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How texting has transformed flirting, dating and romance

A casualty of the casual dating culture.

A casualty of the casual dating culture.

The first thing I did when exploring how texting culture is affecting dating and relationships was text my friends for input on the subject. I wasn’t trying to be “meta.” It just seemed like the easiest way to reach out to people—and it was. Almost immediately, replies came in the form of little red bubble notifications, making intermittent “ding” sounds on my iPhone. It’s that easy, incredibly fast form of communication that has us all addicted.

So it’s no surprise that texting has made a major impact on dating in the 21st century. This is both comforting and horrifying. Comforting because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s just easier to make plans or converse without the pressures of face-to-face—or voice-to-voice—interaction. For that same reason, it’s disconcerting that it’s seeped into the dating discourse.

As the most effortless form of communication, texting often makes us approach the early stages of dating with nonchalance. “We’re texting” has become somewhat of a new relationship status, a description my friends and I have used for a potentially budding romance. Well, great, you’re texting, but are you hanging out? As my friend Theresa put it: “Texting is better than doing nothing, but it’s not better than anything besides that.”

And because texting doesn’t offer the nuances of facial expression, verbal tone or body language, we’re often tempted to use it as a cheap way to avoid confrontation. Liam Kyle Sullivan, former Internet star of the YouTube video “Shoes,” parodied the idea with his music video “Text Message Break-Up,” which features swarms of angry girls singing to a fictional boyfriend who used his phone to cut ties. Curious as to whether this was a real-life way to break up with someone, I asked my friends, most of whom had trouble recalling any such experience, which reassured my faith in humanity.

But one friend, Brianna, was quick to offer personal stories.

“All of my relationship experiences have been pretty casual, so breaking up was, too,” she said. As such, she’s used texting to end various flings. “Once I texted, ‘Hey, I don’t think this is working out, we should break up,’ and he texted me back, ‘OK, chill’ with a cat picture.” Tact at its finest.

While I’ve never personally used texting for something as dramatic as a breakup, it’s still been a part of all of my dating experiences. I use it as my primary method for making date plans, and it’s also played a significant role in the flirting stage. With the popularity of emoticons, we now have endless options to tease affectionately, without even using words. I use emoticons often, although I still haven’t figured out that winky face. Depending on who is sending (or receiving) the message, it’s either taken as a playful gesture, or a hint of romance. The ambiguity stresses me out.

Of course, flirting via text isn’t always just innocent exchanges of cartoon faces. With the fairly recent phenomenon of “sexting,” people send romantic partners sexually explicit messages or photos.

“I think it adds an exciting element to long-distance relationships,” my friend Kara suggested. “And it doesn’t carry the same verbal resistance as video chatting or phone calls.”

But folks, sext wisely. I once made the mistake of giving a stranger my real phone number after mild flirting on a bus. The only form of communication I received after that? Dick pics. I’m not sure I even remembered his name, but even so, I got closeups of his penis on my phone. There’s a time and place for sexting—and that wasn’t either.

Sure, it’s bittersweet to think about the significance texting plays in modern romance. Instead of sending each other love letters like our grandparents used to, we use our thumbs to push out a few words on a tiny keyboard. But it’s here to stay, so we might as well embrace it. I’m not saying it will ever be the best way to a gal’s (or guy’s) heart. If there’s real affection behind it, though getting a little smiley or wink face every once in a while isn’t so bad, as long as we see those same expressions in person, too.