It just takes a minute to pick that thing up off the floor, or to send a text, right?
So what does it mean when someone doesn’t text you, when you know they could.
Does it mean that they care so little about you that they could not be bothered to type a sentence into the ether in your general direction on your general behalf?
Are they making a statement?
Is there a rating system?
Expressing their romantic indifference?
Or worse, are they playing you?
Are they expecting you to be more vulnerable. To chase them?
Don’t they care to get to know you?
Because if they like you, they should want to send you a note or a line whenever they have a spare second.
Even one of those Gif’s with the sentiment all perfectly illustrated and no effort required.
I hear about this all of the time.
You read me your texts, and I read your texts.
There are thoughts, ideas, narratives, entire mini-series starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, created from the metrics of texting frequency, timing, content, and… subtext.
Just a few snippets of interpretations of texting differentials;
They aren’t willing to put in any effort; they want me to chase them; they want space; they are just looking for a booty call; they aren’t taking accountability for their actions; they aren’t interested; they are keeping me on a string; they are avoidant; they are too structured; they are too needy; they expect me to talk all day; they don’t understand how busy I am; they don’t have much going on.
Did you know that watching an Instagram story within fifteen minutes of it having been posted is actually a marriage proposal!? It’s true, you may need to rush out and buy a ring or a dress.
Don’t get me wrong, I am good at texting analytics. Better than many. It’s part of my day job.
I can even boast saving some relationships from the shitter by intervening in text panic, and helping to craft a meaningful response, steering communication in a healthy direction without stepping into scary territory such as seeming like you actually care what someone thinks, says and does.
I also happen to be amazing first hand evidence of a thousand and one reasons texting style content and frequency doesn’t actually mean what you think it does.
Not everyone LIKES texting.
And not everyone approaches texting the same way.
When my sister texts, she is saying “let’s engage in real time communication back and forth right now”.
When I text I am typically sending out some information as quickly as possible to relay it without breaking focus on my current task. I’m usually on a five minute break between sessions during which I will run to the washroom, drink four glasses of water, fluff my hair and stretch my neck.
Some people actually LIKE texting! It’s fun and breaks up their day.
Some find it drains their emotional energy and is rife with miscommunication. They don’t have the bandwidth for a smoke signal, let alone various topics of conversation flying at them like asteroids from that video game.
Some are good at typing.
Some want to light their phones on fire the 8th time they have typed the word apple and it has autocorrected to antidisestablishmentarianismistically *the sound of an electric fire crackles pleasantly in the background.
For some of us, if we stop to pick up that thing off the floor during a time slotted for, say work, we’ll end up walking to the kitchen, washing the dishes, throwing something into the recycling then on a boat to China trying to recount how the day got away from me.
And texting is the same.
For some a question requires thoughtful processing and a meaningful answer which requires solving a problem or hearing back from another person. Communication is like Tetris. Each small text has variables and its variables have variables and they tell two variables, and so on and so on.
So let’s throw romantic attraction into that mix along with some Mentos and Coke.
Boy meets girl (or boy or non-binary because we are smart people now and we recognize everyone equally). Boy engages girl by text. Girl chats back. Boy asks questions. Girl answers. Boy flirts. Girl flirts back. Rinse and repeat. One day boy doesn’ttext.
Dun. Dun. Dun.
The Rules will tell you she wasn’t elusive enough and I will tell you that the boy who needs an elusive girl has issues throw that tiny fish back.
But it’s not always that.
Men and women often tell me hilarious things about what diligent communicators they are when exactly this scenario is going on. They are like, Work got busy. I can’t wait to see her. Planning to reach back out in a few days. They don’t realize that they are inadvertently communicating how underwhelmed they are or that they have joined the FBI or gotten engaged to someone else by taking a pause. Maybe they weren’t text forward to begin with but made an unsustainable effort to get to know you and now they’re just like back to normal, tra la la while you fall farther and farther down the rabbit hole of analyzing what went wrong.
Sometimes it IS the scary thing. They aren’t excited, or motivated, because they have something else going on, or someone else going on. Sometimes they are unsure about dating or relationship, or they are hedging their bets between a few dating options, or life is hard, or they have patterns of jumping in and pulling back. They want their cake, but they don’t want the calories, and the cake needs to be gluten free, and nut free, and blessed by fairies under the light of a full moon on a leap year for them to feel safe.
Well no wonder you don’t want to answer, too soon or too much, or not enough with those kind of stakes at play. No wonder you don’t want to initiate or encourage or reciprocate. Because what if you like someone or are interested enough to give it a try and they don’t at least meet you half way and you are just left there, standing in your kitchen at the open refrigerator, staring at all of that double chocolate cake you’re gonna have to eat ALL BY YOURSELF, again, to shove down those feelings of rejection, confusion, loneliness and shame for fucks given that try as you might you can’t seem to suck back through the phone –and now you face head on the scariest thing of all time; looking like you care when they don’t.
