Of all of the dating dilemmas people come to me with, texting is at the top of the list. I have no doubt that texting etiquette and texting interpretation faux pas have tanked more budding relationships than anyone could actually count!
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Here are a few rules of the road to help you navigate this minefield of modern dating:
1. Texting means different things to different people. Don't assume.
I hear a lot of women complain about men who text instead of call. The argument goes: If he really liked me, he'd call me, not text.
The truth is: you don't have any idea what it means to him (or her) to text you in the early stages of getting to know each other. Release your assumptions - maybe texting is something you reserve for people who are a low priority for you, but that isn't the case for everyone.
If you've only been on between zero to five dates with someone, you probably don't know them well enough to know the emotional significance of texting to them.
I text my mother way more often than I call her, and that doesn't mean I don't love my mom, a lot. To me, it means I prefer texting as a mode of quick and easy communication. I generally assume that other people would prefer text as well. When I'm wrong, I'm happy to adjust accordingly!
If you prefer talking on the phone to texting, that's cool. Just be sure to communicate that to your love interest. Which brings me to my second tip...
2. State your preferences, gently.
If you really hate texting, or perhaps you spend a lot of time driving in your car and therefore you (rightly) aren't able to text, say so!
Half of the art of relationships is communicating your wants and needs. Treat this as an exercise in learning each other's preferences and communication styles.
To discourage someone from texting you, simply respond: "I'm not much of a texter/I'm not able to text now. But feel free to call me or I can call you later."
If someone really wants to communicate with you, they will find a way to do that effectively. And for those who are just looking for a text buddy (these people exist!), they will disappear, which might sting in the short term, but in the long run will free you up to connect with those who have the same relationship goals as you.
Just be sure to remember that relationships require compromise. The person texting you might have a good reason for needing to do so - or they might simply have a strong preference for that mode of communication. It can't be your way or the highway all of the time, so be prepared to meet him or her halfway.
3. If you're complaining, stop condoning.
A common complaint I hear is from singles who hate receiving last minute texts asking to hang out. I get it - I am a fan of spontaneity, but if you're always being treated like an afterthought or a Plan B, you just might be.
If you are making yourself available to someone who only contacts you at the last minute, you are condoning their behavior, no matter how much you complain about it!
If you want to be asked out on a real, planned-in-advance date, then hold out for the people who will do just that.
Also remember that this scenario is another opportunity to communicate your needs. You could always respond to a last-minute text invite with "I can't tonight, but I'd love to see you with more advance planning. I'm free next ______."
Teach others how you want to be treated. The ones who rise to the occasion are the ones worth holding on to.
4. Sexting is not for strangers unless you only want sex.
No, you're not being a prude if you're uncomfortable when a virtual stranger (no matter how attractive) begins getting frisky via text. It amazes me how many single women who are hoping for serious relationships get drawn into sexting with guys they've only just met. And these same women seem genuinely perplexed and frustrated when things never advance past the hookup phase.
If a guy likes you, yes he will want to have sex with you. If he likes you enough to potentially have a relationship with you, he won't sext you prior to the beginning of that relationship.
The ease of texting invites a definite casualness that can lead people who would never flash their body parts to someone they barely know to taking photos of those same body parts and sending them via text. Same goes for engaging in sex talk. If you want more than a hookup and are seeking an actual relationship, cut it out!
If he (or she - I'm sure there are women out there who are guilty of this as well) does, do not respond in kind. Do not engage! If they persist, block them. You two are not on the same page and are better off parting ways.
5. The less you know someone, the more caution you should use.
This might sound like it goes without saying. But as I mentioned, I see a lot of relationship-seeking people throw caution to the wind when it comes to texting.
As you're getting to know someone, the bulk of your communication should happen face-to-face if at all possible.
By relying on text communications with someone you are just getting to know, you are tempting gross misinterpretations. There's the "What does he mean by 'K'??" panic, or the "Why did she take so long to respond??" panic or the "I heard from him twice yesterday but not at all today - does that mean he doesn't like me??" panic, to name a few.
And then there's the "I'm so into this person who I barely know because he/she texts me 10x a day! We're definitely almost in a relationship" delusion.
Having instant access to a person at nearly all times creates a false sense of intimacy before that intimacy is earned in the relationship. And that can take an emotional toll if and when the actual relationship never happens, or fizzles out quickly.
This becomes particularly hazardous with people you've connected with online but not yet met in person, or people you've been out with only once or twice. I hear women say things like "We were texting all day everyday until we went out Saturday and now I haven't heard from him." Then they feel disappointed and rejected, like they blew it somehow with someone they had already bonded with.
The only way to protect against this potentially harsh letdown is not to indulge in it in the first place. As tempting as it might be and as flattering as it feels to have someone constantly reaching out to you (and therefore thinking about you), let the relationship unfold at an emotionally safe pace.
The frequency of the communication should be proportional to where you are in getting to know each other, not 24/7 right off the bat. Where is there to go from there?
Texting can be tricky, but following these guidelines will definitely help you to minimize a good deal of the drama! Good luck and happy dating!
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(I originally published this piece in The Huffington Post)