Sarah Slowe - <firstname.lastname@example.org>
23rd January, 2005
This is something that I have been meaning to write for a while, since I realised that it is not my generation of women that have grown up with computers that have problems being ``computer widows'', but those who have been married for years and have had this new component added to their marriage. Many of my friends now have married their husband knowing that their husband is a geek and that they love them in spite of this but still get annoyed when the computer gets more attention that them. This is primarily written for my female friends that have asked me for advice and how I deal with certain situations but female geeks are just the same as male geeks as I guess any man reading this will acknowledge.
I married Matthew, knowing he was a geek, he didn't just like computers as a tool, not just as part of his degree, he genuinely loves (and hates) the things. He has numerous computers, most of which don't work (and in my opinion should be binned). There is a room in our house brimming over with things that may be useful for one day (generally referred to by ignoramuses such as myself as The Computer Junk (TM)), what I am aiming to say is that when I met Matthew, I knew that the geekiness was an inherent part of him and part of what I love about him. This does not stop me from getting hugely upset when he would rather be on the computer than with me or when he ignores me because he is involved in what he is doing. This is not supposed to have all the answers, just a few ideas on ways we have balanced the computer so it doesn't rule our lives and relationships.
There is no such thing as a computer widow. This exists purely within the head of the woman who feels abandoned. You feel ignored, unloved and victimised, someone coined the term and it stuck as it justifies what you feel, but the phrase leaves women feeling like a victim and not pro-actively changing the situation. Your husband is not married to the computer, just as he is not married to the car, his job or his parents.
The trouble with computers, especially those connected to the Internet is that they have an infinite attraction, a car can only be cleaned to spotlessness once an hour - the computer never stops having things that need doing on them as updates for various software is often free and `will only take a minute'. It doesn't have any financial constraint as a car or other hobbies often do. A computer can be used rain or shine, early or late and as such seems limitless, there is always a little bit more to find out.
Computers offer a variety of social interaction -- email, IRC, and MSN all offer different ways to chat to people both individually and as a group, they are a great way to communicate with friends but multiple conversations can mean that there is never a time when you aren't `talking' to someone. The problem with this is that there is no actual interaction, it is all a sham and can lead to depression and loneliness when it replaces going out, talking and phoning people. This sounds odd and I am not a sociologist or psychologist that I can explain it but thats how it is.
On the positive side there are other things to remember. A computer is reliant on power. Even a laptop loses its power in time. It is not the best solution but as a last resort, flipping the trip switch works well. The idea, however, is to have safeguards and a relationship where this is not needed, where you don't get so desperate that you do this. It makes the geeks angry but it does work (if you would rather have negative attention than none. I know how this feels, believe me.).
From a rather better standpoint, the computer doesn't actually give your husband the fulfilment he wants. Computers are low on physical affection, not good at social interaction and boring when it comes to discussion. However they require no effort. Many men (and women I guess, but as I said before, I'm talking about men) do not realise how much time they have spent on the computer and if you tell them (or show them the time stamp of the email they sent when they first went on the computer) and they will become suddenly contrite.
Among my friends there are three different tactics I have seen when balancing the computer and a relationship. These are not exhaustive and no-one is totally one or the other so if you don't feel like you fit in one of the boxes, don't try and force yourself into one.
The first of these is what I labelled `if you can't beat them, join them'. This is where instead of geekiness/computers being the interest of one partner is becomes a mutual interest. This is not something I can do very well as I find computers, downloading software etc. incredibly boring, but in some aspects (IRC, mutual friends) I do share the interests. In relationships where I have seen this it does work very well, but the difficulty is that then both members of the couple get immersed in themselves and the computers and lack more outside interaction, so if you are in this type of relationship, make sure you have specific nights out each, alternative interests and activities that take up some of your time or you will end up with nothing to identify as you.
The second method is my preferred one of `polite interest'. I am a nosey individual and I like knowing things. I am more than happy for Matthew to explain to me how things work, what he is trying to do or what he is aiming for but I have no interest in doing this for myself. For me, this is like his interest in my cross stitch - he will watch me do it, chose patterns with me and admire the completed picture but would never want to try it himself. We are different people and have different interests but we are involved in what the other is doing. The only thing I am wary of is of making sure we do things together and of cultivating other mutual interests - as an example a specific mutual interest activity for Matthew and I is walking on the beach where we are away from other activities.
The third method is of total ignorance -- `you do your thing, I'll do mine'. The computer is allocated to a time when you are doing something else and your partner is then allowed to go on the computer. The problem with this is that without boundaries you can end up doing separate activities all day - not good for growing together, especially on a regular basis.
So, thats the three from my experience, none if perfect and none works 'best' all are equally good and equally likely to go wrong but if you have the right safe guards in place you should be fine.
Doesn't sound difficult does it? Switch the computer off (or if he worried about his uptime then turn the monitor off) and spend the evening together. In our case we switch the computers off at six (which gives me time to check my email after work) and they get turned on the next morning.
This is not always possible, especially for students. Foo and I have the laptop in the bedroom as we like listening to BBC Listen again when we go to sleep but that is all it is used for unless express permission is given by the other partner. Computers in the bedroom mean there is nowhere computer free to go, not a nice situation to be in.
If you need to talk or need time then ask your other half to turn the computer off. If he needs 5 minutes then give it to him as then he will finish what he doing and not be thinking about rushing back to it, but don't leave it 10 or he will have found something new to do. Once you have his attention, keep it - this is not difficult - use you imagination.
Make meal times computer free -- this gives you at least half an hour a day to be together and talk without his mind being somewhere else. The more time you spend together the easier it is.
Sitting staring at a screen resentfully thinking `when will he notice' as he is wrapped up in what he doing and enjoying it - this will only increase your resentment - talk to him and get it solved!
Ignoring the situation will not make it go away. Telling yourself it will go away may make you happier but if you sweep the dirt under the carpet, the dirt is still there even if you can't see it. Sit down and talk about - Matthew and I don't have time limits as I am not his mother but I know this works well for some couples - see what works best for you.
Remember that not all time on the computer is pleasure. Many geeks are on call at evenings and weekend, foo is an admin for a chat network which takes up many hours a week. Also, the are often other people relying on what they do - you are not the only person affected by their work. Trust your man - if he says he has been working for the last 2 hours and has just started playing then believe him. If he feels he needs to lie to you then thats something you need to sort out.
No matter what it seems like, geeks get sick of computers. They don't like being asked to fix them all the time, they have to put up with people doing stupid things to them (or just ignorant things) and computers often don't act as the should do (or 'Just work'). If he wants to get off the computer, let him -- sending mixed signals `please just...' won't help.
Geeks are wonderful people - preaching to the converted, I know, but they come with a computer. The computer doesn't need to be a source of tension between you. I am not saying I have all the answers but give it a go - there is no need for any relationship to break down ever because of an interest. Keep going - if you aren't going to make it together, don't let it be the computer that separates you but something more fundamental.
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