Early on in our dating, my husband told me: "I'm not into texting. I think it's hard to have a real conversation that way and it leads to misunderstandings. Are you fine with limiting texting to quick updates and having our conversations in person?"
I was surprised since texting was already super popular at that time, yet I was happy to oblige because as I did not own a smartphone back then, texting was pretty cumbersome for me. (Remember writing texts one letter at a time?)
Turns out that my husband's suggestion greatly contributed to the success of our relationship because we avoided the trap of using texts in lieu of real conversations. We got to know one another "live", even when our relationship became long-distance for a while. From the very beginning, there has been no texting misunderstanding and no texting regrets with my husband, and this is thanks to him.
Now that I'm a relationship coach, I hear all the time about dating problems that can be tracked back to the use of texting instead of having real conversations, either in person or by phone. Texting - or any instant messaging system - is pretty bad for relationships but it’s especially bad for new relationships!
Instant messaging is not real communication
When you can't see facial expressions and body language or hear the tone of voice, you miss the majority of what's really going on in the communication exchange, which leads to misunderstandings. Additionally, compared to emails that at least have a clear beginning and ending, instant messaging is a stream of pieces of communication that starts out of nowhere and can end quite abruptly, when one party forgets to respond, gets distracted or simply moves on to something else. These issues are especially problematic in a new relationship when you don’t know the other person well enough to read between the lines of what is said, not said and what it means to drop a conversation suddenly.
Instant messaging is lazy
It leads to the temptation of either using it to alleviate boredom or maintaining what I call “imaginary relationships” – relationships that don’t really exist but whose illusion is maintained by a quick message here and there to keep the impression of connection. It’s ideal for people seeking to maintain a regular supply of attention, sense of connection or sex for when an urgent need arises; if you are looking to build a serious relationship, you’ll need to spend the bulk of your getting-to-know-you-time in regular in-person meetings rather than in instant messaging apps. A happy, healthy and long-lasting relationship does not run on lazy. It does not take hard work but it does require consistent effort, starting with scheduling meetings and... showing up.
Instant messaging is impulsive
Because of the ease and pace of texting, messages are more likely to be the fruit of the most reactive part of yourself rather than the result of your most authentic expression. This means an increased risk of writing things you don't really mean, triggering hurt feelings or unnecessary conflicts. Established relationships have emotional capital reserves allowing acceptance of moods and mistakes but new relationships are more fragile. Don't take unnecessary risks!
So how to use texting wisely in your new and not-so-new relationships?
- For quick logistics updates: “I'm late and will arrive in 10 min.” “I’m going to pass by the grocery store. Do you need anything?” “Avoid 880, there is a bad accident blocking all lanes!”
- For short & sweet notes. “I’m thinking of you.” “Can't wait to tell you a funny story tonight.” “I’m so grateful for your…”
Basically, any message that is quick, that can’t be misinterpreted and that doesn't require a longer response than "ok", “yes”, “no”, “me too” or “thanks” is perfect for messaging. Anything else? Consider choosing another form of communication!
What if it's the other person who uses texting beyond quick updates and notes? When a text requires a more complex response, you can reply by email, call their phone number or even better, suggest a in-person meeting.
When we're busy, we try to simplify and automatize things, which is a good idea. But why are we trying to simplify and automatize the most precious aspect of our lives - our relationships? Relationships don't grow on crumbs of communication, they need real conversations and shared experiences lived in one another's presence. If we don't have much time, it's best to choose quality over quantity.
At the beginning of a new relationship there is not much emotional connection capital. At that point there is little to no room for misunderstandings. People move on for less than that, especially when they have other options. If you have something good going, preserve that precious seed and allow is to grow in the best possible environment: you and your new partner's whole selves, not through screens and instant messages devoid of the richness of your whole being.