Dear Alison and Tony (Leather and Lace): I am sure you have gotten questions like this one before, but I’m hoping you’ll answer mine. My girlfriend Karen is great in all the ways that count except for one. She is so addicted to her phone that she even takes it to bed with her. She used to put it under her pillow, but I objected, so now puts her on the table next to the bed. But she won’t turn it off. Sometimes I hear it buzzing in the middle of the night, and I know she has checked to see who has Facebooked her or iM’d her. I know it’s just her friends, but they are all seriously addicted to this kind of thing and I’m really getting sick of it. Once in a while we will even be disturbed by someone drunk dialing in the middle of the night. Karen carries around an extra charger just in case her battery dies, and she is constantly checking that damn phone. If we are at a concert or a movie, she’ll turn it off, but I have seen her pretend she needs to use the bathroom in the middle of a concert or movie, and I know she’s gone outside to check the phone. Tonight, as we were having sex, her phone went off, and I couldn’t believe it, but she just stopped what we were doing to check who it was. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. In the middle of sex!!! I got so furious I got up and chucked her stupid phone out the window. We fought, and I ended up leaving and going to a bar where I am getting hammered and am drunk writing this note to you (love your site, by the way). And yeah, I’m using HER PHONE to do it (picked the piece of crap up off the ground on my way out). I don’t want to give the phone back. In fact, I am not sure I should GO back. What do you think?
Signed, Pissed off Marcus
Alison’s Take: You shouldn’t make any decisions in anger, or when drunk. And I certainly hope you didn’t drive to that bar, and that you didn’t drive yourself home. I do see why you are upset, and I do think your girlfriend has a serious phone addiction that is as hard to break as any other. But your girlfriend isn’t your child, so you can’t really take her phone away or stop her phone service, even though her addiction is unhealthy, and it is ruining your relationship. Perhaps, since you already stomped out of the house during sex, she knows she has angered you beyond your breaking point. On some level she must know she has an ongoing issue, but maybe she also feels powerless to stop the behavior.
Phone addictions are common. When Blackberries were new, my husband got one, and he was so enamored with it I don’t think I saw his face for months. I got so annoyed that when we finally went on vacation, I locked it in the room safe and refused to tell him the combination! He got the message. Sometimes you have to get someone’s attention in a drastic way. But you also have to think of what works in the context of your relationship. You may not be able to help her because her social media friends are fueling her problem, and you can’t stop them from contacting her. They are as addicted as she is.
You do have some control over what happens in your own home. Everyone is entitled to the quiet comfort of their own bedroom. It is here that I would start to draw the line. Despite her own immediate discomfort , I’d insist that your girlfriend (literally) lock her phone away while you are sleeping and definitely while you are having sex. It is unlikely that anyone really needs to reach her from midnight to 6 am and almost anything can wait until you are finished making love. Isn’t the real, physical connection the two of you share more important than the declaration that “Sally” is having fun eating burgers at Shake Shack with “Susie?” If she disagrees, throw her to the curb, immediately because there is no hope. That is just the appetizer. When the two of you are out together, if she wants to be with you she has to be with you. That means she gets set times (and amounts of time) when she can check her phone. When those times are up, she must put the phone away, and if it’s too tempting, give it to you for “safekeeping.” I know this is going to be met with explosive resistance, but it’s time for tough love. Explain that you aren’t trying to treat her like a child, but that you can no longer put up with her phone (and her friends) not leaving you alone. If Karen can’t or won’t agree to this, she’s more into her phone than you, and it’s time to leave.
In reality, your girlfriend probably needs professional help or a support group to get past this serious addiction (and it is serious). If things don’t improve, plan your next move with or without her, and her beloved phone.
Tony’s Take: Sadly I know this syndrome well and the best advice I have is forget her and find someone who actually wants you and cherishes you because she doesn’t.
Let me explain this to you in a way that makes it easy to understand. There are some people. like Karen, who are constantly on their phones and being involved because they are afraid they’ll miss something if they walk away. They are constantly looking for situations that will help them find that person or persons who will help them fill the void in their lives. They feel a strong need to be included, but they believe the only reason they are included is that they are around and always available. They’re afraid if they walk away for just a moment, people will forget who they are. If Karen stays constantly in touch on her phone, she is constantly around, available and on the minds of the people around her. She feels her life is empty and she is worried that unless she keeps involved with things (in this case, whatever her phone is bringing her) she may not be there to meet the love of her life. What happens if she misses something and people do things without her and forget her? She is constantly dissatisfied with what she has, and feels if she can just meet the right person or people her life will be immeasurably better.
Now we need to distinguish her from those women who need to “talk things through”, either with their girlfriends or an understanding boyfriend. These women, who are actually driven by a natural neurological need to verbalize important experiences during their day, have scope, they do not act desperate and addicted. Karen, on the other hand, is not one of those women. She also is implicitly lying to you. This search for a better more satisfying life is also a search for a better you, as in a better boyfriend. She is actively flirting and considering other guys (although if you ever confront her about it she will deny it because she has been doing it so naturally for so long she doesn’t realize she is doing it or that it is bad for the relationship, she just considers it fantasizing or harmless). Her quest for a perfect guy and a perfect, fulfilling life will take her away from you as she gets increasingly dissatisfied that you are not “the one”.
You deserve better. You deserve someone who thinks you are the fulfillment of a fantasy as opposed to the need for one.