RE­LA­TION­SHIPS

From phub­bing to cheating on your part­ner with Net­flix, our ob­ses­sion with screens can be a re­la­tion­ship dis­rupter. But one mar­ried woman is thank­ful.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By JAC­QUE­LYN FRAN­CIS

A mar­ried woman re­flects on how the dig­i­tal age has af­fected her love con­nec­tion.

THINGS CAME TO A HEAD WHEN I STARTED WATCH-

ing Fri­day Night Lights. Un­til that point, watch­ing TV with my hus­band was how we un­wound to­gether af­ter a long day. I thought I had found our next es­cape in FNL: Col­leagues waxed po­etic about hunky “Riggs” or “Vince,” and one in par­tic­u­lar (bless her soul) men­tioned that the se­ries, which ended in 2011, could be streamed on­line. For some rea­son, my hus­band showed no in­ter­est in watch­ing a show about hot teenage boys who ob­serve foot­ball in small-town Texas as if it were a re­li­gion. So one night I went rogue and watched the pi­lot solo. It was love. Soon I was steal­ing mo­ments alone on a tablet—be­fore break­fast, af­ter the kids were asleep—while he was in an­other part of the house screen­ing gui­tar pedal re­views on the lap­top. A wee gulf was grow­ing be­tween us.

Now if this was the only dig­i­tal dis­trac­tion in my re­la­tion­ship that might be fine, but the truth is we’re both on our phones a lot. In other words, we’re guilty of “phub­bing,” you know, phone snub­bing. And while “Net­flix and chill” (youth slang for “come over and shag”) sounded tempt­ing, my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it is quite lit­eral, and soli­tary. Be­tween Twit­ter, In­sta­gram, Pin­ter­est, espn.com (him) and stream­ing, it some­times feels like my hus­band and I barely com­mu­ni­cate through­out the day ex­cept for the odd text.

Five years ago, when iPhones en­tered the main­stream, a friend re­vealed that she and her hus­band had be­come “two ships in the night.” Not long af­ter she made that com­ment, her mar­riage came to a messy close. When a re­la­tion­ship in your cir­cle blows apart, you want to con­sole your friend, tell her it’s go­ing to be OK, but self­ishly you’re won­der­ing when this de­cline be­gan and how close you are to the same fate.

In the 2015 book Mod­ern Ro­mance, ac­tor/co­me­dian Aziz An­sari spends more than 200 pages de­tail­ing how tech­nol­ogy has rein­vented the dat­ing scene. Aided by so­ci­ol­o­gist »

Eric Kli­nen­berg, An­sari looks at how a new gen­er­a­tion finds love and sex by way of a smart­phone. In the back there is a mere 50 pages on how com­mit­ted cou­ples nav­i­gate the tech op­tions avail­able. Writes An­sari: “Tech­nol­ogy hasn’t just changed how we find ro­mance; it’s also put a new spin on the time­less chal­lenges we face once we’re in a re­la­tion­ship.” No kid­ding.

“Cou­ples that are formed pre-dig­i­tal or post-dig­i­tal are go­ing to have dif­fer­ent lev­els of com­fort on­line,” says Jenna Ja­cob­son, a PhD can­di­date at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Fac­ulty of In­for­ma­tion, who stud­ies the im­pact of so­cial me­dia use. “Let’s say that one part­ner loves to share ev­ery sin­gle part of their day. The other part­ner might not be in­volved on any so­cial me­dia site. The dif­fi­culty is nav­i­gat­ing what they both feel com­fort­able with.”

My other half isn’t on any form of so­cial me­dia and his on­line foot­print is lim­ited to things I’ve writ­ten about him (shh). So did he tease me when I In­sta’d cock­tails the night of our eighth an­niver­sary? Yes. But when he wanted to share va­ca­tion pho­tos with his mom over din­ner, he asked if I would show her my In­sta­gram.

