Make It Stop: “My Friend Is Constantly On Her Phone When We’re Hanging Out”

My friend “Sasha” won’t put her phone away. She takes calls and responds to texts while we’re hanging out. She has a challenging job that seems to require her attention at all hours, but after a few years (yes, years!) of this behavior, I’m over it. I was fine with her being endlessly available the first few years of our friendship because I understood how important her job was to her. But now that I’m older (34) and married, it takes more energy to carve out time to see her. I hate feeling like my time is being wasted as I sit alone and bored as she leaves the room to field a phone call. Sure, she apologizes profusely when she finishes her call and attempts to pick up the conversation from where we left it, but her phone habits are disruptive and rude. How do I make her stop?

First thing’s first. You need to decide if this is a friendship you still value. Because as I see it, you have three options: you can address it, accept it, or walk away.

If you choose to address her bad phone behavior, you have some options. You could do a pre-emptive strike: “I’d love to meet you for brunch, but only if it’s a phone-free zone.” Or lay out a consequence: “Every time you leave the table to take a phone call, you have to buy me another glass of wine.” Or, when she does start zapping off a string of texts right in the middle of your next compelling story, you could bring attention to it by saying something like, “If you have to work, I’ll just head home. We can catch up another time.”

Of course, you can always be straight with her: “I can’t keep making time to see you if you can’t give me your undivided attention.” If you hate confrontation, you might bristle at the thought of being so direct. But, hey! Maybe that’s where you’re at with this whole thing. In fairness, she needs to know that you’re contemplating ending your friendship over her behavior. For all she knows, you’ve been cool with this dynamic for years. She may not even know that you’ve changed, that it’s become harder for you to make time to see her and that your idea of a relaxing afternoon isn’t watching her leave the room every twenty minutes to talk to someone more important than you.

If talking to her about this issue isn’t an option for some reason, you can always work on just accepting it. Having your conversations be interrupted is the trade-off to being Sasha’s friend. Besides, if you make a move that limits access to her phone while she needs to be in touch for her job, it might only increase her anxiety being unavailable for long stretches of time. Or worse, she’ll miss an important call and she might blame you for suddenly (in her mind) changing your expectations while you two hang out. Unless she has a Jerry Maguire-esque freakout where she quits her job and steals the company’s goldfish, then you’re stuck with this bad behavior. Hopefully, there’s some other area where her friendship shines so it’s worth giving her a break.

You could suggest activities where your phone has to be turned off, like a movie. But I have a hunch that Sasha is the kind of person who’d ignore requests to turn off her phone and try to check it anyway, illuminating several square feet of space around her. Actually, don’t take her to the movies. A better idea might be to bring other mutual friends along during your hangs so you’ll never be left bored and alone. That’ll take the pressure off of her to be fully present. It’s not ideal, but it could work for you.

Your last option is to do the hard work and think about what the future holds for you two. You can’t keep putting your life on hold to watch her nod into a glossy smartphone. As far as being available for her job, either she can’t stop being available or she doesn’t want to stop being available for it. I mean, if she’s more interested in keeping her job than making you and your time feel respected, then how much is there to salvage? Maybe you’ve outgrown your friendship. Maybe she needs to realize that her inability to separate her work life from her relationships has consequences.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure to surround yourself with people who value your time. If this friendship isn’t meeting your basic needs, it’s okay to dial it back. Prioritize friendships with people who make you feel good the entire time you’re with them, not just when you say hello and goodbye then abandon you in between.