Technology — which allows us to find prospective romantic partners with greater ease than ever before — is, increasingly, the cause of conflict and break-ups.
"We met on social media and social media broke us up," said Oscar Pelaez, 24, a sales manager who had a three-and-a-half year relationship with a man who, he complained, prioritized internet communication over communication with him. After meeting on MySpace as teenagers, Pelaez, who lives in Washington Heights, grew more attached to his boyfriend as his boyfriend "grew more and more attached to his Blackberry," checking it obsessively through meals and conversations, updating his Tumblr posts and posting pictures on Instagram "every two to three minutes.
"I found out about issues we were having on Facebook instead of him telling me," said Pelaez. "It was comical. I finally blew up and said, ‘how can I compete with the internet? I felt inferior. I was jealous of a computer!"
About 80% of people born between 1980 and 1999 sleep with their phones, according to a study in November 2012 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. A survey of women in December commissioned by Huffington Post and Real Simple found that 48% said they would rather go a month without sex than a month without their phone. Increasingly,e what’s disrupting the relationship is not another person, but a seductive cell, leading some wags to suggest we cut out the middleman and just date our phones. That concept was brought to the screen with great success recently in "Her," Spike Jonze’s new movie that depicts a man falling in love with a Siri-like operating system.
The problem is likely to worsen as smart phone acceptance swells. While only 56% of Americans have a smart phone, according to 2013 Pew Research Center data, 88% of 18-29 year olds cop to having one..
Tech-caused couple trouble erupts in different ways. Manhattan marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer says he has seen an explosion of "technological infidelity" " especially acute among lawyers, doctors and Wall Street executives – in which people become engrossed in online porn or exchange sexually explicit communiqués with people other than their mates. A more prosaic, but perhaps more common, irk is tech addiction: "Economic anxiety might lead to it and very often does," said Hokemeyer, responding to an inquiry about contract workers, entrepreneurs and others who feel they must be forever alert to money making opportunities that arrive via virtual leash.
Anxiety driving obsessive use is usually rooted in what is usually irrational FOMO: "It’s the obsessive thought about what one will find on line – be it an email about a trade or a deal or a hook-up," Hokemeyer explained. The discomfort that arises from the anxiety "causes people to reach for something outside of themselves to manage the discomfort," he explained.
"I was addicted to tech," confessed Dan Nainan, 32, a comedian who lives in Chelsea and owns an iPhone, iPad, six laptops, a Dell tablet and a Microsoft Surface Pro. "One day my girlfriend sat me down," and announced she could no longer tolerate his responding to every chime, chirp and buzz that interrupted their time together. "I was on my iPhone/iPad in bed and at restaurants," he said.
"Now our rule is that all technology gets put in the living room/kitchen before we go to sleep. That way we have no technology in bed. Also, I’ve turned off the chime when I get emails, and to be truthful, it’s decreased my stress level quite a bit."
Nainan’s fear that not responding immediately to his global clients would result in fewer opportunities turned out to be unfounded. "I have not suffered. If I didn’t answer, I called them back. It has not affected my business," Nainan marveled.
"It’s not the technology that’s the problem. The technology reflects the problem," said Mike Friedman, a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan. Couples need to negotiate respectful technology use just as they do any behavior that bewitches one partner but the other finds annoying or disrespectful, he said.
Alicia Rivers, 42, a blogger and entrepreneur who lives in midtown said her ex-boyfriend – an older executive who believed work should be confined to regular working hours – couldn’t comprehend what to her was a real need to be constantly connected. "If you go even a couple hours without posting something, people will move on to something else," said Rivers, who was not above sneaking off to the loo to update her social media presence.
They both moved on to other partners. Now Rivers is dating a real estate investor/entrepreneur who "is constantly on his phone," eager not to miss or mess up potential deals. "He’s on his phone more than I am," said Rivers, adding, "I understand the annoyance of my ex-boyfriend a little bit better now."