What do you mean I "type too much"?
April 28, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I don't know how to resolve the problem between my boyfriend and I over the question of whether I spend too much time on the computer "typing".

This is not a case of internet addiction, and more likely a case of needing a fresh perspective (for myself and perhaps my boyfriend) to see the situation.

I am female, working full-time while pursuing my masters degree part-time, with a live-in boyfriend. We enjoy doing the most inane things together, go for walks, and have fun the way children laugh their heads off over nothing and find charm in the smallest things.

After my first year of grad studies, I realized that I have the need to do a lot of independent research, networking, and generally 'feeling out' my new field of pursuit. This involves a lot of mindless searching, book marking, quick email sending, and talking it out with people over IM. MY boyfriend has expressed incredulousness at the amount of typing I can do, and his grievances can be broken down into three parts (addressed over three conversations).

1. If it's important enough, don't IM, call.
2. If it's just an email, it's not time sensitive, can't you do it later or at work?
3. Who are you writing to and if it's no one (i.e. a blog), why is it so important?

I'm in my late 20s and he's only a few years older. I value "un-plugged" time just as much as he does, and I am feeling a tension that I can't resolve. This is almost like a case of a parent seeing a child on the computer, typing away, and not understand what they're doing, why they're not joining the family for dinner, and taking it personally. I feel that I spend a lot of time with him; we always eat dinner together, we spend weekends going out for coffees, we cuddle before sleep every night, we do small but thoughtful/practical things for each other. All of that makes me feel even more miserable when I realize that he thinks I am ignoring him, whenever I'm on a laptop, fingers tapping happily away. I should clarify that the problem he has is not technology-usage per se, but that I'd rather spend time organizing my files on my computer than spending time with him.

There are times when I get engaged so much into what I'm doing, no matter how inane (surfing is pretty inane, even if it's purposeful surfing), I just get focused and I start to dismiss other people. I am apparently not aware of myself doing it, and I don't mean to be dismissive. How can I address and resolve this, hivemind? How do I become more aware of the impact of my information seeking behaviour on my loved ones who feel like they are less than a bookmark list that I'm organizing, when I feel I have a real need for information and research (on topics that he often does not understand or relate to)?

(As it stands, it is not a big issue, I just want to get some perspective on this because i can see this as a reoccuring issue, and I am fantastically sensitive about it for some reason. To him, he is simply making an observation, for me, I feel like my whole life/work/love-for-him is being questioned and underminded. Crazy sounding, I know, but that's inevitably my initial reaction.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Does he have a computer?

Something me and my boyfriend do is IM each other. We both have computers and instead of shouting across the house - we send an im.

Can you include him in your iming and blogging? Perhaps ask his opinion on an email you're about to send?

Do you discuss what you're doing with him?

My suggestion is to communicate more.
posted by royalsong at 10:11 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

My ex husband used to program while sitting next to me on the couch - for hours (and hours). To him it was "together time," but I grew to absolutely HATE the incessant typing. The sound of it would send me right up a wall. This may be part of the issue - living with someone who is constantly clattering away at a keyboard is like being in a locked room with a dripping faucet.

As for the need for information - that in and of itself can become an obsession. Have you tried timing how long you spend on the computer everyday? Are you covering a boat load of anxiety with a bunch of busy-work? Your single-mindedness may be freaking him out, and judging by your extreme reaction to his comments (I feel like my whole life/work/love-for-him is being questioned and underminded) you might have a wee bit of an unhealthy fixation on what you're doing.

If you work full time and are pursuing your degree part time, that must mean that you are loading all of your research time into the evenings and week-ends. I recommend that you take a serious look at how much actual time you are spending at the computer, and perhaps realize that your boyfriend is attempting to help you simplify your work to save you time.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:16 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're not "typing" or "IMing" or "surfing". You're a grad student and your work involves research and conversations and writing. What you're doing is "working" and you need to be able to do it without being interrupted and without having to justify what you're doing. Perhaps your boyfriend would be happier if you did all of your working at school and only came home when you were all done for the day. Perhaps he needs to understand that if you did this, he would not see much of you, especially since you're working full time on top of this.

