Army 101 / Deployment / Histrionics / Relationship advice

There’s an app for that (but it probably doesn’t work)

With a 9.5-hour time difference between Washington, D.C. and where Jonathan is stationed in Afghanistan, it’s easy to understand why communication is often difficult during deployments. And also why Jonathan almost never knows what day of the week it is on this side of the world. (A recent conversation with him included the quote, “What, is it Saturday or something?”)

So to increase the likelihood that, when Jonathan can find a chance to be online, I will also be online, I have gotten into the habit of:

  • panicking if I have to leave a steady internet connection during a time of day when Jonathan has previously been online
  • (which is so varied now that he’s been online at almost every time of day, and I’ve basically become agoraphobic)
  • refreshing Gmail every five minutes, even though Gmail automatically refreshes when you receive an email
  • also checking Gmail on my phone, even though I already have Gmail up on my computer, and I’m manually refreshing it despite its automatic refreshing
  • consulting a psychic
  • going into crisis mode if I’ve left the house and 3G coverage on my phone suddenly cuts out
  • (this happens in Trader Joe’s, which gives me really conflicting emotions about my love for Trader Joe’s and my instinct to IRRATIONALLY PANIC)
  • thinking every noise I hear is the Gchat message chime
  • (this includes noises that I don’t hear, but that I think I hear, which probably means nothing since I’m at least two years past the average onset age of schizophrenia in women)
  • keeping my phone physically touching some part of my body at all times, in case Jonathan calls when my phone is accidentally switched onto vibrate…which I would never do on purpose, and probably it’s part of a government conspiracy by federal scientists who are silencing phones as part of an experiment on how far they can stress military spouses before their brains explode
  • (see above comment about onset age of schizophrenia)

Believe it or not, this panic associated with missing Jonathan online has actually grown gradually over this deployment, rather than existing initially.

During Jonathan’s first deployment, I had a pale lavender-colored BlackBerry that I loved.

Purple BlackBerry

Technically I think the color was called “stormy violet” or something like that, and now BlackBerrys only come in a masculanized eggplant-type color, which is one of many clear signs that BlackBerry has totally given up.

Despite the BlackBerry’s pitfalls, I was able to download a Google Chat app to it that a) instantly notified me whenever Jonathan was online and IMed me, and b) could be open on my phone 24/7 without draining my battery too severely. So I kept my Google Chat app open for that entire year-long deployment, and only ever missed Jonathan when I was in the shower or too engrossed in VH1 reality shows to realize my phone was going off. (Which shows you how much I’ve changed since then, because now I much prefer TLC reality to VH1 reality; oh, how I’ve grown.) I rarely had problems with internet or 3G during Jonathan’s first deployment, and I silently thanked Al Gore (who invented the internet) for his service to this country.

The lavender BlackBerry was my first smartphone, and I was therefore under the impression that, when I finally caved to the Apple-pressure and purchased an iPhone, my smartphone user experience would only be improved.

WRONG. I won’t go into detail here about how I’m on my fifth iPhone 4S and most days I’d like to throw it as hard as I can against a wall. What I will say is that, despite the many advantages of the iPhone, I have been absolutely unable to find an app (free or paid) that allows me to successfully chat with Jonathan online and doesn’t come with infuriating side effects.

I bought a Google Talk app for my iPhone several months before Jonathan deployed this past summer; it was the first app I’d ever paid money for, and it was rated four stars, so I felt very responsible about securing my always-able-to-talk-to-Jonathan status. I tested it out, and everything seemed to be fine. So the minute Jonathan deployed, I turned on that Google Talk app, with the intent of keeping it on for the next nine months straight.

Then, the first time Jonathan got online, I missed him.

Because, despite having push notifications activated, the only way to get the Google Talk app to deliver my messages was to manually open it, even though it was already open (if inactive) on my phone. So, if Jonathan IMed me, I wouldn’t be notified of that IM until whenever I decided to manually check the app for his IMs.

Which is, I’m pretty sure, the opposite of how that app should work.

I then, angrily, found a free app called IM+, which had a feature that would notify me the instant Jonathan got online, before he even sent me a message. Perfect for army wives, and for stalkers.


Clearly this app has not learned how to target its advertising appropriately.

I loved IM+ for the first few weeks that I had it. It was a little bit glitchy (for instance, if I’m somewhere with poor signal—like underground in the metro—it has a pretty hard time getting messages through), which is to be expected, and it was perfectly worth it for the simple satisfaction of hearing the IM+ ding alerting me that Jonathan was online. When you begin to associate a specific sound with the knowledge that your fiance is alive, that sound soon becomes like a Hallelujah chorus in your life.

Soon, however, IM+ and my Gmail account waged an internet war against each other. Which was clearly Google’s punishment for my having purchased an iPhone instead of a Droid. Suddenly, I could not get the IM+ app to sign me offline. When I was safely back near a computer with a real internet connection, I would set the app to “offline” and my Gmail account to “inactive” in order to save my iPhone’s rapidly dwindling battery life, but IM+ still insisted on sending my IMs to my phone. And while I appreciate the app looking out for me this way (it really doesn’t want me to miss all the cat links my sister sends me), it quickly became infuriatingly annoying. And, after a few hours of this, my iPhone’s battery dropped to 50%.

Then I had reports from my friends that I was online even when I was not online at all. Which, in the app’s defense, could have been those government scientists who are trying to crack me BUT I AM STILL TOTALLY SANE, SO THE JOKE’S ON YOU, GOVERNMENT.

