Imagine you have your partner’s location. Is your immediate reaction to ask them to pick up dinner from your favorite restaurant you see on the way home, or to ask them where they are? On the iPhone, users have options to share their location with someone for an hour, for the rest of the day, or indefinitely. This means that for whatever time frame you choose, you can turn into a little avatar with your initials floating around the map in someone’s Find My app.
It is most often mentioned when women date a man they do not know well, they will send their location to a friend so someone can keep an eye on their safety, but it’s also becoming more common to share within family, parent-child and romantic relationships.
While father-of-two and husband Christopher Rucker can see how it’s useful in a safety context, he’s not in favor of it with his wife. “Just keep an eye on your significant other? It’s either mistrust or just general insecurity,” he says.
“I think it all depends on the context,” said Dr. Akua Boateng, a licensed psychotherapist. “Someone being able to track you if you’re in an Uber or in an unknown country or different situations that would allow you to have that level of security is really, really cool.”
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However, the same behavior can be detrimental and harmful. “If it’s used for surveillance or if requests are made as a result of that, now we’ve taken something that could potentially offer safety and security and actually turned it into a threat,” she said.
Different experiences inform the diversity in how people feel about sharing their location with a significant other. Boateng points to some cultures that have a more “collectivist” mindset. “We rule the world together. We support each other. We are our brothers’ keepers,” she says. “If it becomes normalized over time and seen as a sign of the collective tribe, that’s a good, positive thing.”
“Just constantly stalking your significant other? It’s either mistrust or just general insecurity.”
Twenty-one-year-old Isabella Heath has shared her location with her boyfriend of three years for most of the relationship, but she’s also shared her location via Life360 with both of her parents since she started going to friends’ homes alone. This carries over to college and her group of friends also use the app to share their location, but she and her boyfriend Jeremy use Apple’s Find My.
“Jeremy didn’t have his license for the first six months we were dating, so he would take the train to come and see,” she said. “Obviously, with delays and things like that, it made it easier.” She shared it with him immediately, though she points out that he didn’t grow up in a house where everyone had each other’s location.
There are many ways people can share their location through their phone – apps like Life360, Google Maps, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple has both Find My and their new CheckIn feature give someone access from their location to their destination and when users are in a car, Uber and Lyft offer the option to send their location to someone—and people deliberately use or avoid them for a variety of reasons.
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Skyler Bergle and his wife moved into a house in the New Jersey suburbs after living between Brooklyn and Queens, New York for their entire relationship. He began running in a wooded area near their home, rather than his former city park and street routes.
When his wife first asked to share his location, he thought she might be a little paranoid. Of course, he didn’t even realize that was an option, but she made a great point while they were talking about it. “As I was running down that trail, she said, ‘I just want to know you didn’t crack your skull and you’re not lying dying on the trail somewhere,'” he said.
They use Google Maps and she doesn’t share her location with him. “Basically, I know where she is and she usually knows where I am all the time. Even if he didn’t know my location, he would very likely know where I am,” he said. “She wanted to know where I was to make sure I was safe, and there’s not necessarily an equivalent right now for her.”
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“Because I’m running on this trail, she said, ‘I just want to know you haven’t cracked your skull open and you’re lying dying somewhere on the trail.'”
Madison Hartman travels a lot from her home in Los Angeles with her wife to Portland, Oregon for work. The couple has been together for a decade. She said they’ve had each other’s location via Find My on the iPhone for as long as she can remember. In addition, their ride-sharing apps automatically send their location information after they get into a car.
“I’m more likely to check this place out, simply because I think we all know what it’s like for women to get into these cars. You might feel a little restless,” she says. Although she doesn’t share with them, several of her single friends also share with her so that someone in their circle can have it. She suggests that her wife checks for hours when she has run out of her pocket for work. “I think it’s reassurance, not that he’s worried something bad has happened to me, just reassurance.”
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Mike Martin*, who is single but shares with male and female friends and prefers to do so within a romantic relationship as well. He loves the confidence in the relationship, although he notes that some people may find it irritating. “It’s about transparency, and I think that’s mostly positive in any relationship.” He does it voluntarily because he has nothing to hide.
“I don’t think sharing my location affects my independence or takes anything away from me,” he says. “I feel like people who want to hide or are secretive have a reason for not wanting to share.”
That’s the thing, some people are more private. A wife and mother of two, Gabrielle Richmond-Laub admits that she’s always liked to keep certain things to herself from a young age, which she calls secrets. “People always know where I am, especially my husband. He always knows what I’m up to, so it helps me feel a bit like my old, rebellious self,” she says. “Whether I’m walking around town and getting a drink by myself or commuting and just doing whatever I want and not answering to anyone.” Her independence is empowering and gives her some time to feel like her younger, carefree self .
“Maybe it’s become a bigger thing for me since I’ve had kids because there’s no personal space, there’s no emotional space,” she added. “It’s not that I’m doing something wrong, but that I want it to be mine. However, she mutually shares her location with some female friends. “My girls can know where I am because I’m not sharing a lifetime with them forever.”
“We both find it a bit sexy when we don’t know what the other person is up to.”
Also, the non-sharing serves a purpose – preserving a bit of mystery within their 14 years together and almost nine years of marriage. “We both find it a bit sexy when we don’t know what the other person is doing.” She said she thought it would make her anxious to have so much access.
“If I don’t get an answer, of course, I’ll just want to see where my partner is. But if you start using it subconsciously to gather information, I think it can become unhealthy,” Martin said. While Bergl’s biggest fear is that his wife will see him trying to surprise her or doing something alone that she would like to do that they don’t usually do, like getting fast food.
For others, it’s indicative of a bigger problem and a door to check. “I don’t need that stress because I know that other than location sharing, if someone thinks about it in terms of mistrust, it’s not going to be just location sharing.” It will come with questions like “Why aren’t you on your phone? Who are you talking to? What are you doing?” Rucker said.
The idea of a partner having to track them down is laughable to most. However, Boateng says: “Sharing our location does not mean you will be tracked. You can share your location and it can’t be used at all, but in case it’s needed, it’s there.” Under these circumstances, it’s more comparable to insurance than anything else.
In her work, she has often used it as a means of rebuilding a relationship after broken trust or infidelity. “Not as a requirement, but in offering location sharing, the person who violated the trust is offering it as a vulnerability or transparency,” she says, noting that it’s not a fix-all or done in isolation. The gesture is used, with her as a practitioner, as part of rebuilding trust.
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For others, however, it simply comes down to convenience and efficiency. While John Ratcliffe-Lee is wary of location-tracking services and wary of using Alexa, he found himself and his wife embracing Apple’s latest CheckIn feature, as he says it can be used very deliberate. The 41-year-old says: “Maybe it’s a generational thing, but when you have this ambient awareness of each other’s location, I think it can be a bit unhealthy.”
However, he believes it’s convenient and efficient to be able to just drop CheckIn on his wife when he travels through Manhattan after picking up their son from daycare. “We can have what I’ll call time awareness because we have a three-year-old, and little kids are little kids.”
The reality is that people have been caught cheating through location sharing, but others have been able to send emergency services to those who have had a health scare or been hit by a car. If and when you consider giving your partner a full-access pass to your location, not only should you consider the relationship implications, but you should also consider your comfort with transparency.
“There are so many nuances when it comes to what our needs are, what our history has been, what signals certain aspects of our history and makes us feel safe or makes us feel threatened,” Boateng says. Being able to see what’s behind the willingness or rejection of location sharing is the more important conversation within the relationship.