When smartphones ruin romance

If you're mad because your date is paying too much attention to his or her smartphone while supposedly enjoying your company, you're not alone. Here are some tips for dealing with "techno-incompatibility."

For Valentine's Day, here are some tips for dealing with 'techno-incompatibility'

These days, it's common for differences in the way people use technology to cause conflicts in relationships — a phenomenon dubbed "techno-incompatibility." (Shutterstock)

When Karen Schweikart first got a smartphone five years ago, she and her husband used to fight about her playing games or checking Facebook on it when they went out together.

"He used to get so mad at me," she recalled in a voice message to CBC's Spark.

Then things changed when her husband recently acquired his own smartphone.

"Now he does the very same thing, and I get mad at him because he's trained me out of it."

These days, it's common for differences in the way people use technology to cause conflicts in relationships — a phenomenon dubbed "techno-incompatibility."

Jesse Fox, a professor at Ohio State University, studies communications technologies and relationships, and he says that smartphone use during a couple's time together can be a particular source of friction because it's often not immediately obvious what someone is doing with his or her phone.

"They could be texting another potential romantic partner, so that makes us feel a little bit insecure," she told Spark host Nora Young. "We get a little jealous: 'Who is it that you want to talk to more than me right here in this moment?'"

She said techno-incompatibility is not uniquely a problem of the smartphone age — other technologies such as TV have caused similar tensions in relationships in their time.

"The difference about newer technologies is they're pervasive," Fox says. "The television stayed in your living room, it didn't follow you out to dinner, it didn't stay in your pocket when you were driving or travelling or anything like that."

But since the smartphone does go everywhere, what's the best way to deal with that?

Fox suggests couples be open with each other about the limits and expectations of their smartphone use, and to bring those discussions up "outside of the medium itself." In other words, mentioning that you'd rather not have smartphones on at dinner ahead of your next romantic restaurant outing, for example.

First dates can be tricky in the internet dating age, Fox acknowledges, as everyone has different practices.

She suggested making a joke or a game out of communicating that you don't want your date to use his or her smartphone while you are getting to know each other. One tip: putting your phones on the table and saying the first person to touch their phone has to pay for drinks or dinner.

Her other advice here is to make sure you're communicating that clearly at the outset, "instead of having your expectations and then setting that person up to fail because they don't know what your expectations are."


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