Agreeing not to text could build a better relationship
Last month, New York Magazine’s website The Cut ran a story by Clara Artschwager about a new, promising relationship that was nearly sabotaged by texting — Artschwager was too busy to text, so her date assumed she wasn’t into him — and saved by an agreement to just not text each other, minus logistical communiques. No dinging good nights and good mornings; no interrupting check-ins. Artschwager described the new paradigm as “thrilling.”
The best dating advice I ever got, long before I started dating at all, was “When in doubt, don’t call.” I now dispense the smartphone-updated version “When in doubt, don’t text.” I feel embarrassingly qualified because my own era of casual dating coincided with my first smartphone, and I can now review huge online archives of messages that represent time — hours; years — that I could have spent building a self-sustaining feminist utopia, instead.
The problems of “texting and dating” are just “texting” and “dating.” Really, “texting” is a straw app for social technology that connects people so easily that we unfairly expect constant accessibility, attention, and interest from each other — dates, friends, whoever. “Dating” is a vanilla milkshake of a word that really means the entire sphere of potential, of love, of relationships, and mostly, of sex, and how they slide around the sociosexual continuum without much formality or differentiation. This is especially true for millennials and gen zers (zed-ers?) who get together, get off, and fall apart over waves of Wi-Fi. Together, “texting and dating” are responsible for accommodating enormous swaths of the 2018 human experience, but they’re both mostly bad at it.
What texting and dating need, in this moment, is to be “less.” Texting is great when it’s limited to details, updates and check-ins, but when it goes long-form or gets constant, it undermines its own utility. (It also means that an entire generation, those Z-ers, arrive at their first jobs not knowing how to make a phone call.) Dating wants intimacy alongside curiosity, expansiveness, distance, tension and mystery — none of which is possible when you’re updating a potential makeout bud on the boring-er vagaries of your workday.
This, to me, is the real problem, the one Artschwager writes of solving: daters have traded in the acute, excruciating pleasure of desire, of literal and figurative “wonder,” for a dopamine one-hitter.
Texting endlessly and mindlessly in that liminal, maybe-maybe-not phase stems and generates anxiety about dating. When you want to know what someone is like, and what someone is thinking, and what they think about you, and what your relationship is — and obviously, you want to know — there’s this way to just be around, to be available without being vulnerable, and to know that even if the texting drifts away, it is, or was, something. It’s dating by playing small, just one of a million other ways humans refuse pleasure to avoid pain. This is also crazy because texting — less — can also be an ideal conduit for tension that skews toward “arousing” (rather than “annoying”) while a sexual dynamic establishes itself.
Texting way less is both a practical return to the point of everything and a dating power move. Maybe too powerful. You need to clarify that your disinterest in texting too much isn’t disinterest in your date. Even if it doesn’t work out, extricating dating from tech restores maybe-dating to a sexual ecosystem where butterflies can survive for more than a day.
Last week, using Twitter’s Advance Search to hunt down a compliment from an ancient love interest, I instead found a piece by the late, great writer A.A. Gill, about the movie Before Sunrise, where he describes the main characters, who are “sharing an imaginary phone conversation of charmed humour with a great deal of 18-karat sentiment and love” as “in love with each other, but they’re also in love with being in love on the phone.”
Texting, like phone calls or handwritten love notes, aren’t incidental to dating; they’re forums for intimacy, as essential to love as the language we use, as the feeling behind it. Using them well usually means using them less.