The Trials and Tribulations of Texting

I hate the phrase “first world problems.’’ In the grand scheme of things, of course genocide is worse than that 90 degree day last week when my skirt rode my thighs and I flashed my cab driver, but problems are problems. Dismissing the emotional pain of the wealthy is no better than ignoring the plight of the poor.

Not that I’m wealthy. If I were I probably wouldn’t accept my sister’s hand-me-down bras. So, sure, when world leaders are signing anti-gay propaganda bills and women in Egypt are being gang raped at protests, a balanced individual  must find that snug spot between honoring her own feelings and keeping them in perspective. All of which is to say, my drinking water is pure and so far I haven’t had to take to the street corner to pay rent, but adjusting to the texting norms in the dating world is fucking traumatic.

Last time I dated, my phone flipped open and if I wanted to text and walk, I had to memorize how many clicks on each key brought me to a certain letter. Sometimes my texts would arrive days after I’d sent them and it took 20 tries to share a low-quality photo. I’m pretty sure my ex and I texted in the early stages of our courtship (I just accidentally typed “I’m pretty sure my ex and I dated,” which is also true.), but we started out as friends which meant we’d had plenty of face-to-face experience before texting and dating shared the stage. Plus she asked me out in person, which is no longer necessarily the norm.

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“Texting to ask someone on a first date is less loaded,” says Jill in New Hampshire. “If she says no, it’s not to my face.”

Kate in Minnesota agrees. “If I give my number to someone and she texts the next day to ask me out, I feel good. I don’t need an awkward phone call.”

However, some object to receiving a texted first date invite.

“Getting asked out via text rubs me the wrong way,” says Jenn in Chicago. “Could be that I feel it indicates low investment, that I’m bad at texting, or that I’m just old-fashioned. I’d way rather an email or phone call.”

Interestingly, with the first date out of the way, many of those I polled expressed an increased comfort with texting.

“At that point, you’ve done the first date thing and texting helps you stay in touch,” says Jill in Missouri. Carolyn in Madison agrees. “Phone calls are intrusive. It feels so demanding, this annoying ringing thing wanting me to answer right now. Texts let you answer at your leisure.” Still, some feel slighted by a post-first date text check-in. “If you had a good time, let me hear it in your voice,” Rose in San Diego says.

Personally, I have no problem being asked out via text because I’d prefer the chance to write each thought before I say it anyway. (This is why I’m a writer and not the pope. Well, that and my inexplicable fear of the Papal Tiara.) And early texting? On the superficial level, it suits me because I like to text. That sound you hear is all of my close friends laughing at the understatement and then sobbing because their thumbs have fallen off from trying to match me. Actually, my feelings on texting can best be described by that song about driving into a bridge that’s been playing every three and a half minutes since July. Simply, “I love it.” (Incidentally, I thought the lyric was “You’re from the seven seas,” and couldn’t understand why that might be a deal breaker. He’s a merman, I thought, and you’re from the ’90s so you’re already pale and plaid. That’s pretty much the same thing.)

My mom likes to say that texting was invented just for me. Her exact words might have been, “Yes, the red skirt makes you look less like a slavic hooker than the black one/how did you ever manage to go shopping before you got an iPhone/can I please concentrate on words with friends now?” It’s true that I like to reach out. All the time. To everyone I’ve ever met. Or seen. Or might see. So like I said, at first blush, texting appears the perfect medium for between-date contact. The problem, then, becomes aligning my admittedly high-volume texting norms with that of a new romantic prospect. Here’s where I have to start thinking hard about Haitian refugees.

With friends, I adapt my texting impulses in accordance with their feedback. My friend Tara, for example, can volley back and forth with me for literally hours. In fact, the other night we closed a texting session with a ten minute emoji only conversation during which her husband was forced to cover his head with a pillow because her texts filter through her phone, computer and ipad. First world problems, indeed. My friend Tim, on the other hand, gets agitated if I text more than once a day,  so in the absence of positive reinforcement, I’m less likely to reach out. Both situations satisfy me, because I trust the established strength of each relationship.

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But texting can take on heightened significance when you’re getting to know someone. And by getting to know someone, obviously I mean micro-analyzing her every facial expression, hand gesture and pizza topping preference for clues as to whether she realizes you’re the best piece of ass she’ll ever encounter and has made appropriate long term arrangements. If I’m uncertain as to how someone feels about me, it’s hard not to look at her texting style as just another clue. Even those less mentally ill than I agree.

Karen in Kentucky says “I date butches which means every time I send a three paragraph hello text, they text back the written equivalent of a grunt. Sometimes it’s hard not to think I like them more than they like me.”

Jessica in Illinois adds, “If I text at five p.m. and she doesn’t reply till 10, I start worrying about what’s got her attention.”

I can empathize. Recently, I was in a tizzy. (This is similar to a Papal Tiara but more lethal.) My romantic prospect (hereafter shortened to RP) and I have different texting norms. Nine times out of ten, my iPhone’s ellipsis spark to life as soon I’ve sent a text, but replies are brief and mostly, textual initiation falls to me. Am I annoying? I wondered. Worse, am I creating a power differential, showing my feelings are stronger? Let’s be clear, I’m not texting every hour on the hour, but rather once every one or two days. If a text conversation begins, I contribute but not in a way which artificially prolongs it like, “Oh, you slept well? What do you mean by well? One time I knew someone who fell down a well. Want to help me build a well in the backyard?” Not like that.

When the tizzy struck, my first instinct was to crowd source, text a couple friends. “Do you think I’m annoying RP?” I asked one. “Do I text too much?” I texted another. Then the obvious hit me like it does when you silence the anxious chatter long enough to give it the opportunity. It didn’t matter what my friends thought. Only RP knew if my texts offered a pleasant distraction or an annoying interruption. So I fucking asked.

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Obviously that quelled my anxiety for the rest of my life and I lived happily ever after in a pink castle on planet unicorn. OK, not really. But it did help. What helped more was what I did next.  Something unprecedented. I thought about the experiences RP and I were having. Not obsessed, not picked apart, but just considered. And the thing is, they were 100% positive: new yet familiar, exciting yet harmonious. RP might not have a lot to say via text, but when we spent time together, physical chemistry, facial expressions, affectionate gestures, discussion of future plans—all spoke of a growing mutual closeness.

So the next time I ushered a text into the void and didn’t hear back for 12 hours, I let myself trust my real-time perceptions. Better, I didn’t filter the response-lag through my own chutes and ladders system of norms. Obviously, if I haven’t texted you back within four hours I’m likely under a bus, or I don’t give a shit about you. Actually, even if I don’t give a shit about you, I’ll probably write you back to tell you that. But RP is not me. And my way isn’t THE way. And if someone doesn’t do things your way, it doesn’t mean they care less, it just means they have their own way. This is probably the simplest fact that took me the longest to learn. Going forward, I’m certain I’ll forget it again, because that’s how crucial realizations work. But just for right now, I have clarity. I’m free to focus on really pressing issues. Like how my latest Facebook update only garnered 10 likes.

Worse than a tsunami, am I right?

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