LOVE, ZOMBIES & SMARTPHONES:
How to Become a Romantic Lead in Your Own Life as Shown by the Unlikeliest of Romantic Leads.
If you don’t remember the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead, it’s because you haven’t seen Shaun of the Dead and if you haven’t seen Shaun of the Dead, you either hate zombie flicks, were born yesterday, or are an electricity-free, cave dwelling hermit who eats berries, mushrooms and the odd smoked eel. I salute you. I secretly want that life. If the latter is the case, you probably won’t be reading this.
For the zombie haters and 1-day old babies I’ll give the summary:
Shaun is dumped by his girlfriend Liz because he is a slacker and lacks motivation. He doesn’t put a lot of effort into their relationship. Shaun loves her and wants to win her back. He wants the whole love-life shebang and so does she. She wants serious commitment and to feel wanted. From ring to wedding celebrant to a family. At least that’s the vibe I got. “Get serious Shaun!” He wants a life with her and so he decides to win her back. His plans, however, are interrupted by the Zombie Apocalypse. So, he and his even more deadbeat, slacker friend Ed, embark on a courageous journey to rescue Shaun’s mum, his stepfather, as well as Liz and her flatmates, and take them to the safety of the local pub, The Winchester.
The film has all the hallmarks of satire including irony and witty commentary on current social issues. But what is its primary genre? Is it horror? Is it romantic comedy? Is it an action film? It plays with a bunch of the usual tropes found in these genres. It really is a multi-genre weave. In fact, the portmanteau ‘RomZomCom’ was coined to describe it.
In simplicity it is the brains of a romantic comedy being salivated over by a zombie flick. The zombies are representing the challenges that are often faced in a relationship story. Shaun of the Dead is like a video game where the hero character must battle through different levels to win (in this case win back,) the heart of his love. Edgar Wright used a similar game play concept more blatantly in Scott Pilgrim Vs the World.
I think the Brits do the “everyman” romantic lead well and Simon Pegg is evidence of that.
There are a few lessons that could be drawn from Shaun’s character arc that can help us to create better relationships but there’s just one that I want to focus on today. That is to understand the influence of toxic relationships and particularly, a certain relationship that we may not realise, is exactly that. Carry on reading and clarity will follow!
Firstly, note that I used the term relationships rather than friends. While toxic friends are a thing, we can all be a little toxic at times. We’re all stupid humans. Externalising the issue and blaming it all on one person won’t help though. We need to figure out what’s wrong with the connection.
Ed, played by Nick Frost, is Shaun’s bestie. The writers establish their relationship and backstory early and show how their relationship affects other relationships.
So, what began as a triangle, with Shaun, Liz and Ed at its points, has turned into something much more complicated. It’s a Gordian knot which never becomes completely untangled but becomes more manageable and balanced as we see later in the story.
In remaining tight with Ed, Shaun seemed to be clinging to his childhood and the avoidance of responsibilities that come with maturity. As horrible as it was the zombie outbreak provided a coerced opportunity for Shaun to step up and take on a hero’s obligation.
Today though, we’re not talking about flesh and blood third wheels. Today let’s talk about something that most of us are guilty of being on the wrong side of. That is letting a digital 3rd wheel into our relationships and giving it more time and energy than we give to our human relationships. Maybe we’ve been the victims of it.
Get the Phub Outta Here!
An unhealthy relationship with a virtual third wheel leads to phone snubbing or “phubbing,”. Despite phubbing being a “Stop trying to make fetch happen!” type of word, it has been accepted into the Cambridge English dictionary. The Scrabble dictionary hasn’t accepted it yet though so don’t even try or, speaking from experience, you’ll just end up embarrassing yourself.
We can list thousands of advantages to the tech in our hands but do we seriously consider the downsides, particularly the effect on our interpersonal relationships?
Just as Shaun could be in the same space as Liz but not truly present, do we find ourselves sharing space with someone but because of a device in our hands, we are detached from the moment?
It used to be that the big 3 disputes for couples’ were sex, money, and kids but now smartphones have joined that club.
Studies have found that those who are phubbed by their partners:
- feel conflict that leads to lower relationship satisfaction
- endure more depressive symptoms
- express lower life satisfaction
By allowing technology to interfere with or interrupt conversations, activities, and time with romantic partners, even when unintentional or for brief moments, individuals may be sending implicit messages about what they value most, leading to conflict and negative outcomes in personal life and relationships.
Why? What is it about smartphones?
Imagine bringing home a friend for dinner. Now imagine that you stare at this friend and engage with this friend for the bulk of the dinner and barely pay your other half any notice.
Now imagine that you bring that same friend with you everywhere you go; to restaurants, to the shops, into the toilet.
What you are doing is having an emotional affair right in front of the very person you are supposed to be truly engaged with.
The studies that have been conducted conclude that phubbing feels like rejection; and maybe it feels like that because that’s exactly what it is.
“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”
Some questions we could ask ourselves to determine whether a phone has become a negative 3rd wheel include:
- Is my phone causing emotional infidelity?
- Do I unwittingly or unthinkingly ignore my partner or kids etc. when I’m gazing at the phone?
- Is it so noticeable and blatant that people are commenting on my human to phone relationship?
- Am I easily distracted by it and see no problem scrolling while I’m mid conversation with someone or supposed to be focused on something else?
- Do I get defensive and fail to apologise if pulled up on it?
- If my phone isn’t nearby, do I find myself easily bored and craving time with it?
- Do I feel separation anxiety when I am away from my phone?
- Do I seek comfort and refuge in my phone?
Shaun was able to win back Liz and still hold on to a friendship with Ed but, (and here’s a spoiler alert,) he had to keep Ed chained up in his shed. That sounds all sorts of wrong, but it was drastic measures. Ed’s heroism left him undead, but all is well! He enjoyed his existence playing video games in his “Zombie Man Cave” with his mate Shaun checking in on him from time to time.
To truly find balance:
- Have Tech-free times and places
- Get more intimate with your partner. Do you need a dopamine hit? Get one from a physical embrace.
- Change settings to avoid hearing constant alerts.
- Be conscious and show it – show that you are setting your phone down and walking away from it. During the closing scene Shaun spoke with Liz about going to visit Ed in the shed. He didn’t just disappear.
Studies have shown that it is not smartphone use in general, that affects relational health. There is no need swap out the smartphone for smoke signals but what the studies show is that it is the over-reliance on these devices, and particularly the psychological reliance, can be extremely hazardous to relationships.
Shaun didn’t throw away his “third wheel”. He still made time for his friend but he had to wisely use restraint and create space that didn’t encroach upon his time with Liz. Just as he was able to focus on his relationship with Liz without completely severing his ties to his Ed, we can care for flesh and bones relationships without throwing our devices in the river. We just need to be smarter than the phones in our hands.
I’ll finish with a quote by 19th century poet James Linen
“Oh! it is deplorable to behold neglect aiding in the triumph of decay.”
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