‘Phubbing’ Is A Real Phenomenon And It’s Ruining Relationships

Unsplash/Jacob Ufkes

If you’re living and breathing in 2017, you’re probably guilty of “phubbing” — or phone snubbing — from time to time. Maybe you leave your cell phone out on the dinner table in case an oh-so-important notification arrives, or maybe you fully believe that you can multitask scanning your social media feeds while listening to and conversing with the person sitting across from you.

Regardless, the more you allow this habit to infiltrate your daily life, the worse off your relationships will be — romantic, friendly, familial and otherwise.

A recent study explored how overusing your phone in the presence of other people, especially your life partner, can lead to higher rates of both marital dissatisfaction and depression. Another one examined the brain’s natural reaction to noticing that the person you’re trying to communicate with is distracted, which can be applied to virtually any situation. And a third study confirmed that just having your phone near you dramatically impacts your ability to focus on pretty much anything else.

Science is constantly pointing out how the combination of social time and cell phones does not work, yet ignoring the people around you for the sake of your screen has officially become the new normal. WTF?!

Unsplash/Tim Wright

I grew up in a family that (thankfully) valued the importance of undivided attention and single-tasking long before the proliferation of cell phone culture occurred. Every night, we sat down to dinner as a group with the sole focus of enjoying a home-cooked meal and each other’s company. Televisions were turned off, video games were paused in the other room, homework was abandoned and you better bet that beeping, buzzing phones came nowhere near that dining table. It was a sacred space for family connection. If you wanted to talk about your day, you did. If you wanted to eat in silence, you did. But those were your two options.

I give this rule so much credit for how I behave in all of my relationships now as a fully-grown adult. And I also reflect on it as the reason why I have such visceral reactions to my friends and loved ones when they don’t behave accordingly.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in months, and after he or she asks me to share a particular story about my life, they pick up their phone and start scrolling. While I’m sharing with them what they requested to hear. Even when I’m decompressing after work or eating dinner with my partner, wanting to chat about the day and connect, I’m challenged by the repeated checking of fantasy sports scores or whatever game is playing in the background on that particular evening.

Sometimes, I feel absolutely enraged by the fact that the person I deeply care about can be so aloof or just flat out insensitive to my feelings. Other times, I adopt a “f*ck it” attitude and go about my business silently rather than even attempting to compete with a stupid screen for real attention. I believe I’m worth more than that.

Unsplash/Bence Boros

That might make me sound highly sensitive, but science is on my side here. People being “phubbed,” once they notice the other person’s distraction, are naturally inclined to view that person as impolite and inattentive. And when they know that the other person’s mind is wandering, they tend to feel unheard, disrespected and disregarded as a result.

The bigger question for me is why is everyone more interested in a screen than what’s actually happening right in front of them? If you find your social interactions to be that boring or unsatisfying, maybe you should be evaluating why you’re in them in the first place. And if that’s not the case, just be aware that when you “phub” someone, that’s the exact message you’re sending no matter how good your intentions may be.

If you want any sense of depth to your connection with other human beings, you have to temporarily ditch the one you have to your phone. And at the very least, you need to work on boosting your sense of self-awareness to acknowledge verbally what you’re doing in real time and apologize for it. Because regardless of the age we live in, this behavior sucks for anyone sitting across from you — no exceptions.