“I give up,” my husband tells me while I’m holding my iPhone inches from my face, scrolling obsessively, cutting and pasting, replying and sending.
“Here’s a new rule,” he suggests. “When you have your phone in your hand, I’m just going to leave you alone, okay? That way I don’t get frustrated. And you can do the same with me.”
Wait — what?
I look up from my phone long enough to make eye contact and acknowledge that I feel badly he has had to institute this new rule. Then it’s back to my screen. Glued now on my Facebook messages, I respond to him as I multitask, “Wait, wait — I just need to finish this one thing.”
“No,” he says. “That’s just what we’re going to do from now on. No more fighting about it. When the phone is down, we talk. When it’s up, we leave each other alone.”
Almost a full 24 hours later, I’ve forgotten all about the new rule until — ping! — while we are cuddling, I reflexively grab the chiming phone from the bedside table next to me. Pat watches as I begin the dance of passcode typing, swiping, scrolling. “Are you kidding me?” I yell, annoyed at some email drama I never wanted to be part of.
And just like that, Pat pulls away from me. He’s not annoyed like the night before. He just remembers the Rule.
For the next hour, as my phone rage subsides, Pat doesn’t have to bear the brunt of my frustration. After I finish my work, I turn to him and see he is peaceful on his computer. I am peaceful, too, phone down. Cuddling resumes.
I never imagined preemptive ignoring would prevent the seedlings of an argument from ever taking root. But this rule — we’ll call it Rule 1 — really did, and it made me realize all of the other informal rules that have helped save us from our 2016 selves. Here are the best of the rest.
Rule 2: Don’t let your problems leak into your social-media lives. Pat and I have basically declared all-out war on one another at various times, but you’d never know it from any subtweeting or vaguebooking. No status updates like “Don’t you hate it when someone doesn’t take out the trash when it’s his turn?” or “Know a good divorce lawyer?” or “Thinking about having an affair; anyone up?”
Related pet peeve (that I am guilty of, constantly): When you relentlessly like or fave a bunch of stuff on social media as a way to get back in someone’s good graces, know that it reads just like it feels. That shit is thirsty, and everyone knows it.
Rule 3: Pick up the damned phone to call your person every once in a while. This may be hard to understand for anyone born in 1985 or later, but there is nothing sexier, more intimate, more intense than hearing the voice of the person you are madly in love with all silky smooth come straight into your ear drum. When Pat calls me, my heart flutters like a schoolgirl. Try it.
Rule 4: Never text your partner when you can message the info in some kind of less-urgent way instead. My go-to is email. Emails are all, “Hey, whenever you want to deal with this! I’m chill, and look at how we respect each other’s space!” Texts are all: Tap, tap, tap on the shoulder until you deal with it. No one needs that additional level of my-needs-come-first triaging in a relationship.
Rule 5: Set boundaries on how the two of you talk to other men and women on various messaging platforms. Some folks are just fine with their partners texting all day long with the last guy they were fucking about how they aren’t getting their sexual needs met in their current relationship. Others are a bit less comfortable with that. Pat and I came to our own mini-subset of rules here.
Rule 5a: We keep each other informed. If I’m texting with a dude of interest (DOI) or he is texting with a lady of interest (LOI), we let each other know. One of his lady friends whom he’s slept with in the past kept texting him for about 45 minutes one time. There was nothing nefarious going on, but it just helps to know when someone is starting up a big feelings-sharing bonding session. That is a level of competing emotional intimacy, and it’s good to know what time it is.
Rule 5b: No flirty emoji. No hearts from me. No whatever emoji men might send from him to a woman.
Rule 5c: Be straight up. Don’t say “Oh yeah I got a message from Bob” when what you really mean is “I Facebook chatted with Bob for two hours, and I feel really close with him.” Keep each other in the light — not the dark.
Rule 6: If you’re in a relationship, your social media should reflect that — rather than humiliating the other person. When we first started dating, before we were exclusive, I saw that Pat had recently written “You are gorgeous” on the wall of some chick he was sleeping with casually. We were on the precipice of being serious but weren’t there yet. I told him how it made me feel. “I understand that,” he said and deleted it, even though I didn’t ask him to. “I won’t do that kind of thing anymore. We’re together now.” And that was the end of that.
Rule 7: Enough with the Zapruder-tape-level analysis of someone else’s timeline of social-media activity. You know the type. It’s when you go through every single action someone has taken online and say things like, “Oh, so you had time to retweet CNN, but you didn’t respond to my email about meeting my parents? We are going to talk about this in marriage counseling.” Don’t be that person. We all are that person on some insecure level, but avoid it.
Rule 8: Stay on someone’s mind — via every medium there is to connect. I can’t tell you how delighted I am (and how fresh it feels, as silly as it sounds) when my husband slides into my Twitter DMs or FaceTimes me or Facebook chats or puts a cute comment on my Instagram. No need to doom social flirtation to death when you get together for real. That’s the fun falling-in-love part! Why should that ever stop?
Rule 9: No excuses for why you can’t make something happen for someone else. My husband and I had a big dumb fight over flowers once. I acted like I didn’t want them, but I wanted him to know that I wanted them. When he didn’t get them, he said none of the shops near us had good flowers. Here’s what I say to that: Bullshit. Do you know what I did on Mother’s Day using Amazon Prime Now? I got flowers to my mom in an hour — gorgeous flowers — for $20 and a $10 tip. So no excuses. Anything can be delivered anywhere nowadays, especially in New York.
But more than anything, put down the phone. Please, for the love of God, put it down as much as possible when your partner is near and wants to be with you.
Because if email trumps text, and Instagram trumps Facebook, there is yet to be a technology that even comes close to cuddling.