by B. Imei Hsu, RN, LMHC
While walking from the office to my bus stop, I watched a young woman texting someone as she briskly walked towards a busy intersection. She was engrossed in a text conversation, furiously tapping on her virtual keyboard, and three steps away from walking against a red light. When she was ready to step into oncoming traffic, I yelled, “Stop now!” and touched her arm. She looked up at me with a startled expression, oblivious to what almost happened to her, then turned her attention back to her phone without removing an earbud of her headphones.
The two other witnesses standing nearby shook their heads and smiled. It’s like we knew what the other was thinking. Next time, she won’t be so lucky.
Isn’t that awful? What is so important in that text that a person would risk her own life?
Let me share with you five things I’ve learned about texting the one you love, so you can become super smart about making the most of your mobile device while not getting tripped up (no pun intended) on the curbs of modern love foibles. It’s one thing if you get hit by a truck (and I really hope you don’t!); it’s another if you throw your own relationship under the technology bus.
1. TEXT TO ENHANCE LIFE, NOT TO REPLACE IT
Text your main squeeze when you want to add a little something special to your connection. It can be something he or she already knows, but you want to underline it, stick it his visual field for just a moment, or let her know you’re thinking of about him.
Do not use texting as a replacement for living life. Asking, “How are you?” by text is a poor substitute for asking it at a time when all your attention is shifted on his or her answer. Those kinds of connecting questions should have answers that go beyond the casual response of “good” or “fine.” When you text your loved one, consider asking the more important questions in person or over the phone.
Another way of thinking of texting as life enhancement is to limit texting to micro communications; that is, short sentences or phrases that do not require in-depth response or nuanced emotional interpretation. Statements like, “I can’t wait to see you tonight!” or “I’m thinking about you as I’m traveling, knowing you’re putting the kids to bed,” are short thoughts that let your loved one know what you’re thinking without any guesswork. And they serve as a temporary archive of how well you collaborate and create short touch points with one another.
Finally, an enhancement of life is providing a snipet of it, caught by way of a photo, an audio byte, or a short video of less than one minute in duration. We have apps available to us that make capturing these special and surprising moments so that we can draw close.
Speaking of which, my husband purchased one of those “new” classic Instax Mini 90 by FujiFilm cameras, the kind that uses Fuji film (the replacement for the Kodak Polaroid brand). Because he knows how much I love my cats, he’s been taking pictures of them, framing them, and leaving them on the kitchen table. If you have ever tried to capture a pet with an instant camera, then you know that what you get is a series of random moments that you can’t control. They are strangely bizarre and ridiculous, and I love them. Sometimes, he’ll take a digital picture of the instant pic, and text the picture as a little teaser. They make me giggle, and I draw close.
Find those short micro communications and photos that help you draw close.
2. JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM
Do you remember any examples of getting any angry text from your spouse or partner, and wondering, “I have no clue what s/he’s talking about”?
Text is a horrible communication tool for facilitating an argument. What? You’re going to yell BY USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And that is supposed to make your spouse feel all warm and fuzzy and want to answer you?
If you are upset with your loved one about something, consider texting that statement, followed by a plan, such as this:
Honey, I am feeling upset about this, but I do not want to text. Let’s talk this evening after work when we can each other some attention. Mwah! [optional: insert emoticon]
Since texting does not allow for the transmission of body language and other emotional cues found in the voice and breath, try to stick to facts, not because you are trying to win an argument, but because you want to create a win-win for your relationship. When emotions are running high, a logical debate is rarely going to happen effectively through a text message, though its opposite outcome (i.e. the dog house) is clearly a possibility!
3. YES, NO, MAYBE, OR LATER
Texting is great when you have a burning question that cannot wait, but that can answered with just a few words: yes, no, maybe, or later. Need to know if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty? Is he picking up the kids from their after-school activity or are you? What does she want for dinner? Need anything at the grocery store?
I can look at a couple’s communication pattern through texting and see how it often mirrors both victories and challenges in their relationships. On one hand, it often holds some interesting keys to their collaboration. At the same time, it exposes a lot of unnecessary sarcasm, jibs, and grumpy words spoken in careless moments (and I am not even referring to your naked pictures of each other).
