SMS vs. The Language of Love

Are we texting our way out of potential relationships?

pspl-texting-flash

The phone call is dead, say tech-savvy social commentators. With the increasing popularity of text messaging, who needs to actually talk to someone anymore?

While text messaging may be an immediate and direct form of communication, good for flirty messages and quick hellos, I’m wondering if those instant, impersonal communiqués are hurting our dating lives and hindering our relationship formation.

Let’s be clear: I send and receive text messages. In fact, just as I typed that last sentence, a text pinged in from my husband to let me know that he’d be home in 20 minutes. That’s fine. I’m not anti-text, but I think it’s time to think critically about the pros and cons of text messaging in those early, precarious stages of dating.

Browse through my concerns and then tell me what you think in this survey: How do you use text messaging in your relationships? What works and what doesn’t? Have you had any text-related misunderstandings? Any romances blossom over SMS? Share your thoughts by taking this short survey and I’ll post your responses — as well as my advice about text messaging — in a future column.

Texting Your Way to True Love?

One of the most frustrating early dating experiences I ever had was with a guy who said, “I’ll text you and maybe we can hang out Friday.” So, Friday came and I got all dressed up and went out with my friends. As the hours dragged on, our conversation revolved around whether I should text him or wait for him to text me. And when he did finally get in touch — via text — after midnight, it was clear that charming conversation wasn’t what he was after.

Indeed, often texting is a short cut — a way to bypass the social niceties of “Hi, how are you?” and the necessary getting-to-know-you conversation. With limited typing ability, we usually ask blunt, direct questions or announce a fact. In the early days of a relationship, it’s all about subtly. And this blunt, impersonal form of communication may lead to mixed signals.

Emotions v. Emoticons

As a general rule, forming an emotional bond is harder via text than face-to-face. As part of my research on self-help advice, I asked one young man to test out a 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot section about how to ask for a small favor as a way to increase communication and intimacy. It worked like a charm in person and acceptably well on the phone, but failed miserably via text messaging. Why?

Since the 1950s, academics have studied “the silent language” of nonverbal cues. Posture and expression can speak volumes about how a person feels about you. Some social commentators worry that since we spend so much time communicating in the virtual world, we’re losing the ability to read those in-person cues.

Even phone calls offer more cues: Psychological research has shown that a smile can come through someone’s voice even while speaking on the phone. So can hesitation, regret and a slew of important emotions. Emoticons seem a poor match in the getting-to-know-you-process… and it’s hard to make a joke via text without getting misunderstood.

Does Texting Undermine Commitment?

Text messaging survey
TAKE THIS SURVEY!!

Take the text messaging survey here. How do you use text messaging in your relationships? What works and what doesn’t? Have you had any text-related misunderstandings? Any romances blossom over SMS? Share your thoughts by taking this short survey and I’ll post your responses — as well as my advice about text messaging — in a future column.

And to make matters worse, apparently men and women don’t speak the same language via text. Women are more expressive than men, use more emoticons and write longer messages, a recent study found. Perhaps that’s why texting doesn’t boost commitment, says University of Pittsburgh communications professor John Lyne. “Texting is a way of being connected in the least costly way,” he says. “Communicative contact that engages us in such a costless and commitment-free way is surely changing the way we think of social involvement.”

And what about all the love letters that aren’t being written (or emailed) as we text (or sext) in real time? “Think of the beautifully written personal letters that were written in previous generations, many of which have been historically archived,” says Lyne. “And think of the time gap between sending a letter and receiving a reply. You realize that taking time to craft careful prose makes a lot of sense when the communicative exchange occurs at such a glacial pace. With the new technologies, messages are instantaneous and disposable, and certainly not worth laboring over the prose.”

Love Texts

Perhaps I’m a Luddite, but if it were up to me, texting would be for communicating basic information and short hellos only. The real nuanced work of romance would be conducted in person, by phone, or, in a pinch, in a thoughtfully worded email. (The United States Post Office would appreciate it if you’d write a love letter, but something tells me you haven’t purchased stamps in years.)

What do you think? Share your thoughts in this survey and I’ll post your results soon. In the meantime, be retro and pick up the phone to call someone you love.


DONATE NOW