Of all the things we stare at during the day, the one we turn to the most is the same for many of us: the filthy, fingerprint-stained screen of our tiny pocket computers. This is why I choose to adorn that space with a photograph of Harry Styles wearing tweed trousers and a sweater with a giant “H” on it. It is also why other people pick a photo of their significant others.
Personally, I think this choice is a perfectly fine one. I, too, have chosen photos of boyfriends as my lock screen without giving it much thought. They were cute! I liked looking at them! But I also never took into account the fact that sometimes — increasingly, in fact — other people look at your phone, too, and those people also have opinions.
Which raises the question: Is it weird? Is the disembodied face of the person that the phone owner is possibly boning a bizarre thing to display on one’s primary communicative device? Is it a romantic gesture in a gross way, like putting your girlfriend’s initials in your Instagram bio? Or is it a romantic gesture in an okay way, like swearing to share each other’s enemies?
I heard from dozens of people, some in relationships, some single, about significant others as phone backgrounds, and guess what? People have a lot of thoughts about it, ranging from “of course my girlfriend is my background, I love her” to “phone backgrounds are a dogs-only space” and finally to this absolutely nuclear take: that couples do this in an attempt to convince themselves they are happy when, in fact, they are not. Here are their answers.
A significant other as your phone background is cute!
“We’ve endured hard times together. I’m pretty sure I want to be with this person for the rest of my life, and having him as my lock screen is a sweet reminder of the commitment we have to one another. Mind you, he’s the only person I’ve ever had as my lock screen. This would not be done for a regular or casual dude.” —Niara Williams, has been dating her boyfriend for three years
“My girlfriend is my background and I change it seasonally. I post about her on Instagram all the time. I love her, duh; she’s a big part of my life and I showcase pretty much all the stuff that happens in my life. So I feel like it would be weird not to showcase her, you know?” —Mike Tommasiello, has been dating his girlfriend for two years
“I have a picture of my boyfriend and I as my phone lock screen, but more because I hate the generic options Apple provides.” —Meg Shields, has been dating her boyfriend for six years
It’s fine, but only on the home screen
“I have a picture of my boyfriend and I on my background (not my lock screen — obvi that space is meant for my dog). One, I can barely see it over the apps so I feel like it’s not that big of a deal, but sometimes I do look at it on purpose and it makes me smile thinking about the day we took it if I’m in a bad mood or something. But I also wanted to stab him for playing five hours of Fortnite last night, so.” —Kelsey Corbin, has been dating her boyfriend for four years
“I have my boyfriend as my phone background but only the home screen. I also generally pick a photo where he’s not the main focus. So he’s there somewhere but covered by apps most of the time.” —Alex Yakacki, has been dating his boyfriend for one year and eight months
“Maybe this is the 2018 version of a locket. Ben, my boyfriend, is only on my background, not my lock screen, so the picture is very visible to me and yet fairly private. I’d argue it’s more private than a couple’s Instagram photo. It’s also less formal than a physical photograph like a wallet-sized photo, which most people probably only print around their engagement or wedding. I don’t have a work desk, so I’d argue it’s also more private and less ‘serious’ seeming than having a picture of your significant other at work, although there’s nothing wrong with that.” —Daisy Alioto, has been dating her boyfriend for three months
I have my significant other as my phone background, but they don’t have me as theirs
“Since my boyfriend and I started dating over five years ago, he’s had the same photo of his sister as his phone background. At first it didn’t bother me — why would it? She’s amazing! But then, people started asking if it was me (we both have nose rings) and I had to specify that no, it was his sister. I got frustrated. And as the years rolled by, I became a woman obsessed. I’m not petty enough to bring it up, but I am petty enough to constantly change my phone background to different adorable pictures of him and shove them in his face to show him how much I care.
