I like to observe people. I especially love to observe couples out in public. Just a few days ago, I was at a restaurant watching this couple touching, eye gazing, and kissing. They sat close, he had his hand on the back of her neck, she lifted her eyes to his, and they fell into kissing. It seemed they were oblivious to the rest of the world. I loved it. But just a few tables away sat another couple. They were miles away from each other. Both of them were texting on their phones. I watched them text, answer the phone, and chat away with other people, but they barely said a word to each other. And I didn't see them touch once during the entire dinner.
For most of my adult life, we've had cell phones. But in the last decade our iPhones and Blackberries have advanced to the point where we can text, send pictures, surf the internet, and play video games. We can connect with our relatives in China or send e-mails to a business in Egypt, but what does this do to our intimate relationships right here, right now?
I've noticed in my private practice the frequent complaint that a partner doesn't know how to unplug from their phone. In a recent study scientists discovered that the alert sound for a text coming in not only sets your nervous system on edge, it is actually addictive. Two strikes to connection, intimacy, and good sex. I even have had couples complain that their partners are answering texts during lovemaking. Or one of them is more interested in playing a game on the phone than connecting intimately. What's going on here?
As much as I want to blame the cell phone, there is something deeper happening. What would make a person not want to connect with someone right in front of them? Have they fallen out of love? Would they rather be somewhere else? Are they addicted to work?
I've advised these couples to block out time--I'm calling it "unplugged time". This means no phones, no PDAs, no laptops, no TV. It means looking at and communicating with the person who is right in front of you. It means getting out of your head and into your bodies. It means touching and kissing this person you love and working through stuff that might come up as you experience withdrawal from your iPhone.
Here are some guidelines for unplugging:
Rule #1 Turn off all electronic devices. This means OFF.
Rule #2 Unplug your mind. Get present to the person in front of you. Be honest: do you really want to be with the person in front of you?
Rule #3 Get into your body. Touch each other, make love, savor your pleasure.
Rule #4 Notice what comes up. Most likely you'll start thinking about that thing you need to do, or someone who you need to call; watch these thoughts and don't let them take over.
Rule #5 Stick to your time frame. Set aside at least two hours of unplug time a week and 4 days of unplug time every 90 days, and don't let anything interfere with this time.
What I observe most is that we are all starving for connection, so much so that we spend lots of time on Facebook, texting, and tweeting. It's easier to project our fantasies to someone on the internet. It's harder to be face to face with people, but it serves our human need for connection, touch, and intimacy. Put down your phone, touch someone, make love to someone. I promise the technological world will still be there when you return.