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When I am on a dinner date with a girl (generally in her early twenties), how can I politely tell her that I am annoyed and feel disrespected when she unnecessarily uses her phone to send text messages to her friends? These are generally early dates - often first dates though some are second, third, or fourth. None of these girls are in exclusive relationships with me. So, we are not super close.

(My focus is on frequent, unnecessary texting. I have been on dates with girls who have had to respond to work-related matters on emails with their phones, and this doesn't bother me at all.)

When this happens, I just sit there quietly and wonder to myself,

... wow ... is she that bored on this date?
... that's kind of rude ... does she do this on her other dates, too?

I put in considerable effort to plan these dates: I look for restaurants and study their menus, I make reservations, I go to the gym all week before the date, I get a decent haircut, and I try to dress nicely.

I have always paid for dates and never asked a girl to split the bill with me, even if they had spent much of the date texting other people.

(Money is not the issue; I pick up the tab as one way to demonstrate that I try and be a good date.)

Most recently, I was on a date with someone, and it happened yet again:

This girl not only texted frequently but also spotted someone in the restaurant who was supposedly "famous on YouTube" -- and so she spent part of our date trying to snap a photo of him with her phone, and also tried to get his attention, to say hello. I feel I have no self-respect and am letting someone waste my time.

Instead of sitting there quietly and feeling insulted, I want to know how I can ask my date to not use her phone unnecessarily, without ruining any good vibes we have during the date. This seems like a pretty tough thing to do, because I've never actually tried being assertive in these situations, and I'm afraid I'll just act out badly and say something like:

You know what, put your [expletive] phone away, or else I'm leaving!

Though, I think that doing this would of course ruin any chances of us going out again.

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    How did you meet these women? If online, they may be living their life there and you are just free food. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 25 '18 at 8:06
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Mithical Jan 25 '18 at 9:18
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    Perhaps change the question to "How can I politely ask my date..." – Michael Richardson Jan 25 '18 at 21:03
  • Just to give us context, do you invite out 50%?100%? of girls who express interest in your online? Do you filter at all (phone/text/email exchange)? How effective is your filter at detecting timewasters? – smci Jan 26 '18 at 21:30
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Jan 30 '18 at 6:55

17 Answers 17

190

The point of dating, at least in my (probably old fashioned) understanding, is to determine compatibility with a partner. Their cellphone usage can also be an indication of this too. When I was dating, I made a conscious effort to put my phone away because the person I was with was a priority. I wanted to spend time with them and get to know them. If my phone made a noise, I'd say excuse me and look at it for 2 seconds, then put it away.

If she is using her phone for long periods of time now, on the one occasion she has most reason to try and impress you, then what is going to change her behaviour on the other dates moving forward? What if you're dating her exclusively? Is she going to continue to do this then? If she makes you feel like you have no self-respect on the first date, then how do you know she is going to change when things get more serious?

There's nothing wrong with looking at your phone for 2s because it made a noise. But if she's glued to it, then perhaps that's a good indicator that she isn't the kind of girl you're looking for.

If her cellphone usage is excessive then you can bring it to her attention, but I would argue that doing so is besides the point. It's not your job to improve her manners.

Clarification, prompted by the comments:

Her actions are showing you that you are not a priority. You can't make her pay attention to you, or tell her to make you a priority. I mean, you can, but is that the precedent you want to set for the relationship?

In light of the above, I'd recommend that you end the date early if you feel she is being extremely rude. In that case, you can say something like the following:

"I was under the impression that you'd be available this evening, but it seems like you're busy with other things now. I'd rather not waste either of our time further"

This acknowledges her behaviour, doesn't demand she pay you attention, gives you an opportunity to leave and her an explanation as to why you are leaving. If she apologises and asks you to stay, I highly recommend sticking to your guns and still leaving. This is reserved for cases when you really want out.

This can be particularly inconvenient in the middle of a meal, so I'd recommend a coffee date or something more informal that's easier to end early as a first date.