With that said, be careful you don't neglect your relationship. When you're over-committed it is easy to do so, especially when you live with your partner. Set time boundaries on your work, so that he doesn't disturb you while you work, but once you're done the two of you spend time together, and make sure there is enough of each.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:17 AM on April 28, 2009 [14 favorites]

I'm a freelance writer and my partner is a full-time student. Sometimes it's comforting when we're both at home clicking away at our "stations," but sometimes it's a little aggravating for some of the reasons you mention. I find it helps to just take my show on the road and work somewhere else, so that I don't feel scrutinized or scrutinous. Or he'll go in the other room or down to the diner to make his flashcards and do his reading etc.

In short, all the behavior you're talking about is far less aggravating if it has its own time and place, occuring somewhere where he's not observing you doing it.
posted by hermitosis at 10:20 AM on April 28, 2009

Your question is "how do you become more aware?" Lots of people zone in when focussing on particular tasks - it's natural. You're question shows you are already aware of the impact, just not at the ideal time.

The facile answer would be just to get your machine to pop up a little window every 30mins saying "Is my partner resentful yet? Rate on 1-10"

A better answer would be to make it so there's no need to be so hyper-aware. Set yourself a standard, regular period of time, shut yourself away and do the work, then leave it behind. Your partner should respect the need for a grad student to do that. If you find you have to postpone organising a set of bookmarks until the next work period, then so be it. If your IM buddy isn't online at that time, save it for email - questions and responses are not going to go away - do you really need instant feedback? It doesn't sound like you're under much time pressure at this stage and computers have a great tendency to make normal people say 'I'll just do this one more thing' - so take action to create limits. People did used to do grad research without the internet, after all.

On preview: seconding PercussivePaul
posted by Sparx at 10:24 AM on April 28, 2009

My husband and I were in a similar situation, and it took some compromises on both sides to reach a satisfactory place in the relationship. On my end, I purposely limited some of my at-home computer time, similar to Sparx's suggestions.

On his end, he agreed to only really bother me if he was feeling lonely and needy, NOT if he was just feeling bored and wanted me to entertain him. Turns out, this was the case quite a bit of the time. It took awhile for me to impress upon him that I had solitary hobbies that I wanted to pursue, and that bothering me was sort of counter-productive (as they didn't make me want to spend time with him).

Essentially it just took a lot of dialogue over quite a few months. I know that's not much of an answer!
posted by muddgirl at 10:31 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

1 and 2 are camouflage for number 3 as to not appear jealous or left out.

He's jealous of your time on the computer. You can fix it by getting off the computer.

I get immersed as well and have been known to dismiss my spouse and children on several occasions. It's not a good habit. Our loved ones do not appreciate being ignored and being second fiddle to a machine. I think it would be helpful if you give him a heads up and limit your browsing sessions. "Hey honey, I'm going to have an hour of computer time and will be off by 8 so we can watch that movie together."
posted by Fairchild at 10:33 AM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Can you step away from the computer completely for two or three or four days without going into some kind of freak-out information and communication withdrawal? Have you tried it recently?

If you can't do that, you perhaps need to begin looking at your computer usage as bordering on obsession. If you have no trouble walking away for days at a time, both speak with your boyfriend about what it really means to be a graduate student, and review your own time priorities to assure yourself that what is most important to you is at the top of the list.
posted by netbros at 10:37 AM on April 28, 2009

I think this is a combination of (1) irritation at the actual sound of typing and (2) annoyance that your "work" (both career-work and graduate work) is starting to bleed into your "home" time.

