on Facebook to the basics like texting and emailing, there's every temptation to take you out of the present moment and away from conversation with your date, girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse. On the flip side, if you are with someone who spends your time together on their phone, how insulting is that? They're essentially signaling to you that they care more about something on the internet, or worse, someone else, than they do about you. If this is often you, think about how this must affect the person you're with. If you absolutely must send a text or look something up, ask if they wouldn't mind and make sure to limit your time on the phone to 30 seconds or less - as long as you don't have AT&T, your service provider should move quickly enough to get you what you need.
2. Secrets, Secrets, Are No Fun
Smartphones cause relationship problems around secrets - they're easier to create and keep, but they're also easier to uncover. Portability and mobility allow those people who want to have a fling on the side to send secret texts and emails from wherever, whenever. We've heard it all, including someone's husband texting his mistress from his in-laws' home on Christmas Eve. Disgusting. Smartphones make these nasty behaviors easier. At the same time, however, they make these same nasty behaviors easier to uncover. From the text message that pops up on the screen late at night, to the sound of the vibrating ring in your boyfriend's pocket as he tries to silence it, to the ability to check cell phone bills on shared plans, the signs are there and if you're looking, quite easy to spot. Learning about the thousands of people who have found out about extramarital affairs through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and email has been bad enough - but access to those outlets through our phones only creates more chances to catch and be caught.
3. But what does "see you later" really mean???
Miscommunication is perhaps one of the most common, if not the most frustrating, problems with Smartphones and relationships, especially when it comes to text messages. A phone call is a phone call, and emails can be misread whether you read them at home, the office, or on your phone. But a text message can be misread, misunderstood, and misinterpreted 1,000 ways to Sunday. It's hard to receive (not to mention send) the intended tone from a two-line message, and sometimes the language is confusing. Someone trying to be funny could end up hurting a partner's feelings, or a simple "OK" could be misunderstood as a blow-off. It's too much pressure with too little content. Remember that texts do not always equate to actual thoughts. They shouldn't. You shouldn't break up over a text, so you really shouldn't ask someone out over text, or expect to accomplish any kind of deep or productive conversation. Too many chances for misunderstanding. Pick up the phone (if you're texting, it's already in your hand, but you know what we mean).
4. Connecting Without Connecting
When Smartphones were introduced to the world, thousands of Players everywhere looked up to the skies and whispered "Thank you!" Being able to be on-the-go, wherever you go, but still be in touch with multiple people is a huge plus to those people who aren't ready to commit to one person. Want to connect without really connecting? Send a mass text message to your distribution list asking "What's up?" How impersonal - not to mention, lazy. But you'd be surprised how many people out there will respond. Texting allows people to stay in touch with girl or guy #2 while they're out with girl or guy #1 - therefore keeping multiple balls in the air, and options open. That's got to put a damper on commitment. And for the people receiving those texts? In many cases, people can go months with a text-heavy relationship, where you "feel" like there's something going on but you don't really spend much actual time with that person. A text-heavy relationship isn't a relationship. Can you really get to know someone over texts? Time to move on to someone who wants to see you in person vs. on a 2x3" screen.
5. "The Game" Gets New Rules
We've all done it, and we've all hated it, but playing "the game" is unfortunately a reality in the relationship world. As if it wasn't hard enough already, with Smartphones we get a whole new set of rules, new expectations, and new excuses to go along with the game. So much for seeming unavailable - it's a given that everyone has their precious phone with them 24/7, so unless you are in a movie theatre, underground, or at 30,000 feet, we know you've gotten our message. It works the other way, too - no longer will someone believe you "only just read this", you were "out", or that "your phone was off". Even "my phone died" and "I didn't have service" are losing steam as excuses. When the expectation is that you can always get the person you want to reach within a few hours, it makes the worrying that much more common, and the chances of feelings getting hurt much higher. And while we're supposed to wait 3 days to return calls, what happens when someone sends a "what are you up to" text? Wait 3 days and tell them then? There's no new acceptable time frame for responding to a normal question that begs an immediate answer when we've been told that responding too soon removes the sense of mystery. Throw BBM and face-to-face chat into the mix, and you can forget about it.
6. Hard - Wait, Impossible - to Cut Ties
Before Smartphones and email, our memories of a relationship gone bad consisted of old T-shirts, concert tickets, and a touching Valentine's Day card or two. These days, it's almost impossible to disconnect from an ex after a breakup or divorce. Not only is it too easy and too accessible, but it's WHAT you can do on a Smartphone that is so hard on the heart. Facebook, Twitter, and the like are a touch away - for stalking, or for creating amazing-sounding updates so that your ex will hopefully wonder what you're up to. Nostalgia is knocking on your door every time you see the "photos" icon and are tempted to look back at the happy times. Make sure your voice-activation is turned off, or you may just accidentally reach out without wanting to. And looking back through text messages can drive a person insane! With no records of communication, we're fairly certain there would be less stress and analysis over the "what happened?", and people might be able to move on sooner. The WHEN is important too - when you're out and in familiar spots, especially after a few drinks, all of the Smartphone's buttons become so much more tempting to touch. Don't do it.
In the end, while Smartphones have immensely improved communication and accessibility in our lives, they've added a great deal of stress and impersonality to relationships. But they are a necessary evil, and one that we'll need to work into our relationships in order to keep up with the times. Just not too much. No one wants to be the modern-day version of that couple that sits at the restaurant dinner table not speaking to each other. Why even be together if you're always, figuratively, somewhere else? We'll use our Smartphones when necessary, but we're going to focus on living in the moment and ensuring those we love that we want to be in that moment, with them. Let's enjoy the real aspects of relationships. Besides, an actual hug and kiss is way better than XOXO.
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