Do note that this is for extreme cases where she's really being just plain rude. There are other answer suggestions for things to say in other cases (her phone is just a minor annoyance, etc) that don't really warrant leaving yet. What you do really depends on your personality and the situation at the time. It is possible that she has a really bad phone-habit and doesn't know it, but judging by "I feel I have no self-respect" and "sitting there quietly and feeling insulted", this more than just a small phone annoyance.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Feb 5 '18 at 1:29
72

Why are you trying to change her habits? You are on a date, and neither side has any standing to comment or change another persons behaviour.

You also have no obligation to continue the date if her behaviour bothers you and makes it unlikely that you want to spend more time with this person. In fact, breaking off the date early, while it requires a bit of mental fortitude, is considerate of both peoples time.

Giving people the benefit of doubt is always a good idea, so until you know otherwise, assume that whatever she is doing is important. In fact, assume so openly. You can ask "I'm sorry, is this not a good time for a date? You seem to have important things to attend to."

Once you know (e.g. because she answers "nah, just some Twitter comments" and then continues) that what she's doing is not actually a family emergency (though a respectful person would announce such by herself without waiting for you to ask), break up the date.

Seriously. Ask for the bill if you ordered already, leave your food and drink and get out of there. If a person can't put her phone away on a date, she will be even more like that deeper into a relationship. If it bothers you now already, it will bother you even more then. No point in wasting time on this dead end, go out and start planning the next date with the next girl.

  • I'm not sure I agree with giving the benefit of the doubt in this case. Since, as you said, a respectful person would apologize and explain that something urgent has come up, I'm sure it was manifestly clear to the OP that such was not the case. – Andy Jul 14 '18 at 16:53
  • Always give the benefit of the doubt. The emergency might be so dire that she simply forgot etiquette for a moment. Or she might think she announced it in a hidden way that you just didn't get. Unless you are absolutely certain, give the benefit of the doubt. – Tom Oct 9 '18 at 8:36
63

Texting during a date is rude and disrespectful most of the time. There can be plenty of variation between the level of texting before it becomes rude (some prefer none and some don't mind responding when your phone alerts) and more importantly there could be external reasons they need to be texting. Because of this I think that being assertive is not the way to go.

Instead I would try to bring attention to the fact she is using her phone, without accusing her of being rude or telling her to put it away. This lets her know you do not like the amount she is using her phone on the date, but leaves it open for her to act next, and ideally she will put away her phone or explain why it is important she continue texting.

If you know your date well enough you could try to make pointing it out a lighthearted joke. For example, on a recent date of mine we were eating tacos and the girl was texting a lot. I sent her a message saying "This taco is delicious". With a big grin on my face as she looked up. She said a sarcastic joke back and afterwards she put her phone away and we carried on with an enjoyable date. The reason this worked was because I did not accuse or demand she change her behaviour, but still managed to bring it into the conversation.

Exactly how you choose to go about bringing the fact they are on their phone is up to you, the texting joke was good for me because we somewhat knew each other and that type of humor worked for us. It would be counterproductive for me to write your jokes for you, instead you should find what is best for you to say and you must think for yourself and consider what sort of humor would be best in your own situation. It does not have to be a joke either, the only essential part is that it gets mentioned, and you do not use aggressive words or be demanding/make accusations.*

If your goal is to maintain an easygoing/fun mood on your date then you should say easygoing and fun things! Not "put your [expletive] phone away". It is common knowledge that texting is inconsiderate towards your date, so if you can find a way to bring it into the conversation without you yourself being rude, it is effectively the same as you blatantly telling her you would like her to use her phone less. If she purposefully continues being rude then I would say she isn't worth it, but that is just me and you are welcome to try some other solutions if you like.

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    Using your phone to do that joke is a good advice. So +1 for that. But other than that you do not really answer the question. You just tell what NOT to do, but imho do not give an advice for an appropriate way to tell the other person what's wrong. – Torsten Link Jan 25 '18 at 9:18
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    @TorstenLink Actually it does say what to do: bring attention to the fact they are using the phone too much. If the person doesn't understand it's rude, then as the accepted answer explains, that person is just not a good fit. – Pierre Arlaud Jan 25 '18 at 9:53
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    This is a throughoutly subjective +1 from me, but I would LOVE that way of handling my handling me getting lost on my phone. It's clear enough to snap even me out of phone-use (I am soemtimes HOPELESS at social cues... some people just are like that!), and gentle enough to not scare me off :). – Layna Jan 25 '18 at 18:40
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How can I tell my date to not use her phone unnecessarily during dinner?