As of now, the photo remains unchanged, probably because my boyfriend spends zero time thinking about something so inconsequential as his phone background. Some women dream of their wedding day; I dream of the day I’ll get my tiny face as his screensaver, peering out at him from behind the date and time.” —Anonymous, has been dating her boyfriend for five years
“I do, but his has remained an aeroplane flying over east London ever since we met. He’s been my lock and background screen for a while, but he’s never dared to make me his. I’m the romantic one that wears my heart on my sleeve; he’s the pragmatist and private about that kind of thing. Now we meet in the middle!” —Kathryn Bishop, has been with her boyfriend for three and a half years
“[My boyfriend] is mine; it’s just a nice thing for me to have, but I don’t feel like it’s necessary. I know I’m not his. Sometimes I playfully give him shit about it, but at the end of the day, I don’t care that much. As long as his actions are good, I don’t care about the background. My ex had me as his background and he was a piece of shit, so I don’t think it necessarily correlates to a good relationship.” —Chelsey Cioli, has been with her boyfriend for one year, five months
“In my most recent relationship, I had my boyfriend as the background of my iPhone. I thought it was weird to include me in the photo (why would I want to look at a picture of me constantly?), so it was just one of him standing on the beach. Friends thought it was sweet. He had a photo of St. Vincent (his celebrity crush) as his phone background for nearly a year, and it wasn’t until he majorly messed up that he changed the background to one of the two of us. But I’m pretty sure he just did it to pacify me. People thought it was odd that a grown man had a photo of another woman, whom he’d never spoken to or met, as his background. The relationship has since ended — turns out he was deeply selfish and cruel. He promptly changed it back to St. Vincent after the breakup.” —Anonymous
A significant other as your phone background is too in-your-face
“It feels very showy. Like, ‘Look at me! I have a person who loves me! Ask me about it please because having a boyfriend is my only personality trait!’ That being said, I am in a loving relationship with my cat and she is my background because she is my everything.” —Mary Kate Schroeter, has been with her cat for one year
“Who makes their significant other their iPhone background? I do not think happy couples do this. It’s like all that science that says happy couples don’t post about each other on social media that much, because you’re not trying to prove something.” —Nisha Chittal, has been with her husband for seven years
“I have a lot of anxiety about relationships and whether I’m good enough for love and/or whether the person who I’m dating actually cares about me or is just pretending. When I saw that my girlfriend had our picture as her phone background, a huge weight felt like it was lifted in that moment — like she actively chose to do that, so why would she do that if she didn’t love me and I didn’t deserve her love? I didn’t change mine because I’m a mental health counselor, and I use my personal phone at work a lot and don’t want the people I work with to know much about my personal life! I would if that wasn’t the case though. I love pictures of us.” —Anonymous, has been with his girlfriend for two months
“My lock screen has been the same for over a year and it is a picture of … myself! I get a lot of criticism because people are like, ‘That’s vain, blah blah,’ but it’s a fun photo of me going down a water slide and IDGAF what anyone says. When I got a boyfriend, I was like, ‘Should I put him in my phone background?’ But as someone who so rarely changes it, that just felt forced, like I was trying to conform or prove that I’m not single or something.” —Meredith Hirt, has been dating her boyfriend for five months
“My husband and I have never had each other as phone backgrounds. I don’t know why he doesn’t (doesn’t love me probably). I didn’t have a smartphone for any previous relationship, and by my mid-20s, I think it seemed a little childish and insecure to me, like scrawling his name on my binder so everyone knows we’re a thing.” —Claire Fallon, has been with her husband for six years
“I feel like your phone background is one of those things that people judge pretty quickly and can say a lot about you, since you see it every time you check your phone (which is too damn much). Having your SO as your background makes your relationship a big part of your identity, and I don’t want people to base their impression of me on that alone.” —Maria Vishnevsky, has been dating her boyfriend for seven years
A significant other as your phone background is weird and corny
“People who have their actual SOs on their phone are fucking weird. I just have Anthony Joshua as my background. Watching him work out is the closest I’ve come to true love.” —Irina Dvalidze
“I have always thought it really corny to have your significant other’s face as your lock screen or background. I had an ex do that once and was a little embarrassed by it at the time.” —Anonymous
“I was on the subway and looked over and this girl had a pic of her and her boyfriend as her background. The picture looked like it could have been a J. Crew ad. Maybe I’m a bitter B or just have never loved someone that much, but I personally can’t imagine putting myself and my SO as the background. It makes me feel uncomfortable, like people who sit on the same side of the booth. I think couples do it to remember the happy times and reminisce on this one day or one hour where they fell back in love with each other, which has since devolved into the monotonous daily struggle of remembering why you are with someone.” —Takara Lyons
“Do adult people do this? I thought it was just a Gen Z high-schooler thing. Mine is usually a design or something aesthetically pleasing. Not to say [my fiancé] isn’t aesthetically pleasing to me, but I already see his face every day, so that’s my excuse.” —Lauren O’Connell, has been with her fiancé for 10 years
“1) Gross. 2) Do you seriously forget what your partner looks like that you need to have them as your phone background? 3) My roommate has her boyfriend as her phone background and I was like, ‘Could you be any more heterosexual?’ I don’t hate love, I swear!” —Marine Gonzalez
“For a long time, my 72-year-old dad used a risqué photo of his 70-year-old girlfriend for his iPhone screen background. She was like dressed up as a sexy schoolgirl, and every time he asked me to pull up directions on his phone or whatever, I would have to be reminded of the fact that my dad fucks. It was horrible.” —Leila Sales
Phone backgrounds are for dogs only
“I’ve always had a picture of my dog as the background because I think she’s the one person I’ve loved unconditionally (yeah, my dog is a person), and socially it’s always acceptable to have a dog or animal as a phone background. Maybe I’m a jaded single person, but I also see people that have an SO as their background as kind of vain and exploiting their relationship. It’s the same as posting a million couple pics on socials. Like, good for you, but keep it to yourself. Also, your boyfriend isn’t as cute as my dog.” —Virginia Dickens
“I’m married, and most of my co-workers are either in serious relationships or married. And the one thing we all have in common is that we all have pics of our dogs as our backgrounds. Of the people I polled in the office, only one of them had a picture of their dog AND their SO together, one of them had a pic of herself with her dog, and one had a pic of a Monet painting.” —Tasmai Uppin, has been with her husband for three years
“My phone lock screen and background are my cat and dog, respectively. I would MAYBE include my significant other if they were in a picture with my cat or my dog. I’m also not a very sappy person when it comes to human relationships, but I’m very sappy with animal relationships.” —Anna Glendening
And finally, the most honest and most relatable opinion: it’s only okay when I do it
“[Yes, my girlfriend is my phone background.] I hate when other people are in love, but I love when I’m in love.” —Donna Waterman, has been dating her girlfriend for six months