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Romance Unplugged

By now we’ve all witnessed some variation of this scene: Two people sit together in a cozy restaurant or coffee shop. At first glance it would seem obvious they are on a date. The setting is romantic. Both are dressed nicely and neatly groomed. They sit closer than mere friends or business associates are likely to do. Each appears completely absorbed in the moment, neither able to tear their eyes away from . . . a cell phone.

They are together and apart. Talking. Texting. Tweeting. Getting a stock quote or checking sports scores. Who knows?

Suddenly, it’s impossible to know by observation alone whether the two are really interested in each other or not. Could be—but what do they communicate by being so easily distracted from their chance to enjoy each other’s company? What could cause them to abandon intimate personal contact—hands touching across the table, eyes searching every nuance of her face, ears bathing in the subtle music in his voice? What could pull them out of orbit around each other and fling them back down to the routine, the mundane, the mechanical? Here’s an answer: Bad habits.

The truth is, our communication technology has advanced so far so fast that it has, in many cases, run off and left common courtesy—and even common sense—behind. Somewhere along the way we sent our electronic toys to the head of the line in our lives. If we hope to reverse that mistake and preserve the essential humanity of our relationships, then we have to put our gadgets back into proper perspective.

A good place to start is to reintroduce an old-fashioned and neglected word—etiquette. The dictionary defines it this way: “The rules and conventions governing correct or polite behavior.” Here are three suggestions to get you started:

1. Go off the grid. That’s right, turn the darn thing off for the evening. Admittedly, the mere thought will send many people into a panic attack. We’ve come to believe constant “connectedness” is essential to life as we know it—and we are wrong. Give it a try, and see for yourself. The joy of being romantically present for a few hours will far outweigh anything “out there” you might miss.

2. If you must keep the gizmo on, choose not to answer it. A phone call in the middle of a romantic evening is like a stranger tapping your shoulder on the dance floor to “cut in” on your time with someone special. How you handle the interruption will speak volumes about your true feelings for your partner. Answer your phone or respond to a text message, and you clearly convey to your date, “Something is more important than you.” A better choice is to ignore the words coming from your phone and focus on the words coming from your partner’s mouth.

3. If you absolutely must pick up, excuse yourself and talk at a distance. You wouldn’t carry on a prolonged, exclusive conversation with another person in the presence of someone you cared about. People who do so are widely considered rude and boorish. Talking on the phone, instead of in person, is no better.

When you are with your partner, put your best foot—and mind—forward by spending uninterrupted time with someone who could become the most captivating aspect of your life.