I have news for you. You don't get to control your date's behaviour. In general you don't get to control someone's behaviour unless you are their parent or their boss.

You can however do two things:

  1. Communicate to your date how you feel when she uses her phone unnecessarily.
  2. Ask if she would mind not using her phone. It's her choice to respond or not. And make sure you ask nicely, and that you make it clear they have the option.

It may seem like a small difference between 'ask' and 'tell' but it isn't. People do not like being told what to do. And the fact that you phrased this as "tell my date to..." several times in your question makes we wonder if you have really grasped the point that you can't control people's behaviour, and that trying to do so is what we call 'being controlling'. As an exercise consider how you would feel if you were told by a date not to do something that you normally did and liked doing.

  • Very true. If you ask her to put the phone away and she doesn't or has attitude about it then I'd reconsider the date. Everyone's already mentioned it's pretty rude and disrespectful outside an emergency or perhaps checking on sick family members. – doctordonna Jan 27 '18 at 4:31
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I'd like to expand on Stacey's answer (before she added it herself).

After you've concluded that the other party isn't a match because he/she is impolite/rude/lacks common decency, you can end the date, e.g. if you've only had drinks:

Hi, I don't want to be rude, but I don't think this is working out. I suggest we just leave it at this to save us both some time. I'll pick up the bill*, have a pleasant evening.
*or suggest to split the bill

And then leave. You don't have to be rude, but you're not a free meal service as well. If they can't respect you and your time enough to spend 1-2 hours without their phone, you should at least respect it yourself. You, as individual, are worth some common decency/respect.

It is a bit common to assume the guy will pay "because he is supposed to pay" (where the guy is trying to be polite/good). Because this is sort of assumed, it is taken a bit too lightly by some and then at the end of the free meal do "aw no sorry, don't think this is going to work". The method suggested above should prevent that, at least to some extent.

IMO a very good video on Youtube: Who Pays on a First Date? - Matthew Hussey, Get The Guy

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    Think you could even suggest to split the bill if it doesn't work out. I think the reason someone should pay the bill, is because this person invited the other person and hopes on an invitation by the other person where the payment will come from the other party. Don't pay if this is not the case. – josephine Jan 25 '18 at 13:45
  • Yes I agree, I couldn't come up with a way to add that to my answer without distracting from what I ment (untill myt next edit) – Martijn Jan 25 '18 at 13:53
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My strategy for this might be a little bit too "dominant" for many, but it works. Whenever she's got her face down and scanning through whatever on her phone, I finish the sentence I was saying and then just stop talking.

If she looks up - and at me - within ten seconds of me going quiet, I say "thank you" and hopefully continue a lovely date, otherwise there are better things for me to do, so I leave.

If this happens too often - say 4-5 times in an evening - I wait until she looks up again and ask something like 'Do you want me to leave the two of you alone?' or 'I wasn't expecting to be the third wheel on our date'. Passive-aggressive enough to be a bit of a guilt trip, but not enough to be sociopathic. Just asserting my position, reminding her why she's here.

Finally, If she insists on a "Yeah, but I just have to [...]", then take out your own phone and make a show of opening the calendar app. "Okay, how's about ... Thursday next week? ... No, wait, I can't then... That Sunday, maybe? We could do brunch." Make a show of how the date is now over. She blew it. But you're willing to reschedule. You're nice like that - giving her a second chance.

9

Address the issue at the beginning of the date, before this issue shows up. This way you won't have to go through any awkwardness during the date and you won't put any blame on her:

Nowadays it's really difficult to get away from the cellphone. Let's use this time to create some free space from those attention-seeking devices! Are you in?

