If you’ve been unlucky enough, you’ve no doubt heard this notification for text messages. Upon an arriving text, with a voice like an English gnome (are there American gnomes?) the phone blurts out: “Let me out! I’m stuck in your pocket!”
It’s humorous, but also ironic: Many people live in your phone, and the unspoken expectation of constant communication that texting makes possible is changing the way men and women relate, likely for the worse.
Women Text a Lot
Texting is now as ubiquitous to relationships as cell phones are to people. According to Attentiv, 32 percent of people say they’d rather communicate via text than over the phone, and 51 percent of teens would rather communicate digitally than in person (even with friends).
Of course, teen girls—and likely women—text more than men. According to Pew, 79 percent of girls say they spend time texting their partners daily, compared with 66 percent of boys saying the same. This is hardly a surprise or an indictment: Women are hard-wired to be more verbal. We speak 20,000 words a day, 13,000 more than the average man.
Factor in a romantic relationship, and this culminates in a trifecta of tension for many male-female relationships. It’s modern-day twist on classic gender disparities that men and women have struggled with for decades.
What Texting Does to Us
As texting has increased, so have its implications for relationships. A friend recently told me he prefers texting to calls because “phone calls just take so much longer, with all the pleasantries,” and he can text a person at his own leisure, rather than being at someone else’s beck and call. No longer do we text the way we did early on, for plans and logistics. Now entire relationships begin—and end—via text. This is not only unhealthy, but abnormal.
Not only does texting leave out some of the most important hallmarks of in-person communication, such as eye contact, tone, body language, and cadence, it fosters an unusual communication frequency and sense of urgency. Unlike seeing someone in real life, texting produces many questions that wouldn’t even exist otherwise.
In real life, a person meets another for a dinner date, the conversation ebbs and flows, and the two return home. After spending several hours out of touch, perhaps the date is followed up by a phone call, and so on. Now, with iPhone’s read receipt function, or even when messaging a person via Facebook’s messaging app, you can see if the person has read the text, and if he is typing a reply. This produces undue paranoia.
Texting has changed the rules. This 2013 piece a mom wrote in the Huffington Post about her teen daughter’s texting habits with her boyfriend after he asked for “space” is still spot-on. Her daughter describes texting “all the time” like a “tennis ball.” Mom recalls their conversation:
‘But then it should stop, right? After you answered his question?’
‘Well, no. Because then it’s his turn.’
‘But the conversation was over,’ I pointed out.
‘The conversation is never over…’ she repeated, emphasis on ‘never.’
Indeed, now after a dinner date, men, but especially women, don’t just go home and go on with their lives. They wonder: Should I text him first? Should I use an emoticon? Should I wait ten minutes, or two hours, before responding? If he texts back, is he into me? What if he doesn’t text at all? To wit:
*overanalyzes your last text and sends you 15 more replies just in case*
— It's Stephanie (@Snarfernini) September 11, 2014
Hyperbolic, sure, but anyone who texts frequently with a member of the opposite sex, especially one of romantic interest, can see the grain of truth. The fact that this occurs at all uncovers how texting provokes an unrealistic view of people and relationships, even from the beginning.
Texting Hurts More Than It Helps
Texting actually seems to be hurting relationships, especially romantic ones. One of the biggest reasons is because women text to reflect and reinforce their relationships, while men text to get results or information. This means, generally speaking, women are probably over-communicating and men feel smothered by avalanches of texts from their significant others.
A friend told me he doesn’t mind texting to some extent, because flirtatious, salacious texts provide ample fuel for a romantic relationship. He gets frustrated when he starts getting repeated texts about superficial things he can’t fix. “Ugh, I feel fat today. Do I look okay in this dress?” He says, “Men like to solve problems—not prolong problems.” If he can’t fix it or at least try to fix it, he doesn’t want to hear about it over text.
According to this article in Psychology Today, which described the pros and cons of texting, one of the downsides was the continual cycle texting creates. Texting’s sense of immediacy and urgency is not only impossible to facilitate long-term but creates a completely false sense of reality:
Once texting begins, it might not stop. The more texts people receive, the more they feel obligated to text back, creating a cycle of mobile relationship maintenance (Hall & Baym, 2012). This can be a healthy pattern if it creates a balanced sense of connection and dependence, but if instead individuals begin to feel an overdependence, such that the texting is preventing them from other activities—like attending to other relationships; meeting academic or career responsibilities, or even seeing each other in person—the outcome is dissatisfaction (Hall & Baym, 2012).
A 2013 study in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy found: “Men who texted their romantic partner more frequently reported lower satisfaction with their relationship, whereas women who texted more tended to report higher-quality connections with their [significant other].” So women naturally text more because they desire to facilitate that connection, whereas men text less, which may fuel more texts from her and create a vicious cycle leading only to angst for both parties.
What’s the Solution?
The constant anticipation and expectation of an ongoing conversation via text or other method that doesn’t ever take a break is exhausting, damaging, and a complete departure from real life. The Huffington Post mom diagnosed her daughter’s issues thusly: “I can’t even fathom being forced to talk to my husband, my mother, or even my best friend every day like that! No wonder the guy needs a break. He’s sick of you.” Her solution? Put your phone down and go live. Then talk like normal human beings.
Psychology Today agrees: “Whether a relationship is just beginning or well-established, having clear rules or norms for how texting will occur may prevent some of the frustrations that technology can introduce into the mix (Miller-Ott, Kelly, & Duran, 2012).” The Journal study referenced above found that “couples who sent affectionate text messages tended to report more romantic satisfaction, but even this finding is not quite so simple: It seems it’s much more satisfying to send a loving text message than to receive one.”
Their solution? “[Y]ou might as well delete your love interest’s number from your phone now while you’re still ahead.” I’m sure there are men who over-text, but given how verbal women are and how statistically how much more they text than men, women need to ask themselves: Am I smothering him with texts?
If brevity is the soul of wit, texting less might be the key to successful (romantic) relationships. When it comes to texting, an old adage often credited to ancient Egyptians might apply: Silence is golden.