In 2014, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., re­leased its “Cou­ples, the In­ter­net, and So­cial Me­dia” re­port, which found that 25 per cent of mar­ried or part­nered adults felt their part­ner was dis­tracted by their cell­phone when they were to­gether. They felt phubbed.

Ja­cob­son, a new­ly­wed her­self, feels strongly that tech­nol­ogy is not the prob­lem in any re­la­tion­ship; it’s how we use it. “This is an age-old story that’s re­peated with ev­ery sin­gle tech­nol­ogy.” I think of my mom, who watched a lot of sports in the name of hang­ing out with Dad but not once in their 50-plus years to­gether con­nected by mo­bile phone. “If we were to look back and say the tele­phone is ru­in­ing re­la­tion­ships, would it even be a ques­tion to­day?” says Ja­cob­son.

In our hec­tic lives, a lot of peo­ple just want some “me time,” ex­plains Car­men Littlejohn, a psy­chother­a­pist with the Helix Health­care Group in Toronto. “Most peo­ple’s way of be­ing alone nowa­days is to ‘check out’ through Net­flix or Face­book or other dig­i­tal ways...It’s a way to not be in de­mand to some­body.”

She’s onto some­thing here. But so, sur­pris­ingly, is An­sari when he raises the two stages of ro­mance: Pas­sion­ate love and Com­pan­ion­ate love. Brain scans have proven that in the first stage of your re­la­tion­ship, your brain’s plea­sure cen­tre lights up. Guess who falls into com­pan­ion­ate love? Re­la­tion­ships like mine. When we look at pic­tures of our part­ners, the re­gions of our brain as­so­ci­ated with anx­i­ety are calm. “If pas­sion­ate love is the coke of love, com­pan­ion­ate love is like hav­ing a glass of wine or smok­ing a few hits of some mild weed,” writes An­sari. This helps ex­plain why some­one like me—who en­joys a glass of Mer­lot—can be se­questered in her room on Pin­ter­est.

Ch­eryl Harasym­chuk, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Car­leton Univer­sity in Ot­tawa who stud­ies is­sues re­lated to avoid­ance and dis­en­gage­ment in re­la­tion­ships, cites the ben­e­fit to our con­nec­tiv­ity. “I’ve heard more about tech­nol­ogy pro­vid­ing an­other means of pro­mot­ing in­ti­macy,” she says. “For in­stance, if some­thing great hap­pens to a per­son when the part­ner is not there, tech­nol­ogy al­lows peo­ple to in­clude their part­ner in that mo­ment.” The same ap­plies to the mun­dane, like the change room self­ies my hus­band sends when he needs help shop­ping.

I ask a 20-some­thing col­league who met her boyfriend on OkCupid how she cuts through the dig­i­tal noise in her new re­la­tion­ship. But tech­nol­ogy is not noise to her. So­cial me­dia and con­nec­tiv­ity are part of the to­tal pack­age. “He had to be good at tex­ting,” she says. “It’s a huge part of how I com­mu­ni­cate.” Or, as Ja­cob­son puts it: “We of­ten like to [con­sider] the ‘real’ as off­line and the on­line as some­times less real. Our on­line lives are real.” The power of tex­ting is also ac­knowl­edged in the Pew Re­search Cen­ter study, which found that 21 per cent of its sur­vey sub­jects felt closer to their part­ner be­cause of on­line ex­changes or texts. All this re­minds me of a digi-perk I take for granted: My hus­band is great at tex­ting. Bub­bles of beauty and pearls of plat­i­tude ap­pear at the most es­sen­tial times in my day. If qual­ity is more im­por­tant than quan­tity, then maybe that’s OK some of the time. In fact, one of my most-loved pho­tos is a screen cap­ture of a ran­dom mid­day ex­change. Bub­ble one: “Do you still love me?” Bub­ble two: “Yes I do.”

Be­tween Twit ter, In­sta­gram, Pin­ter­est, espn.com and stream­ing, it some­times feels like my hus­band and I barely com­mu­ni­cate.”

ED­I­TOR: EM­I­LIE DINGFELD

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