State that being overly distracted by cellphones is a common problem, not hers specifically. Phrase it as underlining the positive aspects of not using the phone (undivided attention to the world around us, peace of mind etc) rather than on the negative ones of using it.

If you feel like it, you can also jokingly do a bet:

Ok, let's put our cellphones here on the table. The first one that touches it loses/pays a beer/does something!

7

Smartphones are an everyday part of our lives, but that's no excuse for rude behavior.

That said, given that it's a frequent enough occurrence, you'd be having to tell lots of your dates to stop playing on their phones. That doesn't sound very pleasant for either of you.

Perhaps a change in approach.

Maybe not a date where there is idle time. No matter how engaging you are, there are going to be natural lulls in conversation. Pulling out your phone is now just how people deal with that.

And take this with a grain of salt--it reads as if you feel entitled to having your dates act a certain way based on the effort you put in. Yes, texting during dinner is bad manners, but just like you wouldn't get on your dates case for folding up a soiled napkin, you probably shouldn't get on their case for texting during dinner.

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First of all (and this is REALLY important): Most of the time it is not your fault when they do this. It is either just unconsciously doing the wrong thing or even disrespect to behave like this.

So it's her "fault". I would go with a simple question instead of accusatory phrases and then see how she responds.

A simple:

Would you mind putting away your phone for a while?

should be enough for a sensitive person to figure out what you want.

You can vary this depending on your mood and probably your feelings for her. If you feel this is too strong of a demand, then lessen the effect with a nice explanation like:

I really like to look into the other's eyes when talking

Or you could even add a compliment (when feeling like it):

I really like to look into your beautiful [insert color here] eyes when talking

Maybe due to my age I am too conservative and probably too romantic. But for me, this is how a date should be.

  • I like this approach a lot. It's very gentle but still clear, and the last example could earn you some serious points if you're not afraid to be a little cheesy :) – Em C Jan 25 '18 at 20:48
  • And if she doesn’t get that message the second message (which she probably won’t get either) is you don’t ask her out again. – WGroleau Jan 26 '18 at 2:54
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A lot of answers are very direct, and almost accusatory. If that fits your personality then those may be a good option.

If you'd like to bring attention to the fact that this behavior is disruptive, while providing an out or face-saving opportunity for them you can assume good intentions and that they'd only be doing this if it were urgent.

When they pick it up, fall silent, give them space to read their message and if they so choose, to respond. When they return their attention let them know that you care about what they care about, with the assumption that it's urgent, and that you'd be willing to end the date early if they need to be elsewhere:

That must have been urgent, I hope things are ok. If your attention needs to be elsewhere during our meal just let me know, I understand that things come up and we all have to prioritize. We can always reschedule this date.

Then continue on with the meal. You've set an expectation, that they would give you their attention except for something urgent, and you've implied the outcome if they are unable to provide you with their attention.

Further, you've done it without belittling them, and if they feel guilty it's internal rather than a blatant call-out. They won't feel the need to defend themselves.

  • Seeing how the OP defines the issue as a recurring problem in the population he is dating, this really is the only right answer assuming the OP wants to leave open the possibility of a continuing relationship. – dotancohen Jan 28 '18 at 11:04
  • @dotancohen - which is stated in the question. – Tim Jan 30 '18 at 12:31
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Positive reinforcement:

comic

Also positive comments like, "I'm glad to be here with you, and would really like if we could both be present and appreciate this time we have here with each other; I'd like to get to know you a bit [and not just your cell phone]." Then ask a question to further stimulate conversation.

I know this may repeat some other content, but the comic is just a few days old and seemed quite fitting.

  • The comic is mocking our obsession with phones and concurrent decline of social graces. Very apt counterpoint to this discussion. – user11886 Jan 28 '18 at 3:37
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If you ask another adult to do, or not to do something, you are basically trying to control them. This wont go down well on a date.

On the other hand, if you express your feelings about something in the right way, someone that wants to please you will adjust their behaviour voluntarily.

To be clear - relationships are two way. You should want to please the other person as much as they want to please you!

