Being Hooked To Your Phone (aka 'Virtual Distance') Is A Real Problem — And It's Killing Your Relationship

Let’s just say that I know what it's like to go on a date with someone who spends the majority of their time with me... on the phone. Spoiler alert: it’s a nightmare. A long, tedious nightmare. And unfortunately for me, it's not an isolated incident. Whether you’re texting friends, responding to emails or checking Facebook, spending your date hooked to a phone is a major turn-off. It’s disrespectful to the other person, the one who has given up their free time to be with you. And according to the Washington Post, the harmful effects of texting are creating “virtual distance.”  

In an article originally written for The Conversation, authors Karen Sobel Lojeski and Martin Westwell define virtual distance as “a psychological and emotional sense of detachment that accumulates little by little, at the sub-conscious or unconscious level, as people trade-off time interacting with each other for time spent ‘screen skating’ (swiping, swishing, pinching, tapping, and so on).” Lojeski and Westwell refer to virtual distance as a measurable phenomenon. 

Some of the consequences for virtual distance include “people [becoming] distrustful of one another… they keep their ideas to themselves instead of sharing with others.” Another problem? People who are hooked on their phones create virtual distance and “disengage from helping behaviors — leaving others to fend for themselves.” Is it any surprise that when you disengage in this way, your date is likely to feel a little lonely? 

Most of us are busy people. Whether we’re students keeping up with our course loads, fully-employed or under-employed working adults, parents, caregivers, or otherwise not living a life of total leisure, we do our best to keep up with the demands of working life. If you were at your job, would it be acceptable to text in the middle of responding to a customer’s urgent request? If you were sitting in a classroom, would it be okay to check your email as the teacher delivers a lecture? No way. So why would it be considered acceptable to glue yourself to a phone or tablet while you’re on a date?

I’ve lived through these dates. A recent example: I ordered my drink and watched as my date checked the scores for the game. Okay, no big deal. He likes sports. Most guys do. Well, it wasn’t enough for him to check the scores. He then had to find the perfect meme to post on Facebook so that he could brag to his friends about how well his fantasy sports team had performed. And then the pings started, followed by either a knowing laugh or a frown from my dining companion. Every time someone posted a comment, he had to respond to their jokes in real time. On our time. You know, the “real time” we blocked off to go out for dinner and drinks. I think we’d even called it a “date.”

The food came. You would think that the presence of a delicious entrée would be enough of a reason to put the phone down. Oh, no. It was time to take a picture of dinner, post it to Instagram and tag the restaurant. Except there is no “location” listed for this restaurant in Instagram. Well, there’s no moment like the present to manually create the location and save it to Instagram for future food photographers!

In the meantime, your plate is cold. And I’m too uncomfortable to ask if I can start eating when you’re finally done.

My new dealbreaker is virtual distance because it’s a matter of principle and consideration. If I’m on a date and the other person spends the entire time checking their phone, they aren’t really engaged in the activities we’re doing or the conversations we’re having. And if they’re this inattentive to me right now? It’s unlikely that they’ll bridge the virtual distance gap and really pay attention down the line.

I respect the time of others. Unless it’s an emergency, if I’m out to dinner with my friends, I don’t stop mid-meal to make a phone call or check my Facebook page or text that cute new so-and-so I’m hoping will ask me out. I’m giving my companion the benefit of my undivided attention. If you’re not able to do the same, then we’re better off eating separately. I’m quite sure that your phone or tablet will keep you in the best of company.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy 1, 2, 3

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