Dating Etiquette: Are Mobile Phones a Faux Pas?

We’re having drinks in a somewhat low-key, dimly lit Italian place in the heart of Soho. There’s mainstream jazz music playing on the background and I’m halfway into narrating a funny story. He listens attentively, leaning against the bar, head tilted with interest – or the red wine’s working its magic. Then his smart phone screen lights up for a split second; he’s distracted. He looks down on his phone, a new message has arrived. He scrolls up and down, quickly skimming it or simply checking who the sender is. In the meantime, I’m sitting next to him, slightly dumbfounded, hands mid-gesture in the air (this will teach me to not gesticulate so much while talking), looking around to check who’s noticed: I’m on a date and my date is unabashedly checking his phone.

So, here comes my question: smartphones on dates – yay or nay?

I’m a devoted no-smartphones-on-one-to-one-meetings evangelist, which includes not only dates but also hanging out with friends. On top of this, I try to limit my screen time even when I’m out with a larger crowd. For some reason, taking out your phone when hanging out in a group feels more socially acceptable because it feels like I’m taking a break from the group conversation instead of ignoring my friend. Unlike when I’m meeting someone on their own, in a group there is no need to be the centre of attention; it is diverted and split in different ways. On a date, it’s a one-person show.

Checking your mobile during a date feels like socializing at a party: you arrive and recognize a couple of familiar faces here and there, that colleague you haven’t seen since you quit your previous job, an ex you’d rather not meeting tête-à-tête, and where the hell are the hosts? So, it’s like starting a conversation with someone only to excuse yourself shortly to go greet someone who just walked in. Take a moment to think about it: checking your phone during a conversation is like physically removing yourself from it, since you steer your attention from the live verbal interaction to the written one on your phone.

It’s not a break-it-or-make-it thing, but it’s definitely a faux pas that leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. True, it might be a case of emergency either at home or at work, but even in our message- and email-heavy times, I find that people tend to rely on proper phone calls for emergencies. If it’s done once and the overall impression of the date is positive, you’ll probably forget it by the next time you meet. If it’s done more than once, it’s straightforwardly rude – feel free to grab your things and go. There’s a good chance they might not notice; they’ll be on their phones.

Dating (as always),


For more on mobile phones and humanity, read here.

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