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Are Smartphones Dumbing Down Dating?


With smartphone use skyrocketing, we’re more connected than ever before — but at what cost? Here are five ways to make sure your mobile device doesn’t sabotage your love life.

By Dave Singleton

re we growing more attached to our smartphones, as if they’re best friends on whom we’ve become overly dependent? You don’t need to query Siri — or any other robotic smartphone app, for that matter — to know the answer. We can see it all around us.

Survey says: We’re a nation of smartphone-addicted citizens
Gazelle, a high-end consumer electronics trade-in site, recently surveyed more than 1,000 of its customers about their iPhone usage. The results
Instead, you’re faced with a date that appears to already be in a relationship…
confirm our unholy reliance on the device with these unsettling statistics:
  • 65% of those surveyed said that they wouldn’t be able to live without an iPhone (versus the 1% of people who chose Facebook).
  • 15% of respondents said they’d rather give up sex than even go for a single weekend without their iPhone. Nearly 4% of respondents admitted to using the device while having sex.
  • 25% of respondents said that they “almost always” use their iPhone while in a social setting, such as during a meal or while attending a party. A combined 58% said that they used it in a social setting either “usually” or “occasionally,” while only 17% of respondents reported using the device in such situations either “rarely” or “never.”
I don’t know about you, but seeing figures like these makes me long for a quiet weekend with my sweetie in a galaxy far, far away from Internet and cell phone access. The numbers certainly don’t bode well for romance, do they?

The problem for daters, then, seems clear: As our dependence on this interactive, yet isolating device grows stronger, our connections with real people — you know, the ones you date? — seem to suffer. How, then, can those of us looking for love in too many plugged-in places learn to manage our romantic time better? Recently, I spoke with singles that have experienced the downside of smartphone dependence in their own dating lives to shed some light on how to tame these bad phone habits.

5 steps to tame the device-dependent beast
Before anyone makes another stupid dating mistake by whipping out a smartphone, follow this advice:

1. Use your smartphone on a date only if it’s an emergency*
According to a recent online survey of 8,361 men and women from Match.com, being distracted by your mobile device is the #1 deal-breaker on a first date, according to 57% of respondents... and I can see why. Consider this all-too-common dating scenario: You’re about to embark on a romantic evening — dinner, wine, and no intrusions. Instead, you’re faced with a date that appears to already be in a relationship… with his or her phone, an arguably inanimate object. You watch, aghast from across the dinner table, as Mr./Ms. Obviously-Not-Right compulsively checks that damnable device multiple times and diverts attention from your evening by engaging in a chatty, mobile gabfest with someone else.

According to New Yorker Jennifer, 35, if you’re faced with a date who’s clearly misusing his or her phone while spending time together, you’re under no obligation to act like this behavior is peachy with you. “After a guy puts his phone down, I ask him if he’s expecting more calls or if he needs to contact anyone else, just to let him know I am paying attention and none too pleased,” she says. “My policy is that if a man can’t take the hint, then maybe he needs to take a walk.”

If you absolutely must use your phone, let your date know upfront that you’ll need to make a quick call, explain why it’s necessary, and emphasize that it really will be quick.

* Let’s define “emergency” as: Your boss is calling, and your job is on the line; an immediate family member is ill; or your ticket broker’s letting you know that he just got you and your date into the concert of this person’s dreams.

2. Avoid BSB (bad smartphone behavior) by keeping it stashed out of sight
Our inability to manage our smartphone use is turning us into some ill-mannered dates. Why is it that when these little devices are on, the rest of our common sense turns off? So adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” habit is probably best. “Smartphones haven’t just changed how we communicate, they’ve completely altered how we deal with each other in person,” says Washington resident Keith, 28. “I make a point of putting mine away on dates. There’s no need to have it in my line of sight. To me, that’s respectful.” Amen to that! Your date doesn’t need to see your phone sitting next to you, even if (as explored in tip #1 above) you’ve made it clear you won’t be using it except for emergencies.