It was around this time that I realized the free Facebook Messenger app I downloaded only a few days after purchasing my iPhone almost always delivered my messages properly, and promptly.

Facebook Messenger

True love.

Now that Jonathan’s deployment is halfway through (not that I’m counting, Jonathan), we’ve finally fallen into a mostly-successful communication routine: if I’m not online or responding to a Gchat IM, Jonathan will send me a Facebook message, which usually chimes quickly on my phone, and I can then cautiously open IM+, try to find a computer, or chat through Facebook. So thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for giving me a legitimate reason to be more obsessed with mildly interested in being connected to Facebook at all times. You are a true patriot.

Military significant others, families, and friends: What have you found is the best way to communicate with your military man or woman while he or she is deployed? Is there an app I just haven’t found yet? Did you have to sell your soul to the devil to download it?

0 thoughts on “There’s an app for that (but it probably doesn’t work)

  1. My cousin, Drew, has been in the marines for years and his wife, Cassie, had vents very similar to this often. She was a nervous wreck 24/7 and always on alert for anything coming in from Drew. When something did come in, onlookers unaware of her husband’s whereabouts would safely assume she’d won the lottery. So I get it, girl. Waiting sucks. And you should trade that iPhone for a Droid! I’ve never had issues with mine! I didn’t download a thing but it automatically updates me if someone Google Chats or Facebook Chats with me, even if the app isn’t up.

    • Thanks, Amanda! Jonathan actually has a Droid (when he’s stateside), so I’ve jealously seen how simple Gchat is on it. But he is so indignant about his phone being better than my phone, that I almost don’t want to give him the satisfaction of admitting it. I love the way my iPhone is supposed to work, but…you’re right. Looks like my next phone will be a Droid. 🙂

  2. As a devoted iPhone, er, devotee, it’s definitely interesting to hear the issues that you have with it, especially because it seems like it should be such a simple fix! I guess now that I think about it, the push notifications for all my apps are pretty inconsistent. It’s not as important for me as it is for you since I don’t have a fiance who defies death daily (alliteration ftw!). So therefore, as much as it pains me, my fangirl heart shall permit you to relinquish your iPhone and trade it in for a Droid (ooh, or maybe a Windows phone! They’re pretty slick and evidently update in realtime just like my Windows 8 panel) when the time comes. That’s how much I love you.

    • I actually get physically upset when I think about getting a Droid. Despite all of my iPhones having been complete doodie, I am still brianwashed by Apple (i do looooove my MacBook Pro), and if the phone just worked the way it was *supposed* to work, I’d never think about switching. I actually spent a few weeks emailing back and forth with the IM+ app tech people, who at first were really great about going into my account and trying to help me. Unfortunately unsuccessfully (I caught your alliteration bug). I honestly think that Google is just like “IF WE CAN’T HAVE YOU, NOBODY CAN.” Which is flattering, but somewhat inconvenient.

  3. Hmm… I’ve had long distance relationships and what helped me a lot was using Skype. It has a nice “auto answer calls” option (not sure if it has that on phone/tablets or if that helps in your situation :p ). Although I really don’t like the messaging on it because it only sends the message if both people are currently online.

    • Thanks for the advice! I haven’t had any luck with a Skype app, and Skype has proven pretty unreliable in Afghanistan as well (go figure). I’ve been surprised by the lack of resources available for this kind of thing; Zuckerberg should get on this.

  4. I wish I had better advice, but your list at the beginning of this post is verbatim what’s happening in my brain, too. The panic! My phone is pretty literally glued to me, and that’s really been the most helpful. For scheduled chats I always prefer Skype, but when his schedule is not remotely related to the rest of the world’s (see: what day is it?), I just keep my phone on me all the time so when he has a minute we can talk. But you already know that… 😉

    P.S.: AMEN TLC. Nick knows that although I adore him, Say Yes to the Dress has its own place in my heart. I GET YOU.

  5. When Steven was deployed he used to send me txts via email if we couldn’t chat. In the recipient block put the We have Verizon but I think other carriers offer it, and it can be done from any email address. Hope this helps.

  6. I’ve been using Skype IM and voice calling to communicate with my boyfriend over his satellite internet on my iPhone. (I think he didn’t want to be limited FOB internet). The push notification works on my phone at least over wifi. Usually he calls my cell phone first and then I screw up answering which results in Skype-ing. The video also works relatively well, but places a strain on the connection. If you use Google voice, you can route it through the Talkatone app that will give you the notification as long as it hasn’t crashed, but you will also see an email pop up depending on your settings.

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  8. My guy’s also in Afghanistan, and a few months into the deployment he treated himself to an iPad – which normally would annoy me because what does he need a $500 toy for when he just bought a new laptop? But iMessaging has worked really well between his iPad and my iPhone, so we’ve been able to use it just like texting (no more obsessively hanging out by my computer!), plus FaceTime has been much stabler than Skype. So now $500 seems completely reasonable just to be able to message him whenever he’s on wifi. (Pshh, putting that hazard pay to good use!)

    • Oh my gosh, I had no idea that iMessage/Facetime worked in Afghanistan. Though I supposed I should have realized, since I’ve used both with my friends overseas. That iPad was worth all the hazardous duty pay! Now to get Jonathan to go Apple…

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  11. I’m not sure if you’ve gotten on the bandwagon yet…but Snapchat is AWESOME overseas. It’s perfect for those times when you can’t really chat. You can also send videos with it as well. I just like it because you can see the other persons face. It’s like IMing, but with pictures 🙂

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