You could say (with a smile):

You are addicted to that phone!

or

I never use my phone at the dinner table.

or, when they are staring right into the phone...

I'm over here.

I wouldn't outright ask them to put it away. They may have a good reason to be checking it. Listen and learn from how they react.

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    I feel like you've named three excellent ways to get a drink thrown in your face. – Adonalsium Jan 25 '18 at 15:09
  • @Adonalsium I've never had a drink thrown in my face on a date, or any time. Not even by my ex-wife. – Astralbee Jan 25 '18 at 15:13
  • You must have not tried using any snotty, passive-aggressive remarks to complain to her, then! – Adonalsium Jan 25 '18 at 18:32
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    Nice point about expressing feelings rather than trying to control, but your examples are doing the opposite of what you explained – Jesse Jan 29 '18 at 1:06
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Always sucks to have people use their phones on you especially on dates. Having had some experience with girls from this age group (I'm in that age group)

you could say/do:

  1. "hey we're on a date here and the purpose is to get to know each other and if the communications on your phone are more important we could always pick this up at another time"

  2. "if you really must message someone about something, please take some time to do it all then come back and focus on this (AKA get it out of their system.).

  3. inquire, ask about what she's distracted by "Oh that's a famous youtuber? what does he/she make videos about, hey lets go take a photo with them, whats you favorite video from said youtuber."

That's similar to you seeing an actor or minor celebrity you like and wanted to take a photo with him/her while you are out on a date.

Other than these, i think, if they insist that their phones are more interesting than you although you are supposedly their date for the day/night. Excuse yourself, drop any later things planned for that date and call it a night, they don't need you.

Edit:

Seeing what Alan wrote, i think yeah, using the phone deals with the luls and lowpoints. my guess is that OP is annoyed as it happens very often or maybe even halfway in conversations. If both are silent and there is no communications going on, a 30 secind phone whip out would hardly be out of place. Issue is when my date shushes me mid sentence so they can reply rebecca about how absolutely cute that dress is. (not a true story)

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    Point 1 and Point 2 can and will most likely sound way too harsh and kill the mood. Poit 3 is good as it shows interest in the other persons interests ^^ – MansNotHot Jan 25 '18 at 8:50
  • method varies from person to person i guess, see how the OP wants to react. – SomeoneElse Jan 26 '18 at 1:11
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Being assertive for a moment shouldn't ruin the mood, it will actually make a positive impression with most dates. The best way to deal with this is to express surprise in a calm, polite & firm manner. Leave no doubt that the behaviour is unacceptable. This works very well on a date as people want to make a good impression, they just hadn't made much effort to think about their actions in advance.

Almost everyone will apologise and put their phone away. The rare person who won't after you comment is telling you that they aren't willing to make an effort to behave well on a date. And that is valuable to learn too.

Say something along the lines of "What are you doing? You don't text when you are on a date!" And if they are still reluctant to put their phone away then reinforce it with "It's really rude to text when we should be paying attention to each other."

Be polite but firm. You are not making a casual comment or negotiating, you are expressing surprise & should have a real expectation that they will put the phone away as this will be reflected in your tone and body language.

  • "What are you doing? You don't text when you are on a date!" -- that comes across as pretty rude to me. If I got distracted by my phone on a date I'd want a gentle reminder, not an authoritarian command. – arp Jan 27 '18 at 22:23
  • Remember that this is happening in the more formal context of a date where there should already be an effort to behave well on their own initiative. They shouldn't be texting here anymore than they would in a job interview. Texting in this situation is being egregiously rude to the person they are presumably trying to impress. An exclamation of surprise toward that bad judgement is entirely proportionate and much more likely to succeed than a weak PC response. – user11886 Jan 28 '18 at 1:56
  • I do believe the core issue here is mismatched expectations, including how formal the date is. – arp Jan 28 '18 at 3:20
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    @arp, no not mismatched expectations; I'm just asking for a minimum level of courtesy - for an hour or so of dinner time. The dates are a bit formal, though, given that we go to restaurants that require reservations, sometimes have well-known chefs, etc. Not like dress code-required formal (e.g. no jacket required), but definitely not a casual trip to Starbucks or McDonald's ... – D.Hutchinson Jan 31 '18 at 4:49
  • The stereotype of millennials is that they neither expect nor understand certain courtesies. ;-) It might help, in any case, to make that minimum level of expected courtesy clear up front -- "I'm looking forward to this -- an actual date and not just hanging out together." (While complaining about the poor manners of the younger generation goes back as far as we have written records, and presumably much further, it does seem to many people that "the screen generation" is lacking in certain communication skills, see for example diverseeducation.com/article/71222 ) – arp Feb 1 '18 at 10:56
1