For (1), there are compromises that both of you could make that would probably fix this. Like, can you do your mindless surfing and e-mailing in the bedroom, sitting on the bed, so that if he's in the living room reading or watching TV or having a snack he's not driven up the wall by the constant clack-clack-clack? (On preview, The Light Fantastic's comparison to a leaky faucet is really apt.) Or maybe you two could invest in a pair of wireless headphones so that he can use to watch TV while you're typing. A lot of this depends on the layout of your apartment and what he's typically doing when he starts to get irritated with the noise.

As for (2), that's a lot harder. I sympathize with the full-time work + part-time graduate school schedule--I'm doing the same thing, as is my boyfriend, and it's certainly a grind--but if I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice, it would be that it's really really super-important to not fall into the trap of letting graduate work leech into home time. If there's any possible way for you to physically leave the apartment when you work on schoolwork, I highly recommend starting to do that. This helps a lot with becoming more productive at actually getting your stuff done, plus it helps relieve some of the irritation that can arise in relationships from this type of schedule.

This is almost like a case of a parent seeing a child on the computer, typing away, and not understand what they're doing, why they're not joining the family for dinner, and taking it personally.

While this may be your perception of it, I'd bet good money that this isn't really the dynamic going on. I speak from some experience here (on both sides of the equation) when I say that having a partner/spouse who brings work or schoolwork home (particularly into a tiny apartment!) then spends hours working on it while ignoring the other person in the room, well, that starts to feel extremely rude. I bet your boyfriend would be a lot happier spending the exact same amount of "together" time that you two currently do (eating dinner, coffee on weekends, cuddling) if you would just leave him alone in the apartment when you're not going to be mentally present anyway. Right now, you're kind of like the roommate who never ever leaves the apartment for anything, and no matter much you like that roommate, it starts to chafe that you never get to just chill out a relax by yourself without them there, doing their thing.

If making the changes to remove your studying and networking from home--that is, adopting the attitude that 90% of the time schoolwork and related surfing/emailing/etc. needs to happen at the library or the coffeeshop or in your office after work--is unthinkable, because you'd never be home, then I think you need to take a hard look at whether it really makes sense for you to be living with your boyfriend right now.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Good advice above, I'd just like to add that it's important to state right out that you're hearing him about his need to spend more time with you, but that the way he's expressing it isn't working. Then you can, as others have mentioned, start a conversation/negotiation that allows you the freedom to work on your graduate degree but also acknowledges that spending time with him is an important part of your life.

It's a balancing act, but there's no reason why you can't do the things you need to do and work on having a healthy relationship.
posted by Kimberly at 10:44 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ask him how you can compromise on this, what would make him feel better about your work. Whether you should only work a set amount of hours at home on this (aside from situations with deadlines looming), whether it would be better for you to be working on this elsewhere, etc. Talking it out will help him understand that this is important, not a frivolous use of your time.

Also, if he is simply making observations and not intending to come across as criticizing, then you may want to let him know that he comes across that way (in a calm, cheerful voice)...

Being stressed in grad studies is normal, working for endless hours on the computer is normal, getting into a groove and filtering out the rest of the world is normal... but none of these are good or recommended. So perhaps you can also negotiate on ways to reduce these. He can be very helpful, and a source of relief if you let him.

Also, what is he doing in the evenings while you're working away? If it's just sitting around watching tv, then it's easy for him to get focused on what you're (not) doing. Might suggest that he finds something to do while you're working, because if he's wrapped up in his own thing he won't notice how you're not focusing on him.
posted by lizbunny at 10:54 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most of my creative (personal) work is done on a computer, and most of my student work (grad student in neuro) is also on the computer. I also communicate with my family and mentors on the computer via email (though not IM... to time/attention-sucking)

Which means I'm on the computer more often than I am away from it.

The basic problem is that they see what you do on the computer as non-critical, and as a result they understand the computer time as time you could be spending with them.

