ONCE AGAIN, science has confirmed the bleeding obvious: snubbing your partner in favour of your phone — a practice known as ‘phubbing’ — is bad for your relationship. In the study, Turkish researchers found couples who frequently phub each other experience more dissatisfaction. In fact, the practice could even cost you your marriage.
“When individuals perceive that their partners are phubbing, they feel more conflict and less intimacy,” said researchers from Niğde Ömer Halisdemir University. “People should be mindful about being present with their loved ones to show they care and put their phone away.”
Phubbing — a portmanteau of phone snubbing that is frankly bigger in the vernacular of lab-coated researchers than it is in the real world — is a very modern affliction. Most of us do it, to our partner, to our children and definitely to fellow commuters. It sucks to be phubbed, particularly by a romantic partner and I imagine it’s infuriating to cop from a sneering teenager. It’s definitely poor form with friends you’re meeting face-to-face in the pub (pub-phubbing = pubbing?). Sure, your mate might be boring you senseless with a sorry tale about his crumbling crypto portfolio but letting your eyes drift down to your phone where the group chat is blowing up over Sam Kerr’s calf is probably a hate crime.
In the case of intimate relationships, however, I am going to push back on science just a little bit. In my experience, couples in the first flushes of romance, when hormones jangle and limerence is bouncing off the walls, probably don’t phub very much, as they’re too busy doing something phonetically similar, but drastically different, to each other. If someone does do it during the honeymoon period that’s probably a red flag.
It’s only as a relationship progresses, particularly once you start cohabiting, that phubbing is likely to emerge. And the first time it happens can be a shock. As time goes on, however, I would argue that it’s somewhat inevitable and should be one of those things, like leaving a drop of milk in the bottle, that you quietly seethe about under your breath but don’t totally lose your shit over.
In fact, if I’m honest, which I try to be when revealing personal details on the internet, I recall my wife phubbing me in the early days of us moving in together and feeling somewhat relieved that she had set the precedent and I was now free to phub away.
These days we phub each other constantly and it is understood that if someone really has something important to say they will let the other person know via a direct but not too threatening, “Hello, I’m talking to you”. We will then train our eyeballs and attention on each other like eastern European dudes before a pro face-slapping contest.
To this day we never phub at dinner, or on dates, but it is perfectly acceptable while lounging on the couch. The days are long and phubbing helps you get through them. How couples survived in the pre-phone age is beyond me, though I will cop to phubbing in analogue fashion with previous girlfriends using the broad heft of Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald as a shield against inane questions such as “what should we do this afternoon (given we don’t have digital devices to occupy ourselves)?” Books and TV were used in similar fashion, both by me and against me.
I would go even further and say that phones not only help you get through the drudgery of daily life, they also provide a steady source of conversation starters. A sick meme, a tidy piece of celebrity gossip, an influencer’s over-curated sunset beach shot, even a pressing social issue you see online, can provide fertile material for bonding, discussion, or schadenfreude. If my wife does have an issue with my attentiveness, it’s more likely to concern my tendency to daydream. Many is the time when she’s said, “You’re daydreaming, aren’t you”, which I will always deny even when I’ve been caught down a mental rabbit hole that leads to a 1989 incident on my neighbour’s jump ramp — daydream snubbing = dubbing?
I try not to phub my five-year-old daughter. For starters, she doesn’t have a phone to phub me back, which isn’t fair, though she will ignore me during Bluey (Blubbing?). I’m also conscious that right now she’s still interested in me. In a few years she will no doubt be phubbing me with impunity and I will probably be less forgiving of the practice.
So, when is it okay to phub and when is it a capital offence? Here’s our guide:
On a date
Be serious. You’ve dedicated time to spend together, even if you’re struggling for much to say and hoping she might go to the toilet so you can check the group chat. I did do some sneaky under the table phubbing during the recent NBA play-offs but it was at breakfast at a café, not dinner. Probably need a ruling from an impartial adjudicator on that one.
While watching TV with your partner
They have the OG of tech distraction — yes, TV — to occupy them, so you’re in the clear. Phub away.
This is what phones and phubbing were made for. Who wants to make small talk (read: asking the other person if they’re busy, then nodding and saying me too!) with other corporate drones?
Of course, prime phubbing time. Your fellow humans will be doing the same to you. Talking to strangers on carriages is regarded as creepy. Everyone can happily phub away before returning to our atomised lives.
Catching up with a mate at the pub
Again, if it’s a good mate and you are both cool with it, a good phub could give you some conversation topics. Obviously don’t do it while he’s unloading about his (un-phubbing related) marital woes.
In the bedroom
Probably only for sadists.