When you’re together, you feel that you’re completely in sync. There’s never a lull in the conversation. He makes you laugh. He always gets the door. He helps his elderly neighbor bring in her groceries. And the sex? It’s amazing. You feel like he could be “the one.” But there’s just one thing: You rarely, if ever, talk on the phone. In between getting together you rely on cyber-communication: texting, e-mailing, Facebook messaging. When you call, he rarely picks up. You watch your friends on the phone with their significant others and your stomach sinks. Why doesn’t he want to actually talk to you? You ask your friends what they think. The consensus isn’t good: If you’re texting more than talking, it’s not a real relationship. Or is it?
What’s Wrong With Texting?
Texting is a mode of communication that’s changing the way we “talk” to each other. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, and it’s certainly not going anywhere. The problem is the motivation behind texting. For instance: Introverts might prefer texting because talking on the phone feels overwhelming. Texting allows them the space to gather their thoughts and communicate more freely. For people who love the written word, texting is a great way to “play” together, similar to musicians jamming or actors rehearsing. Seen in this way, texting can actually increase intimacy. But it can also be a tool to keep someone at a distance. If you’re worried that texting is a symptom of a problem in your relationship, here are five questions you should ask:
- Who wants to text? Are you texting because you want to? Or are you texting because she relies on it almost exclusively for between-date exchanges, and you’re afraid to tell her you want to speak on the phone? There is nothing wrong with texting if you’re consciously choosing this mode of communication. But if you’re doing it primarily to keep her happy, and not seem “pushy,” then it’s preventing any true chance of intimacy.
- Are you comfortable when you’re with him? When you’re together, do you feel like you can be yourself? Or are you filtering your words too carefully? It’s one thing to prefer texting because you like to read and write, but it’s another thing to prefer texting because it acts as a buffer between you and the other person. If you’re struggling to reveal yourself when you’re together, texting might be another way to keep yourself from working through the anxiety that comes with genuine intimacy.
- What are you texting about? Are you sending each other updates on your day? Saying “I miss you” with assorted emoticons? Figuring out tonight’s dinner plans? Or is the texting primarily sexual: has it gone from being mostly words to being mostly body parts? If you rely on sexy text exchanges to keep your relationship afloat between dates, then that might give you an indication that your relationship is all sizzle and almost no steak.
- Is there a good reason to text? Sometimes texting is a better option than talking on the phone. In fact, it can be a relationship godsend when people are traveling, or have time-crunching demands between jobs and children. But if you have plenty of time to talk and find yourself texting instead, you might want to examine what’s keeping you from actually talking.
- Are you seeing each other less? Did the relationship start off like a freight train, only to devolve into infrequent dates punctuated by text messages? Especially sexually charged text messages? For some people, texting is a way to keep the other person on the hook with just enough contact while pursuing other options. If your “relationship” is kept alive by texting, then once one of you has moved onto someone new, it’s easy to vanish into the ether.
Whatever your feelings about texting, this mode of communication is here to stay. Used consciously and judiciously, it can be a way to build and maintain intimacy. But it should never be the glue that holds a relationship together. Preferring electronic exchanges to talking is fine if you just want to date casually. But if you’re after something more substantial, make sure you’re doing more talking than texting. By Virginia Gilbert, MFT Follow Virginia on Twitter at @VGilbertMFT