Even those of us who pooh pooh all of those silly rules that say you have to keep ‘em guessing and play hard to get, or stay cool, well even we feel a pang of hesitation when we pick up the phone to answer without invisibly looking popular and busy, which makes this all that much harder.
So what is THE BETTER WAY? The text-etiquette? Both for reading between the dots that appear and disappear without ever forming a sentence, and for responding s’il vous plait? And if you are the reluctant communicator how do you solve for accidentally telling someone you care about to go to hell or that they look fat in that dress.
Well first of all, and foremost, we need to turn tables on the looking like we care business. We need to decide that it’s actually a good thing because we aren’t supposed to be hermits and because THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO RELATIONSHIP. You have to CARE first, in order to love. Caring is the front door to loving. You want to care, and be cared for. And also it wouldn’t be scary if you didn’t already secretly care so really we just need to embrace CARING already.
Give yourself permission to like and be liked.Maybe you are more of an optimist or properly chatty. Great. You’re probably going to be the more prolific texter. Maybe you are wiling to be vulnerable and open and healthy and take a chance. So you are healthy. Amazing! I am proud of you. Maybe you are the hotter one and so who are they to just TEXT LESS? Better to be proud of yourself for getting out there for giving someone a chance, because you’re actually giving yourself a chance and love a chance. Be proud of yourself for being open and honest and investing and it will be easier not to take their texting habits personally. Do not shame yourself for LIKING even if someone doesn’t like you back.
And if you don’t know, if you are getting mixed messages, it really is okay to just ask, Hey are you still wanting to get to know each other? Confident healthy communication communicates confidence and health. Not weakness.
If you fall on the text reluctant side of the dating equation, there are ways that you too can honour the like and be liked principle. You don’t have to find all of this time for typing, or start taking your phone to the toilet but if you were getting to know someone and carrying on a convo and you suddenly drop off, and you don’t mean “I’m not that into you” then a quick note that says “I really value our connection but need a few days” is the way to go.
A break in momentum may mean nothing for you but it is scary for others. Even for totally strong shit together people who will be fine without you.
Now if you are threatened by someone’s interest, if it makes you feel not good enough because they are not shiny enough, holding them at bay while you figure it out will only make you feel inadequate at the expense of their feelings.
Or if like lots of well meaning but confused folks you are surrounding yourself with options and kinda testing them all while you dip a toe in their waters, well you can’t outsmart vulnerability. At best this only strengthens your avoidance muscle while making those fish on your hook suffer an indignity before they set themselves free.
What if you have reached a point where you are no longer romantically interested or excited? Be the generous King or Queen and warmly graciously bow out. You are so wonderful I wish I could get there but I can’t; or I feel something is missing; or some kind version of your emotional truth that validates them and provides closure. When you are kindly honest you take ownership of your feelings and allow your romantic potential to do the same. Healthy folks don’t want you to be responsible for their feelings. This way everyone is honoured and respected and can move on.
Case study: One time my sister said to her good friend, well you texted that GUY but you didn’t answer me. And fair. But I venture it was not because she cared more about that guy. It’s because she had friend communication slotted into a safe reliable space in her communication repertoire and the attention from a new boy was a shiny distraction from all of the shit painful things she was dealing with in a day. She would never want her friend to feel unimportant but happy chemicals are harder to find these days, kind of like Costco TP, and you gotta stock up when you can. And you know what, she probably stopped texting that guy after the novelty of constantly being distracted by a phone screen wore off, because she’s not one of those who’s hard wired to text in the first place.
Suffice it to say that If I had to communicate interpersonally the way I communicate professionally I would have to give up my day job, or promptly take up residence in a shack in the woods, grow me-self a big ol’ beard and get a Grizzly named Ben. I once texted Thanks! And my recipient imputed a condescending snippiness to what was intended to convey my wholesome enthusiasm. Ay Kurumba.
The moral of this story. Text away, send your memes and your jokes and your photos and your chitty chats. How did we ever know we were loved before we had smart phones anyway? Say what you mean. Tell someone you like them today.
But don’t drive and text.
And whatever you do, avoid subtext like the plague.
-— Love Erin
P.S. 2021 I am bringing on the love. I’ll be featured in a podcast all about better loving, from healing your broken heart to intentional dating to creating a relationship that thrives, and I’ll be launching a sister site for all of you relationship and love enthusiasts, with all kinds of insights and offerings. Stay tuned!
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.