‘Where are you?’
The three little words I sent to my boyfriend recently.
Three little words with a whole lot of meaning.
Because, yes, asking about someone’s location can be motivated purely by interest. It can also be for strictly practical purposes. But sometimes, when that question is asked of a romantic partner, it can be about quelling insecurity. A need for reassurance.
I’ve been mulling over my trust issues thanks to a new guilty pleasure ‒ the TV show Couples Therapy. A surprise BBC Two hit, it offers a voyeuristic look into psychologist Dr Orna Guralnik’s marriage-counselling consultations. It’s bottom-clenching viewing ‒ there’s something squirm-inducing about seeing unhappy partners laying bare their relationship problems ‒ but it’s addictive, illuminating and really makes me think about my own behaviour.
On one episode there was a woman who messaged her husband 20 times a day at work. And then got annoyed when he didn’t message back within minutes. (She used to phone him but his boss had barred her from doing that.)
We all know a person like this, don’t we? In the noughties, I worked in a magazine office with a guy whose wife called him every couple of hours to ‘check in’ that he hadn’t forgotten to take his vitamin supplement/buy his mother’s birthday present/empty his bladder? Ostensibly. But we all knew it was really to ‘check in’ that he hadn’t run off with the cute fashion intern.
I’ve never reached those heights, but I do confess that when my ex-husband was out drinking with his mates and didn’t come home on time, I’d fire off passive-aggressive ‘Are you OK?’ messages. In hindsight, I wasn’t worried he was in danger (he was 16 stone and once, accidentally, broke his mother’s ribs giving her a hug). Nope, if I’m honest, somewhere deep inside me, I was worried he was with Sandra from accounts.
It’s not just women who behave like this – it works the other way round, too. But, whatever your gender, technology means if we want to we can see where our partners are, whether they are online and if they have read our messages. I don’t have a location-tracking setup with my boyfriend (the suggestion of it would make us both feel nauseous) but I can see the appeal of it for some situations. For example, if I’m in a cab and the driver seems dodgy, verging on axe murderer; in this scenario I’d like my boyfriend to know my exact grid reference, thank you very much.
Oh, and possibly in Ikea, where you could lose someone for a decade between tableware and lighting.
But mostly I think it’s a dangerous road to travel down in a relationship. Start tracking your beloved’s location and it could easily induce paranoia. Psychologist Pamela B Rutledge agrees and says these apps are ‘marketing to our primal fear of uncertainty under the guise of connection’.
But context is everything ‒ what if you need to build back trust where it has been napalmed by infidelity?
Then I can see it. I have a friend whose husband had an affair and it shattered her faith in him. Now, thanks to an app, she can see where he is at all times. Not ideal, I know, but it stops her thoughts spinning out of control.
People often ask me whether I feel the need to implement such things after the trust was broken in my last relationship. They are surprised when I say no. But my divorce taught me that you can’t control anyone. If they want to leave you ‒ or run off with Sandra from accounts ‒ then no amount of tracking will stop that.
Heartbreak also taught me that I have an inner strength I didn’t know I had. That I can be OK ‒ more than OK ‒ on my own. Which means, in turn, I am not so needy in my new relationship.
I didn’t get a response to my message from The Boyfriend for a few hours, whereupon he resurfaced sounding soporific. ‘I was watching the cricket and must have fallen asleep,’ he said.
‘That,’ I replied, ‘is totally understandable.’
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