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“Something interesting?” I ask. “Huh?” is the gormless reply. My friend has been looking at his phone between courses and clearly has no idea what I just said.
There are two distinct camps when it comes to phone use at dinner: people who think it’s “no big deal” and instinctively place their device on the table, and people like me, who find it rude and beyond infuriating.
When a friend appears to be mesmerised by their phone instead of my (witty, intelligent and downright engrossing) conversation, it makes me feel like they’ve got somewhere better to be. But instead of expressing genuine hurt or disappointment, I inevitably end up saying something pass-ag, leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth before dessert arrives.
So if your friend is tempted by Twitter, spellbound by Bumble or wooed by Whatsapp, how do you tell them to put their phone away without it ruining your friendship?
It may be tempting to drop hints about your friend’s phone habit, but it’s always easier for everyone concerned if you’re explicit and clear about what the problem is, according to Relate counsellor Peter Saddington.
“By using ‘I’ statements you’re more likely to be heard in a more helpful way,” he tells HuffPost UK. “For example, you could say: ‘I really like it when we can meet and talk but I notice that you quite often get distracted by using your phone. When that happens I feel (insert the relevant feeling such as ‘ignored’, ‘lonely’, ‘less important’). I wondered if you could turn the phone to silent when we are having lunch?’”
Rather than asking your mate to ditch their phone completely, you could talk to them about taking a break from their phone for a period of time in order to establish some boundaries that everyone can live with.
Lou Crane, 23, from Newcastle upon Tyne, tried this tactic when she went to a music festival recently and became frustrated when one of her friends wouldn’t put down her phone.
“It felt like she wasn’t present and was more invested in whoever was on her phone than putting it down and hanging out with us, who she hasn’t seen in a long time, and probably won’t for a while. Her excuse was that she wanted it for photo and videos,” Lou explains.
To tackle the problem, one of the group agreed to be the designated picture and video taker of the day, while the friend spent a day with her phone off (and didn’t get sucked in with incoming messages).
Alternatively you could make a digital detox part of the fun of a night out, as Georgia Haggar, 22, from York, does with her friends. The group play a version of a popular game, where everyone places their phone in a stack on the table and the first to reach for theirs pays for dinner or drinks. “We actually pay attention to each other rather than our phones!” she says.
On rare occasions, phone use can be the final straw that ends a strained relationship. Michael Portz, 32, who lives in Manchester, ended up losing a friendship because his mate would constantly check social media, Whatsapp and dating apps whenever they met up. Eventually they grew apart and lost contact.
“I vented my frustration on numerous occasions, jokingly at first, but then with a little more insistence that he actually put the phone away. He just laughed it off, and when he did put his phone down, he couldn’t resist the urge to pick it up again five minutes later,” he explains. “I eventually lost all interest in making conversation as I was pretty sure none of it was even registering with him – we ate in silence with his face illuminated by the yellow glow of Grindr.”
Walking away from a friendship due to phone use should be a last resort, but Saddington says sometimes, it can be necessary when you’ve exhausted other options. “If your friend doesn’t respect your feelings and continues to not listen to what you’re saying, then the longer you stay in the friendship the more likely you are to get upset and angry,” he says.
“Friendships can tolerate arguments and disagreements but if it always feels like it’s you who’s upset and angry then it’s probably no longer a friendship and is instead time to move on for your own benefit.”