Dear Dr. Alasko: I have a long-time boyfriend who's submerged in technology. He's constantly texting me, sending photos of every tiny detail of his life, and when we're together he still does it. We're beginning to argue about his belief that tech is the way to do everything. Now our problem is that sex is becoming limited and uninteresting. How can I get him to depend less on his gadgets and be more "human?"
Dear Reader: I suspect that your complaint is going to become more common --- if not universal –- in the coming years and decades.
The most absolute FACT about human behavior is that we prefer to do what’s easier, that which causes less anxiety. For instance, it's well known that the obsessive appeal of porn is that it's easier to satisfy a sexual need on your own than dealing with an actual human being.
People say it's far easier to text that call because you don't have to interact with the other person. Efficiency wins.
With technology hitting warp speed, many expected science to provide easy solutions for achieving happiness within our relationships. But learn-as-you-go improvisation (with all its layers of anxiety and frustration) is still required.
The other truth about relationships is that they require effort. But it's the kind of effort that often creates anxiety.
And here's the kicker: as we relate to each other, we are forced to use the same neurological and emotional structures that haven't changed in a thousand years.
Our relationships are still based on the fundamental human qualities of respect and trust, emotional openness and vulnerability, compassion and empathy. These emotions cannot be designed into an app.
What to do about your boyfriend's tech dependence? The most critical step is to clarify what you need from him. Set aside a half-hour (tech free) to discuss your relationship. Make your requests specific. Don't ask for generic qualities such as "love" or "respect."
One of the most successful guidelines within all relationships is setting specific limits that are doable. For instance, "I need to share meals that are technology free." That would mean two or three hours a day when it's just you and him, and not the rest of the world.
"What!" he might respond. "But, but, but I have all these texts I have to reply to . . . instantly!"
"No you don't, actually. You just want to. They can wait. I need to feel that I'm more important that all those other things you're doing."
That kind of request will challenge him to clarify his own needs. After all, if he really does believe that his constant communication with everybody else is more important that face-to-face and emotionally intimate conversation with you, then you have your answer. It's not a happy answer, but if it's the truth, then you must pay attention.
Every relationship involves compromise and trade-offs. If your boyfriend really wants things his way, then spending endless effort to change him might never meet with success.