Jeff Jardine

Jardine: The lost art of dating, communicating without a keypad

Dr. Irit Goldman, a Modesto psychotherapist, said a significant number of clients come to her to repair relationships disconnected because one or both are infatuated more with their smartphones than they are each other.
Dr. Irit Goldman, a Modesto psychotherapist, said a significant number of clients come to her to repair relationships disconnected because one or both are infatuated more with their smartphones than they are each other.

One day more than a decade ago, I went to lunch with a co-worker at Tresetti’s.

Across the dining room, a couple sat at a corner table. Their kept their heads down, texting away furiously on their cellphones. Keep in mind, this happened in the days before smartphones and tablets. The cellphones of that era were equivalent to the rotary-dial landline phones that you might see in a museum or antique store today.

No matter.

“Look at them,” former Bee reporter Tim Moran said in a hushed tone and then laughed. “I wonder if they are texting each other?”

Seconds later, he got his answer. The woman suddenly looked up and across the table at her companion, her eyes telling all. She quickly sent another text and seconds later he looked up at her, nostrils flaring, and then replied. This apparent cyber snit lasted throughout their lunch. Then they paid their bill and left, and I can’t remember hearing either speak a word.

Fast forward to this week, and today – Valentine’s Day in particular. Valentine’s Day, in Facebook-speak, would be the throwback day to old-fashioned dating and wooing. A romantic dinner, maybe an exchange of gifts … making the effort to tell someone they are loved and appreciated. Then, for many, it’s back to texting, tweeting and Facebook messaging as the primary form of interaction.

So I asked friends on social media – where else? – to weigh in on the art of dating and communicating, and particularly what’s happened to the concepts in the technology age. Not surprisingly, one responded to say she’d gone to a restaurant recently and observed a couple seated at a table, totally engrossed in their phones. They paused long enough to order, but otherwise said nothing.

“When the waitress brought their food, they all set their phones down, but continued to look at them while they ate,” she wrote. “Again, not one single word was spoken! Whatever happened to the art of conversation? I guess it was replaced by a text!”

Others wrote or messaged me directly for privacy’s sake about how dating has changed from what they remember growing up, what they encounter today or what their children are missing out on entirely. A few recalled the days of hours-long phone chats, something their kids don’t do. They’ll text or tap on their laptop keyboard until midnight, but might not hear that friend’s voice for days at a time. They grow up knowing nothing else.

Some who responded pointed out that their kids go to the major social functions in groups instead of couples as dates, and enjoy it just the same. Dinner and a movie are so passé.

A woman who works in the Bay Area but lives in the Valley finds dating frustrating because people no longer simply pick up the phone and talk. Or meet for coffee. Instead, she said, some guys look to arrange “hookups,” meaning for casual sex, but show no interest in investing the time it takes to develop a friendship that can turn into a long-term relationship. And they do this through text messaging.

Modesto psychotherapist Irit Goldman believes schoolchildren should be taught the value of face-to-face communication. Her clientele includes couples who want to reconnect in their relationships to save their marriages. Goldman said the greatest single cause of relationship disconnects is technology. Those smartphones, not used in moderation, can put 4G and Wi-Fi between husband and wife. The same obsession that leads to texting while driving is also driving people apart.

“You have no idea,” Goldman said. She uses smartphones and computers, too, but understands the value of powering them down to have quality family time. Her clients reaffirm that through stories that follow a predictable path. They come home from work and instead of talking, spending time together and discussing their day, they end up in separate rooms, addicted to their cellphones instead of being addicted to each other.

“They drift apart,” Goldman said. “It’s so sad.”

And when some do communicate, it’s through text messaging. There are two serious problems with that, she said.

First, “each person has their perspective,” Goldman said. “Two people can look at the same text and have two different interpretations.” A simple sentence one person might read nothing into might hurt or anger another – especially if that person already is feeling unappreciated.

Secondly, one person in a couple might text the other during work hours, when there might be no time to even read the message.

“Five hours go by before he responds,” Goldman said. “She thinks he’s ignoring her.”

She cited instances when people ended a relationship coldly and callously with a text message or even on social media. Others, she said, have had affairs because they felt neglected and then met someone via social media. That is when electronic devices become divisive.

There are numerous approaches to helping them reconnect, with most involving regular time together and dates with no distractions.

“Leave the phones home. Give up the iPad, the TV. Just the two of you,” Goldman said. “Go on a picnic. Go for a walk. Dinner, but no movie. They need to talk.”

No kidding. Goldman told me she and her husband went to dinner recently and noticed another couple ignoring each other.

“She was on her phone and he was on his,” Goldman said. “I said to Barry, ‘Let’s pay attention to how many words they exchange during the meal.’ 

Does that seem familiar?