Some people have never used a computer for anything other than facebook or non-significant communication and don't have a good idea of how they can be used productively or creatively. You may end up having to educate your partner on this, or (sadly but almost inevitably) find a partner who understands these new, versatile tools.
posted by fake at 11:06 AM on April 28, 2009

You describe a nice relationship. Why is your bf hassling you over your pursuit of a degree, and your dedication to it? Graduate work tends to be pretty consuming, but in the long run, financially, personally and professionally rewarding. Next time it comes up, put everything down, and say, Let's resolve this issue. I really need to understand why this bothers you, and I really need you to understand why it's important to me. I'm sure we can make this work."

He shouldn't be deciding how you do the work, that's up to you. You sound like you're trying very hard to please him. He sounds a bit controlling, or anxious/left out.
posted by theora55 at 11:28 AM on April 28, 2009

I've found it a helpful exercise in general (nothing regarding someone else) to try to minimize my computer use for a couple of weeks just to get perspective.
This definitely seems to me to not be about typing. I'd say read a John Gottman book.

Also, I find it a useful exercise to do computer 'fasts' for a week every now and then. It's hard when you really do have to use it to draw the line between necessary and less necessary, but some things can be put off for a week. For your own sake, I'd suggest trying to schedule and minimize your computer time for a week, just to see what it's like for you.
posted by Furious Fitness at 11:46 AM on April 28, 2009

He's jealous of your time on the computer. You can fix it by getting off the computer.

He's jealous, that's true. Maybe he's jealous of your time on the computer, maybe he's jealous of your advanced degree (does he have one?), maybe he's jealous of the people you're talking too.

Bottom line, though, is that if you're spending a good amount of quality time with him already and these are things you need to do to advance your education and career in a way that suits you, then he needs to address the jealousy and get over it.

There might be ways you can help him do that if he's ready to talk openly and honestly about how he's feeling, but if he's going to mask that with weird complaints like #1 and #2, there's not much you can do about it.

This is not your problem to solve unless you want it to be but, in my experience, just giving in isn't going to help him with the jealousy issue -- he'll just start being jealous over something else. There's a fine, fine line between jealousy and being controlling and it doesn't take a particularly long time to go from one to the other.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:49 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

1) Choose an area of your house where you will do all your work, and go to this place when you have something to do. Or...
2) Choose an area of your house that is where NO work will ever, ever happen, and leave that place when you need to do work.
(Your current situation will decide which of these makes sense for you.)

The advent of multiple communication media has made people forget what's polite and what isn't. For example: If I'm watching a movie with my gf and the phone rings, I wouldn't THINK of picking it up and starting a conversation. So why would I think it's okay to sit there and respond to IMs and texts while she and I are sharing time together?

As a computer professional and constantly networked person, it took some time for me to realize how often I was being rude to those around me (and yes, grad school didn't help). However, I now think of everything in terms of "being on the phone." That is, whenever I text someone or IM, I do it at a time when it would also be appropriate for me to be on the phone chatting away.

Now, if we're watching a movie and something happens that I HAVE to respond to, I pause it, apologize, let her know how long I'll need to be away, and go take care of whatever it is.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:53 AM on April 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

One suggestion: work in a separate room. Don't work on the computer in the same room, or even within eye- or earshot, of him. When you're with him, really be there; when you're not with him, he can focus more on entertaining himself, hanging out with friends, doing noisy things, and not listening to clicky-clicky-clacky.

Being in the same room with someone but not being able to talk with them is kind of horrible after a while.
posted by amtho at 11:55 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seems like there are two real problems here: neither of these are as much about the technology as they might look like at first glance.
1) Are you spending enough time with him?
2) Does he respect the time you're not spending directly interacting with him?

Ask him questions - is it the time that is a problem? The idea that you're spending time on stuff he doesn't see as important? The noise from typing? Some combination? Your solution's going to depend on the answer.

Time browsing, reading stuff that isn't directly related to a current assignment, etc. is generally considered an important part of grad training. I agree that you need to manage this time - but it's fair for you to have some.

