Are you paying attention?

Do you know that scene in Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd asks Harry why things did not work out between him and his girlfriend? Harry says:

“She said something about me never listening to her. I don’t know - I wasn’t really paying attention”.

I’ve sometimes thought that if my husband and I ever parted ways, his version of the break-up might be something along those lines.

Yes, he can be a bit hopeless at paying attention. But then again, knowing how to shut up is not exactly my strong area. My husband once confessed that he has this thing he calls the “30-second-coping-mechanism”. It means that he can be 95% focused on something else (such as reading the football news) while I am talking. He needn’t in any way internalise what I am saying, so long as his brain is able to replay the last thing I said for a period of approximately 30 seconds.

This means that in the following scenario:

“You are not listening. You never listen to me!”
“Yes I do.”
“Oh yea?  Well what did I just say?”

…30 seconds later, we are good again.

In case you are not familiar with the term phubbing yet, it is the new word used for smartphone related snubbing. If you are phubbing someone, you are basically through your gestures communicating the following message to the person trying to engage with you:

“what you are saying is not really that interesting to me. I would rather look at my phone right now”

You can see why it is considered rude.

We try to be very careful not to phub our children. Because that’s much worse than just being rude. It can be considered a serious issue. There are numerous newspaper articles with references to child psychologists explaining how a parent ignoring a child and looking at their smartphone is damaging their child’s development in a number of ways.

I never read such newspaper articles on my iphone when I’m supposed to be looking after the kids. Obviously.

But my husband phubs me all the time. ALL THE TIME.  What’s worse I don’t really catch him doing it to other people so much. 

I found the above picture in my old photo files and it reminded me of the first night out my husband and I had after the birth of our first child. For the first time ever, we left our daughter overnight with grandparents and headed off to a friend’s wedding. I remember it felt like being instantly younger again. Just being a couple for a moment.

I think the above picture really captures the spirit of what happens when new parents that haven’t been out for a while have a few glasses of champagne. I might as well tell you that about 15 seconds later the photo boot fell down with us inside.

The wedding couple had left a chart on the wall, asking all the guests to give them some good advice for a happy marriage. I remember reflecting on my shortcomings as a wife and the issues I clearly had with talking too much. So I wrote:

“always make sure to ask your partner: how was your day when he gets home”

Another wedding guest, also a close friend of ours, was pregnant with her third child. She wrote:

“Don’t have children.”

I could kind of see her point also. I’ve certainly read loads of parenting blogs about how after having kids you and your partner become estranged shift workers. You know, how we quietly pass each other in the night in between bottles and nappy changes. Romantic dinners get overtaken by box sets etc. etc.

So is it any wonder if eventually all conversation gets replaced by intense iphone staring?

Here’s what I think: phubbing is a bit like burping. If you do it next to someone, you don’t know so well, it can be extremely rude. But if it’s someone you really, genuinely care about, what’s a bit of phubbing? In fact, it probably means the person in question trusts you will still be there, once they are sufficiently bored with their smartphone to look up.

It’s not the most romantic definition of love, but through the rush years of my life I will happily settle for it.


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