Unfortunately, the social graces of past generations are becoming less and less commonplace, even amongst those raised within those standards. The only thing I would suggest is perhaps stating "We are here because we are interested in getting to know one another. I find that is much easier to accomplish without distractions. Would it be alright with you if we kept our phones away?"

I think you would be surprised by how many would be agreeable. However, I do think you need to also be flexible to a point. It's a far stretch to write an individual off as being rude, shallow or detached for looking at their phone. As I stated previously, cultural norms are changing. If both you and your date communicate, there should be no conflict.

Best of luck

1

The only thing you can do is express that you don't like it, and then she will decide if you she wants stop or not.

One way to do this is by saying

Do you find our date boring?

You can say this with a smile. This is not insulting, and it express how you feel. Also it is clear that you have expressed strongly your position.

Another way would be: Send her a text message, saying hello.

This way you will communicate to her that something is wrong in a polite way.

For the previous it is a possibility that she will get confused, if she asks you explain:

I prefer on dates no texting, as you can make the most out of your date and find out whether you connect with the other person. That way you know if you would be able to know whether you want to pursue another date and not end up wasting our time if we don't connect.

Finally, you can explain your position directly in the following way, say to her:

Personally, I prefer not texting during dates. Because ...(say the previous paragraph). Also, when you are texting the other person has nothing to do and it can get boring for the other person. What do you think?

She will explain her position, and maybe this will start an interesting conversation why she is doing that. Maybe she will not change her mind but by explaining her position, you will see her view and maybe decide if her perspective makes sense to you, regardless on what she decides. Maybe her perspective is something you can respect and change your mind, and who knows maybe you will start texting in your next dates as well.

0

This may be part of a larger cultural shift where younger people who have been accustomed to using their smartphones constantly since their teens are so used to multitasking that they don't perceive it as rude, but feel, rightly or wrongly, that they can give multiple information channels at once sufficient attention.

Some articles that talk about the multitasking habits of generation M:

Another possible cultural shift is a switch from formal dating to a more casual "hanging out together". (I don't have written sources on changing dating patterns, just anecdotal data from younger people I know.)

You are likely to continue seeing this behavior, so it's worth thinking up some polite and possibly even humorous ways to approach it.

A few possible lines:

  • I'm old-fashioned enough that I like to concentrate on one thing at a time -- can we both turn our phones off and just talk?
  • I was hoping that I'd be interesting enough to get you to put your phone away.
  • I would like to really get to know you, not just hang out together doing our own things.
  • Every time you pull out your phone I have to fight the urge to check mine, but I get really distracted and I'd feel rude to be ignoring you like that. Can we both just put our phones away for a bit? [Yes this is a bit of a lie.]
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    You're making a lot of (possibly unfair/unkind) assumptions here. We're not here to berate the OP for their use of words, we're here to answer their question. Please be sure that your answer focuses on the question and not on lashing out over some implied slight when using "girls" instead of "women". Considering it's common for even women to refer to each other as "girls", I'm not sure that your assertions are correct or warranted and they're largely irrelevant. As such, I'm removing the bulk of your answer. – Catija Jan 28 '18 at 19:18
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    Also, while using resources to support your answer is great, just linking to them without actually discussing them is less than helpful. The main point of your argument needs to be present in your answer here, not hanging out on a link that may die in the future. Please edit your answer to include more detail. – Catija Jan 28 '18 at 19:22

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