Communicating about how that works, and why it's important to you is probably the way to go - not justifying it, but in terms of "If all the stuff I did on my grad program was *just* for an assignment, I'd be missing out on a lot. It'd also make me start resenting the topic. Browsing and looking at related stuff reminds me of what I love about [subject] and why I'm putting in the time on the grad program" might work.

Talk to him about different communication preferences, too. Remind him that you respect his preferences (and do so) when you're communicating with him, but that you want to do that with the other people you communicate with too. If both you and other-grad-subject person are fine with email or IM, then it's really not his choice what you pick. (Other than not disturbing him directly.)

Finally, be realistic about the time commitment. Don't get tempted to estimate down. By now you probably have a decent idea how long assignments will probably take you - schedule that into your week. Plan in time to spend with him. Save some wiggle room that could go either way, and let him have input into when that is. A lot of similar frustrations I've seen have come from one person saying "Oh, this will just be 15 minutes" and the other person hearing it over and over again. Saying honestly "I need about an hour to do this" the first time can reduce a lot of the stress.
posted by modernhypatia at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I bet your boyfriend would be a lot happier spending the exact same amount of "together" time that you two currently do (eating dinner, coffee on weekends, cuddling) if you would just leave him alone in the apartment when you're not going to be mentally present anyway.

This is exactly the solution. I am married to someone like you, and he drives me batshitinsane sometimes with his computer usage. Your boyfriend is jealous and you're being rude and ignoring him. Not on purpose, but that's the end result.

Our solution: 1) He stays later at the office and is fully "mine" when he comes home; or 2) he works in our home office while I do something else. If it's the type of task with no determinate ending point, he'll agree to a time when he'll be "done" and I'll come get him (otherwise he hyperfocuses and loses all track of time).

Tell him specifically "I'm all yours" when in fact that's true, and don't pick up the phone/laptop/etc for anything short of a death in the family.
posted by desjardins at 12:27 PM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I find that fun times with hubby on the weekend can be tinged with tension because any minute he might just announce that he's gotta work. Now he gives me the heads up at the beginning of the weekend and gives me a rough schedule. That helps me a lot, because I can plan other things to do and I don't feel like I'm wasting my precious free time watching him work.
posted by pizzazz at 12:35 PM on April 28, 2009

I don't think it's per se bad to ignore him while you do your work - you live with him, and it sounds like you spend plenty of time with him.

If you were reading a textbook, or you had to pore over library books, it would be kind of the same thing - you're busy, and it's okay to be busy sometimes as long as you're tending to your relationship(s) as a whole.

He doesn't actually have to get a justification from you about why you are IMing instead of calling. You're doing things you need to do, and honestly, if you were gabbing on the phone instead of IMing it would take more time and he would have grievances about that. I find it hard to believe that he doesn't honestly understand the use of IM and email, so going down a road where you try to "explain" to him sets up a no win situation anyway.

I vote for saying, in a sweet and normal tone of voice, "You know I love to spend time doing things with you, but sometimes I need to do research or communicate for school, and it works best for me to do it on the computer. I like to be able to sit with you while I do some of that, but I don't want to bother you - would it be better if I went to the coffee shop or the other room?"
posted by KAS at 12:57 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can attest to the sound of typing getting at a person. I used to find the sound of it charming, especially when produced by my writer boyfriend. (The thought of what compelling thought he may be in the middle of, what gorgeous paragraph he was sealing.) Turns out he was not composing some epic novel, but instead was chatting at foreign beauties, the Brazlian of which now resides in my old apartment. The typing became a tell-tale heartbeat.
(Clearly that's not what's going on here, but I understand the potential of typing driving one up a wall. Maybe try to save the bulk of your research for when you're truly alone. And if you're hardly alone, make some time. Take it to the library.)
posted by thebellafonte at 4:01 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

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