Can You Hear Me Now? Dates vs. Cell Phones

The scene: some enchanted evening, seated across the table from your sweetie. Just like in many a starry cliche about love, you hear bells. Loud bells. Really loud bells.

“Excuse me, I need to take this call.”

Ah, it’s his cell phone. Or hers.

More and more, wireless devices like cell phones, BlackBerries (search) and other PDAs are intruding upon dates and social outings. A recent survey by the California-based dating service It’s Just Lunch showed that cell phone use during a first date is not only a rampant problem, it’s also a huge turnoff.

“I think with technology changing a lot of things, it is kind of interesting to see how technology has played into friendships and relationships … that’s why we took the survey,” Alana Beyer, vice president of It’s Just Lunch, told

According to Beyer, 46 percent of all singles say use of wireless technology is their biggest pet peeve on a date.

And people tend to be quite opinionated on this issue.

“There are very few circumstances under which I think it’s acceptable to answer a phone when you’re out with a friend, and if someone answered their cell phone on a date with me, they would have to be incredibly wonderful otherwise for me to date them again,” said New York City single Dahlia Adler.

Kristin Hambel, 21, wouldn't even sit out the meal.

“I think it’s rude when someone near me is speaking loudly on a cell phone or even if it’s ringing in a restaurant. And on a date? I would get up and leave!” she said.

And singles aren't the only ones who are upset.

“I am always embarrassed when we are at a nice dinner and my husband answers his cell phone or checks his BlackBerry,” 47-year-old Judith Chand of Athens, Ga., said with a sigh. “We’ve been married for 25 years, so what's really annoying is when our whole family goes out for a nice ‘family time’ dinner, which is getting harder and harder to do. He always seems to need to answer ‘that one.’ He’s always ‘been waiting all day’ for it."

A recent poll by market research company Synovate found that 70 percent of 1,000 respondents witnessed impolite technology use in others at least daily. About the same percentage saw the worst etiquette in cell phone users over other gadgets.

Etiquette experts have also noticed the trend.

“So you’re at dinner on a date, the phone rings — the other person answers — and proceeds to have the entire conversation, munching his or her meal at the same time, and leaving the other person basically eating dinner alone! For that, we can order take-out and watch ‘Desperate Housewives,’” fumed Pauline Winick, co-founder of etiquette consulting company The Protocol Centre (search) in Miami.

The intersection of wireless use and social outings is not just fodder for etiquette sticklers. Dating advice columnists like April Masini of also field wireless-dating challenges.

“Technology is a tool just like a salad fork," she said. "Each new piece of technology should be considered the same way a salad fork should when it comes to using it properly and with grace and elegance."

For most people, using technology with “grace” and “elegance” means absolutely no use of wireless devices during a date.

But as soon as the rule is set, exceptions inevitably follow.

“There are always circumstances where you need to pick up a call, like when my parents call. They don’t call me very often, so when they do I know that it’s important,” New York University student Paul Hammer said. “Or sometimes, you’re waiting for someone’s call if you have plans later in the night. I really do think it’s rude, though, to pick up your phone when you are out with other people,” he added.

On a date, many professionals find themselves not only fielding communication from friends, but also from business associates and clients.

Liz Scofield, who teaches etiquette courses at Lehigh University, said jam-packed schedules are making people addicted to efficiency.

“We are really busy and don’t really have time for social situations. We are really good at multitasking. We want to give attention to the person we are with but also to the future. There is a certain aspect of feeling really popular, that you are wanted all the time,” she said.

The idea of being wirelessly tethered is an oxymoron, but it's increasingly true for many.

However, experts don't think wireless use is completely handicapping romance — just adding an additional challenge.

“I don’t think technology is killing romance. I think it has changed it a little bit. Dating is simple — it is personal interaction. When you start letting technology take over, it takes out that personal interaction. People still want the personal interaction,” Beyer theorized.

Scofield agreed that it’s the lack of attention that’s the insulting part.

“A wireless device does offend the person you’re with. At the end of the day, etiquette is about making people feel comfortable, welcomed and cherished. If you cast that person aside, you are sending a message that the physical presence is less important than the technological presence.”

And while BlackBerries and cell phones make it easier to stay in touch with romantic partners at all times, sometimes it's about quality over quantity.

“Technology can enhance your dating life by giving you new ways to communicate, but you don’t want that to run your dating life," Beyer said.

Still not convinced? Here's another reason to pay attention to your dinner date: BlackBerry Thumb.