It’s about us, it’s about trust, babe.
Recently I was at a bar with friends when someone asked when my boyfriend was gonna show up. Instead of calling or shooting a text, I opened Find My Friends, a GPS tracking app in which you can share and see contacts’ locations (only with their explicit authorization). My boyfriend’s cheerful blue dot on the map showed he was 20 minutes from us. The pal next to me, watching my app toggling, was appalled at this “overshare.” But honestly, until then I really hadn’t considered that it might be creepy.
In my defense, it wasn’t like I forced a stranger to constantly share his whereabouts with me after the third blowjob. When my boyfriend and I decided to exchange locations we’d clocked several months in our long-term relationship. We considered the unique cocktail of my anxiety disorder and his frequent work trips and made the decision together. At the time of this bar incident, using Find My Friends was second nature. I frequently check the app to gauge when to meet him; he often uses it to perfectly time cracking open a beer for me just as I arrive at his house. We have nothing to hide and don’t feel either party abuses the privilege. For others, I’ve learned, location sharing oversteps healthy, necessary boundaries.
“If two people need to keep tabs on one another like this, outside of genuine safety concerns, then maybe they should talk more and rely on technology less,” said my friend Jason, who has been with his partner for 11 years. “The word ‘constant’ evokes trust issues.” Jason says he occasionally shares his location with his partner—usually when he goes to late-night concerts in a nearby big city—but it’s rarely reciprocated and never left on indefinitely.
It’s true that location-sharing can take a lack of trust to its most paranoid extension. There are forums on how to (secretly) use GPS tracking to catch a cheater in their tracks, and four percent of teens in a 2015 studyreported downloading a location-tracking app to a partner’s phone sans consent. But there’s a big difference between trying to catch someone in an indiscretion and checking to see if someone made it home okay.
Even with two-sided permission and the best of intentions, location-sharing can still lead to compulsively refreshing an S.O.’s whereabouts. You do not, for instance, want to share locations too early in a relationship (that early flood of dopamine can lead to obsessive behaviors). Even later in a relationship, it’s easy to go to a dark place looking for inconsistencies in where your partner says they’re heading versus what their blue dot reads. My friend Adam, for instance, lived apart from his girlfriend for the first five or six years they were dating, and they didn’t share their locations when they were long-distance. “We were in other cities, so what did it matter? You don’t understand where that person is anyway,” he says. “The last thing you need to be doing if you’re in a long-distance relationship is going, ‘Is she at the Krispy Kreme or is she at some dude’s house?’ You can’t always tell on the map.”
Like almost everything in relationships—sex, for example—there’s a healthy approach and an unhealthy approach to location-sharing. Dr. Justin D’Arienzo, a psychologist in Jacksonville, Fla. who specializes in romantic relationships and marriage counseling, says that a healthy approach depends on consent and motivation. A healthy motivation might be trying to find your partner in a densely crowded area, or keeping tabs on someone with potentially hazardous health concerns. An unhealthy motivation might be possessive feelings.
Adam and his girlfriend did eventually swap coordinates. Their motivation was logistics: “We use it to not bother each other,” he says. “Because we both communicate with a lot of different people throughout the day, one less text about logistics is just so nice. It’s like a luxury.”