For six years, we were known in our friends' phones as "Johnny/Kayla."
My boyfriend and I had just one phone between us. This meant we saw all of each other's text messages, saved selfies, and recent calls. Our Google search histories were on full display.
It wasn't that we couldn't afford two phones. It was more that we just couldn't find a good enough reason to pay for both. My boyfriend — now my husband — is an old soul trapped in the body of a 20-something. He's never really liked getting texts, push notifications, or email alerts. So when his phone contract was up, he never renewed it, and we never looked back.
Okay, that's not entirely true. I looked back.
I'm what you might call a high-stress person, which I realize isn't really uncommon these days. The thought of not being able to reach my boyfriend if I needed him was utterly anxiety-inducing for me. How would I know where he was? What if I needed him to grab something from the store on the way home? What if there was an emergency?
But we used just my phone for one week, then two weeks, then six months, and the world didn't end. Life went on just fine without us being able to text or call each other. During the next five-and-a-half years, we got married, rented our first apartment, earned a few degrees, rented our second apartment, adopted a dog, bought a car, and bought a house. We lived our lives and grew together, all while exchanging our single phone between the two of us.
Most American adults own their own smartphone these days. But I've never once come across another couple that shares one between them. In fact, other couples have reacted to our arrangement with sheer horror. But, in many ways, I think sharing a phone actually did a lot to strengthen our relationship.
I mean, sure, it had its inconveniences.
One time, my car broke down 40 miles from home in the most torrential downpour you've ever seen. And, because I left the phone with Johnny that day, I couldn't easily call a tow truck — or anyone else for that matter. But, over the course of four hours, and with the help of some kind passersby, I got ahold of both Johnny and a tow truck and got home. It worked out fine in the end, even if it did take a bit longer than it otherwise would have.
There were plenty of times I didn't know where Johnny was when he didn't come home at night (usually sleeping at a friend's house after drinks). And there were times he didn't know where I was when I didn't come back from a run (usually doing a long run instead of my usual, shorter route). Those situations could be stressful, yes.
We were also probably a nuisance to the people around us, who we often relied upon to relay messages for us. If I had the phone, Johnny would have his friends text me when he was on his way home from a study session or dinner. If he had the phone, I would have my friends text him after we'd finished off a few bottles of wine and he'd come get me. No one ever said they minded being our personal messengers, but sometimes I wondered if they secretly did.
There were lots of fun things about sharing a phone, too.
For example, Johnny would leave all kinds of pictures for me to discover later. I'd find shots of our dog bundled up under piles of blankets or woodsy trail pictures from Johnny's hikes. I liked being included in his life like that, even when I wasn't around.
Also, not being able to call or text one another actually improved our communication. We had to talk about everything in person — from simple conversations, like what we did at work or school that day, to more difficult talks, like what we could do to be more supportive of one another. It's easier to ignore the tough conversations you need to have when the instant gratification texting provides mediates your relationship. But we couldn't hide behind a text screen, and there was no room for misinterpretation.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy found that women especially were likely to text their spouse when they needed to apologize or work out a disagreement. But aren't those conversations the ones that are most important for us to have in person?
My favorite thing about sharing a phone was making plans to meet Johnny somewhere. We'd pick a place and time, and a way to find each other when we got there. It wasn't until we shared a phone that I realized how dependent I had become on reconfirming plans with people. Like I said, I'm a high-stress person, so being able to text as I was heading out the door was kind of my way of saying, "Hey, you are still meeting me, right?"
I did this all the time when Johnny and I both had phones. But when we shared a phone, I had to just trust him to be there when he said he'd be. And he always was.
I got pretty good at knowing how to look for Johnny. Even now that we're back to having two phones, if we ever wander off from one another in a store (okay, I'm the one who does the wandering), I can usually find him if I swing by the electronics section, menswear, or wherever the store is most likely to sell Pokemon cards. We may not share some kind of deep, telepathic connection, but we also don't have to text each other to make it out of Target.
It's kind of fun to test if you know someone well enough to figure out where they are. Sometimes it takes a few tries. And sometimes you don't find what you're looking for at all.
But just being willing to look might be what really matters.