Imagine you have your partner’s location. Is your immediate reaction to ask them to pick up dinner from your favorite restaurant that you can see is on their way home or grill them about their whereabouts? On an iPhone, users have options to share their location with someone for an hour, until the end of the day or indefinitely. This means, for whatever chosen timeframe, you can become a little initialed avatar drifting around the map within someone’s Find My app.
Most often referenced for when women are going out on a date with a man they don’t know well, they’ll send their location to a friend so someone can keep tabs on their safety, but it’s also become more common to share within familial relationships, parent-child relationships, and romantic ones.
While father of two and husband Christopher Rucker can see how it’s useful within a safety context, he is not for it with his spouse. “Just constantly tracking your significant other? It’s either mistrust or just general insecurity,” he says.
“I think it all depends on the context,” Dr. Akua Boateng, a licensed psychotherapist, said. “Somebody can track you if you’re in an Uber or in a strange country or different situations that would allow you to have that level of security is really, really great.”
However, the same behavior can be detrimental and damaging. “If it’s being used for surveillance or if the demands are made as a result, now we’ve taken something that could potentially offer safety and security and actually made it a threat,” she said.
Different experiences inform the diversity in how people feel about sharing their location with a significant other. Boateng points to certain cultures that have more of a “collectivist” mindset. “We navigate the world together. We support each other. We are our brothers’ keeper,” she says. “If it’s been normalized over time and seen as a sign of the collective tribe, that’s a good as a positive thing.”
“Just constantly tracking your significant other? It’s either mistrust or just general insecurity.”
Twenty-one year old Isabella Heath has been sharing her location with her boyfriend of three years for a majority of the relationship, but she’s also mutually shared her location via Life360 with both her parents since she started going solo to friends’ homes. This carried over into college and her group of friends use the app to share their location as well, but her and her boyfriend Jeremy use Apple’s Find My.
“Jeremy didn’t have his license the first six months that we were dating, so he would take the train out to come see,” she said. “Obviously, with delays and things like that, it made it easier.” She shared it back with him immediately, even though she points out, he did not grow up in a house where everyone had each other’s location.
There are multiple avenues people can share their location via 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 whenever users are in a car, Uber, and Lyft offers the option to send their location to someone – and people are deliberately using or avoiding them for a variety of reasons.
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Skylar Bergl and his wife relocated to a house in the suburbs in New Jersey after living between Brooklyn and Queen, NY for their entire relationship. He took to 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 may be being a little paranoid. Admittedly, he didn’t even realize that it was an option, but she made a great point as they talked about it. “Because I run on that trail, she was like, ‘I just want to know you haven’t cracked your skull open and you’re lying, dying on the trail somewhere,'” he said.
They use Google Maps, and she doesn’t share her location with him. “I generally know where she is, and she generally knows where I am all the time. Even if she didn’t have my location she would very likely know where I am,” he said. “She wanted to know where I was to make sure I was safe, and there isn’t necessarily a current equivalent for her.”
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“Because I run on that trail, she was like, ‘I just want to know you haven’t cracked your skull open and you’re lying, dying on the trail somewhere.'”
Madison Hartman travels a lot from her Los Angeles home with her wife to Portland, OR, for work. The pair have been together for a decade. She said they’ve had each other’s locations through iPhone’s Find My as long as she can remember. Additionally, their ride share apps automatically send their location information once they get in a car.
“I’m more likely to check that location just because I think we all know what it’s like as women getting in those cars. You can feel a little bit uneasy,” she says. While she doesn’t share with them, a few of her single girlfriends also share with her just so someone in their circle has it. She assumes her wife checks when she’s out of pocket for work for hours at a time. “I think it’s reassurance, not like she’s worried something bad’s happened to me, just peace of mind.”
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Mike Martin*, who is single but shares with both male and female friends and prefers to do it within a romantic relationship as well. He likes reassurance within a relationship, although he notes some people may be annoyed by that. “It’s for transparency, and I think that’s mainly positive in any relationship.” He volunteers it because he has nothing to hide.
“I don’t think sharing my location impacts my independence or takes anything away from me,” he says. “I feel like people that want to hide or are being secretive have a reason to not want to share.”
That’s the thing, some people are more private. Wife and mother of two, Gabrielle Richmond-Laub admits to having always liked to just have some things for herself from a young age, which she refers to as secrets. “People always know where I am, especially my husband. He always knows what I’m doing, so it helps me to feel a little bit like my old, rebellious self,” she says. “Whether I’m walking around the city grabbing a drink by myself or traveling for work and just doing whatever I want and not answering to anyone.” The independence is empowering for her and affords her a little time feeling like her younger, carefree self.
“It’s possible that this has become like a bigger thing for me since having kids, because there’s no personal space, no emotional space,” she added. “It’s not that I’m doing anything wrong, it’s that I want it to be my own.” She does mutually share her location with some girlfriends, though. “My girls can know wherever I am, because I don’t share an entire life with them forever.”
“We both find it a little bit sexy when we don’t know what the other person is doing.”
Additionally, not sharing serves a purpose – keeping a little mystery within their 14 years together and nearly nine years of marriage. “We both find it a little bit sexy when we don’t know what the other person is doing.” She said she thinks it would make her anxious to have that much access.
“If I don’t get an answer, naturally, I’m going to want to just look where my partner is. But, if you start to use it subconsciously to gather information, I think it could get unhealthy,” Martin said. Whereas, Bergl’s biggest fear is that his wife will see him trying to surprise her or doing something solo that she would want to do that they don’t normally do, like getting fast food.
For others, it’s indicative of a greater issue and a gateway to scrutiny. “I don’t need that stress, because I know beyond sharing location, if someone is coming at this from a perspective of mistrust it’s not just going to be sharing location. It’ll 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 needing to track them is ridiculous to most. However, Boateng says, “Sharing our location doesn’t inherently say you will be tracked. You can share your location and it cannot be used at all, but in the event that it’s needed, it’s there.” In these circumstances, it’s more comparable to insurance than anything else.
Within her work, she’s often seen it leveraged as a means to repair a relationship after trust is broken or infidelity. “Not as a demand, but in the offering of sharing the location, the person that breached the trust offers it as vulnerability or transparency,” she says, noting that it’s not a fix-all or to be done in isolation. The gesture is being used, with her as a practitioner, as part of the rebuilding of trust.
For others still, it simply comes down to convenience and efficiency. While John Ratcliffe-Lee is wary of location tracking services and cautious about his Alexa use, he’s found him and his wife embracing Apple’s latest CheckIn feature as he says it can be used very intentionally. The 41 year old says, “Maybe this is a generational thing, but when you have this ambient awareness of each other’s location, I think it can be a bit unhealthy.”
He does, however, believe it’s convenient and efficient to be able to just shoot a CheckIn to his wife when he’s traveling across Manhattan after picking up their son from daycare. “We can have, what I’ll call, an awareness of timing because we have a three year old and toddlers are toddlers.”
The reality is people have been caught cheating via a shared location but others have been able to send emergency services to those experiencing a health scare or that have been hit by a car. If and when you consider giving your partner an all access pass to your location, not only do you need to consider the implications for the relationship, you should also take into account your comfort with transparency.
“There’s so much nuance 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 desire or rejection of sharing locations is the more important conversation to have within the relationship.