Is texting ever "just" texting? I investigate.
When I was 14, my best friend lived 14,540km away from me.
We met on the internet and immediately hit it off. We listened to the same kind of music, read the same kind of books, had the same kinds of ideas about friendship and life. Pretty soon, we were texting constantly, and sharing every bit of our lives with each other.
Ostensibly, we were “friends”. But no friends talk that much. Over the two years that we spoke, we rarely — if ever — said “Hi” or “Bye”. That’s how constant our conversation was. If I was on a phone-free retreat for the weekend, I’d miss him terribly. And so about two years into the friendship, it became pretty clear that I had strong feelings for him. I tried talking about it, but it threw our friendship into jeopardy, and we stopped talking to each other not long after.
I’m willing to bet that you’ve had a similar, if not identical, experience in your own life. It may not have been with an internet friend, but there probably was some measure of constant texting with an apparent “friend”, leading to the development of feelings, and an eventual fallout when the feelings weren’t returned.
Last year I wrote a mostly-satirical over-the-top anti-texting manifesto that still remains my most-read newsletter. I believe it resonated with so many people because we all know, deep down, about the dangers of constant texting.
Have you ever heard someone say the phrase “we’re just texting”?
In my work with young girls, the phrase comes up constantly, and it takes herculean effort to not eye-roll whenever I hear it. I have to remind myself to be humble because I’ve been there before, and I know what it’s like.
So let’s analyse that phrase for a moment. “We’re just texting.”
Just. We all like to tell ourselves that texting is a significant step below in-person, face-to-face conversation. Is it, though? Consider the following:
In-person conversations have a significant endpoint; texting does not
In-person conversations require you to focus on other things at some point (ordering food, talking to other people at the table, checking your phone, etc); texting entails a constant and direct focus on each other
You have to follow social conventions when speaking with someone face-to-face, so you likely wouldn’t ask too-personal questions, or overshare to a significant degree; both things are much easier to do over text
Lastly, with rare exceptions, it’s difficult to have in-person conversations late at night, when you’re much more likely to be vulnerable; texting at night, however, is not just possible but also massively convenient
This is not another anti-texting manifesto
But I do think we should stop lying to ourselves when it comes to texting. There is no such thing as just texting. When the young girls I talk to tell me about a “texting-thing” they’ve got going on with their male friends, most of the time, it sounds like a relationship to me.
The irony, of course, is that girls who are very obviously not ready or willing to be in a relationship, are also ready and willing to be part of a “texting-thing”. So I like to ask the question: “What’s really going on here?”
Do you expect him to update you on the significant things that happen in his day?
Do you wait for his texts, miss him when he doesn’t text, and expect him to text you when he can?
Do you like to talk late at night, so you can share your thoughts, fears and hopes with him?
Do you ask him personal questions and expect him to give you honest replies?
Do you feel jealous or hurt to find out that he’s texting other girls?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it’s possible that you’re dating this person in your mind, even if you aren’t “technically” dating. But what’s wrong with that, right?
The grey area = not a good place to be
I once had to call-off a “texting thing” I had going on with a pretty good guy. I loved talking to him. He was so interesting, and we vibed on exactly the same level. So why did I call it off?
He kept telling me that he just wasn’t ready for a relationship, while also depending on me for all his emotional needs. He’d share personal things with me, vent at me, ask me for advice, lean on me for support… we reached a point where I asked myself: if we were to enter into a relationship now — what, exactly, would change?
The answer was nothing, except for the fact that a relationship involved commitment, and he did not want to commit to me.
Intimacy without commitment is a terrifying thing. We just aren’t made for that. This is why when texting-things come to an end, more often than not, they feel exactly like a break-up. In fact, they’re worse, because you weren’t “officially” dating. Even though, for all intents and purposes, you were.
Ask the difficult questions
As women, especially, we need to guard our hearts. Emotional wounds are real and they don’t go away easily. Take it from me: I’m still mourning that friendship I had when I was fourteen with a guy who lived 14,540 kilometres away. He reached out to me on Facebook last year and I wept with joy, tempted to send him a million texts filling him in on what he missed. I resisted, though, because boundaries are important.
And a good way of laying them down is to ask the difficult questions, like…
“Why are we texting so much?”
“What do you feel about our friendship?”
“Is there something more you’d like out of this?”
“Is there anyone else in your life whom you talk to this much?”
“What do you see me as?”
Don’t ask these all at once, of course, and allow prudence to guide that conversation. It’s also smart to refrain from oversharing about your feelings until you have a good idea about his feelings. And it’s best to have this conversation sooner rather than later.
But don’t let the fear of “ruining things” stop you from having this conversation at all. Remember that how he responds to your questions will tell you something about who he is. If he avoids this conversation now, he’s telling you that he will avoid more important conversations in the future. And if he responds to your questions honestly and comes clean about his intentions, he’s telling you that he is an upstanding gentleman worthy of your attention.
So listen to him.
Necessary disclaimer: This, of course, applies to both guys and girls.