4. CONNECTION, NOT INSECURITY
In an article about Social Media published on the PsychologyToday blog, Professor of Psychology Michelle Drouin commented on how people with secure attachments tend to use texting (and by inference, Social Media) to arrange meetings and check in, but reserve important personal conversations for F2F.
People who have insecure attachments may find themselves compulsively using text messaging and its online cohorts, such as the Facebook Messenger app (which is, essentially, a texting app with real-time notification) as a means to answering the question,”Am I OK?” or “Is everyone OK with me?”
Aside from those who use Social Media platforms for business leverage and branding, the vast majority of Social Media users are not necessarily creating brand content that requires an active community. When less experienced users try to convert these platforms into active friendships that require more input than clicking the “like” button or receiving a happy face emoji, they may experience feelings of rejection, insecurity, or fears of not being well liked.
With our spouses and partners, keeping them “on the hook” through texting by fishing for answers, compliments, location check-ins and “whatchadoing now?” may represent an insecure attachment style. I suggest that this is often not something that the couple created from scratch, but that the less secure partner has introduced into the relational system.
What’s the solution? Well, at least a part of it is this: stop it. Stop it, right now. Put the phone down and back away.
5. TIME TAKES ON NEW MEANING
When the Facebook Messenger application launched, I decided to not put it on my main smartphone. It would never be used for important communication because it isn’t considered a HIPAA compatible platform, so that decision wasn’t really even a strong consideration. Yet beyond the laws that govern my profession, I felt uneasy about adding yet another layer of social convention to texting and relationships.
With yet one more way for people to reach me, did I want really want that communication form factor to be a text? And what would I want that to co-mingle with my text communications with my husband, my family members, and my close friends, when time takes on a different meaning?
In the Life 2.0 economy, time is more precious than money. And while my answer may be different from yours, and your mileage may vary, the real challenge is to consider how much time you wish to make yourself available to others, and when you do avail yourself, how you want to engage. If you do not wish to have an angry friend, or an angry spouse, question you about why you didn’t answer his text in a time-conscious factor, may it’s time for you to be clear about how you use — or dismiss — texting, depending on your work flow, play flow, and rest flow. I know for a fact that I do not want my fingers on a virtual keyboard when I need to listen and communicate the most important words of my life to the one I love. I’d prefer to have my eyeballs looking at his eyeballs, and vice a versa. And yes, that is not always possible, because I haven’t found a viable way to clone myself.
For example, I like everyone to know that texting me after hours and on weekends is a real “hit-or-miss”, and sometimes completely fruitless endeavor. I may not even carry a phone on me for hours, nor bother to check in with anyone, for I too, need time to unplug. Consider if I were to change that pattern for just one person, namely, my husband. If I created a pattern where it was reasonable for him to expect me to text often, then I shouldn’t be surprised if he were to be concerned if I suddenly stopped without a word of warning, right?
The meaning of your time and its effect on your loved one changes in context. We used to say that if you loved your mother, you gave her a phone call once a week. Now, if you don’t text at least every few days, does that need to mean that she isn’t important enough to you? If you don’t answer a text, it doesn’t mean the other person isn’t important or is a lesser priority. It doesn’t mean the other person is forgotten. Primary does not equal obsession. But you will need to define where those lines are drawn in the virtual sand.
If you’re in a meeting and can’t answer texts, um, hello: don’t answer texts. Be all at your meeting. If you are driving, do not text. Keep your phone away from your hand. Let it take a nap in your messenger bag or purse. If it is time to sleep, settle the phone in its charger, and regulate who, if anyone, gets to break through your sleep mode.
In essence, you are in charge of regulating the use of your texting. If you feel you are being pushed by your partner to use texting in a way that isn’t in your best interest, then you need to have a conversation surrounding texting ground rules.
Conversely, if you think you have the right to push your texts in front of your partner or spouse whenever you want while expecting an immediate answer, you might need to rethink the validity of your belief. When you get flustered that you aren’t receiving a response back to your text from your loved one, it doesn’t have to mean anything except he or she hasn’t returned your text.
Bonus round — while no smartphone company will ever share with you this tip, I think the best way to text your main squeeze is pretty simple: keep it short, be nice, and save up the really important stuff for when your noses are just a couple of feet away.
Has texting helped to improve your communication between you and your partner or spouse? Has texting made things more difficult or more distant? Feel free to write me an email, and if you wish, extend permission to share your feedback anonymously.