You don’t want your date worrying that:
  • Your smartphone is a tiny, technological chaperone — omnipresent, and frankly, a little oppressive;
  • He or she will spill food or drink on it and risk ruining it;
  • It will light up or vibrate like the buzzer the restaurant’s hostess handed you to hold until notified that your table was ready;
  • Worse, it will start ringing at a volume so loud and with a possibly offensive tune playing (Eminem as your ringtone? Really?) that you’ll disturb the peace.
3. Don’t “smartly” search and then stupidly share your intel
A little research can cause a lot of trouble. Imagine that you’re waiting for your date to arrive at the appointed place and time…and you’re early. You pull out your smartphone and type your date’s name into its Internet search engine. Voila! You’ve just officially become a snoop. Now, what do you plan to do with the information you’ve found? While it’s true that daters are increasingly investigating their prospective mates using such simple web
Your smartphone’s camera is a double-edged sword.
searches, it’s also important to acknowledge the danger of spilling what you find as soon as your date arrives.

“I had barely sat down at the bar and ordered a drink before my date began telling me everything she knew about me thanks to Google,” said North Carolina native Barry, 36. “She was aware of my marathon time, my previous jobs, and a donation I’d made to a presidential candidate. To be honest, it freaked me out. I don’t think she meant to come off like a stalker, but I wasn’t comfortable with her after that.”

You want to check on your date beforehand to make sure there are no outstanding warrants for this person’s arrest? Great, go ahead and do that. You want to see what else you can find while you’re at it? OK, it’s increasingly common to do so in the dating scene. But just be aware of two things: First, this can sap some of the joy from your dating discovery process. (Why not let him tell you about his marathon time, former jobs, and political leanings in the right setting over a normal progression of time?) Second, conveying the results of your amateur sleuthing can come off as presumptuous and invasive to others. Keep whatever you’ve learned to yourself. You don’t want to end up with what I call “Google remorse.”

4. Know when to call vs. texting or emailing someone
Are smartphones helping us forget that nothing replaces in-person interaction? While they may look sleek and smart, it’s amazing how many dumbed-down communications they’ve spawned in real life. Of course, text messages and emails have their place in any communication arsenal. But especially during the initial phases of dating someone, nothing supplants hearing the other person’s voice and the respect a call conveys.

Are you looking for a simple way to think about which communication method to use? To make or cancel plans with a new prospect, call that person. If you want to have a real conversation and get a sense of the person you’re interested in, call. If your date calls you and you end up debating whether you should simply text or email back because you couldn’t answer the phone when it rang, call. If you’ve been out on several dates with someone and you’re not interested in pursuing this relationship any further, call. If you have any doubts about which form of communication to use, call.

Texts and emails are devoid of irony, tone, humor, and other key essential ingredients of successful communication. But at least with an email, you can more fully express yourself. With texts, you’re stuck with a limited palette of emoticons, acronyms, and just a few (probably misspelled) words to get your message across. And while you can’t stop the texting craze, you can train your dates to know what you like and how you’ll respond to them. “I have been down this road before,” says Maryland resident Ellen, 39. “If a date starts texting a lot right away, I tell him the next time I see him that I don’t care for texts except to confirm an existing plan or to alert me if you’re late. I make it clear that people shouldn’t assume I even get their texts unless I text or call them back.”

5. Resist the urge to post photos and updates on social media sites
Your smartphone’s camera is a double-edged sword. It’s convenient to have a camera at the ready for capturing exciting moments. But suddenly, we’ve all become paparazzi, furiously taking photos of our dates, drinks, food and even the table setting, as if publishing these visual details of our evening counts more than experiencing your initial period of discovery with someone new. “I couldn’t believe it when my date pulled out her smartphone and started taking pictures of our cocktails and me with an incredulous look in my eye,” said Los Angeles single Martin, 28. “She then spent five minutes going through the photos, editing them on a photo app, and posting them to her Facebook account, tagging both my name and the rooftop hotel bar where I’d hoped we’d just chill. That was our first — and last — date.”

So, remember: Memorialize your date digitally at your own risk. Contrary to popular belief, some people may not want to see a photo of their face with the food they’ve ordered and are in the middle of consuming posted online without their consent. Someone might appreciate not having that martini he or she is drinking posted via Instagram and sent to your nearest and dearest followers on Twitter mid-sip. And don’t even think about using the two minutes he or she spent in the restroom to micro-blog from your smartphone about the time you’re having on your date with this person! It’s just rude.

Before you even think about your phone to post photos and social media updates, accept that it’s verboten on the first few dates with someone. Wait until you’re safely nearing your first anniversary to engage in those behaviors (OK, it can happen much sooner if you’re mutual fans of social media). Even then, you should always get explicit consent (non-negotiable) before you snap and tag someone online.


Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at davesingleton.writer@gmail.com.
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