My screen lit up with a text from him.
“Hey, I’m so sorry. I opened your text but I had such a rough day. I didn’t get a chance to text back then but how are you?”
“All good, and you don’t ever have to apologize for slow replies,” I wrote.
And I meant it. I am a horrible texter — texting incessantly over nothing productive takes a lot out of me. Most of the time, I only text for work-related or logistical reasons, like when I’m trying to arrange meetups. To avoid having to open message threads, I’ll read the notification preview from my screen before swiping it out of sight (and out of mind). Back in college, I once replied a friend two months late, picking up the conversation from where we left off. He wasn’t mad at me but of course, he had every right to be if he was; after all, I took two entire months to respond to a text when I have been on my phone every day. Even with my disdain for texting, I realize that whenever I meet someone new, I will text my date more frequently than I text my best friends and inexplicably, I’ll expect him to do the same as well.
It’s been about four months since I’ve started talking to Liam* and around two months since we started seeing each other. Thanks to quarantine, our first wine date night was on a Monday night over Zoom. In the initial phase where we were getting to know each other, we had so much to talk about since we knew absolutely nothing about each other. The texts came back and forth all day, and most of the text exchanges were so long they filled an entire page of the screen. This was really out of the ordinary for me because I hated long messages and I was really afraid I will not be able to keep up with the incessant texting in the long run. Yet, it was exhilarating to maintain our text exchanges then. Moreover, it’s not like I had anything else to do during quarantine, right?
Dating in the age of cell phones puts a lot of pressure on young millennial couples to keep in constant contact throughout the day, even if it means engaging in lackluster, mediocre conversations. After all, most of us are on our cell phones almost most of – if not, all – the time. As such, not receiving a text from someone that you are interested in would put one on edge. Both parties start second-guessing each other the moment the frequency of texts drop: Is he no longer interested in me? Is he ghosting me? Why hasn’t he responded even though he has already read my text? Why has he yet to respond to the text I sent him hours ago when he was last seen online five minutes ago? What does it mean when he likes my post on Instagram but ignores my texts? It’s easy to be paranoid and overanalyze texting habits, or even lash out at the party who fails to keep up with the routine.
Despite being a horrible texter myself, I felt pretty empty when the frequency of our exchanges went down significantly over time. Liam started on a new project at work and while I had a ton of assignments due, I always made sure to check my phone in case he contacted me. At times, his lack of response left me on edge. Convinced that the dip in texts meant that he was no longer interested in going out with me after the lockdown had ended, I made it a point to get back at him by waiting the same amount of time he took before writing back.
However, when the nation-wide lockdown ended and we started hanging out in person, it was clear that Liam and I had amazing chemistry. We had endless topics to talk about, from philosophy and weird observations about little things around us to our life goals and plans. After getting past the initial stage of dating, we slowly fell into a routine of barely texting each other. We still check in with each other once every few days, but we saved our conversations for our weeknight dinners or weekend dates.
In my past relationships, when the initial buzz of incessant texting ended, I often find myself making the conscious effort to send superfluous texts. I always felt like I owed it to my partner to respond in a timely fashion. Unlike a friend, a significant other is likely to be more concerned and less understanding about a two-day, much less a two-month response time. I felt self-conscious about checking social media before replying to his texts, fearful that not prioritizing them would make him unhappy. Texting was a chore, especially when I was swamped with work or out with my friends. This is why I can scarcely believe that I finally found someone who is on the same page as me; all the “good morning”, “good night” and “what did you have for lunch?” nonsense is off the table. It feels liberating to be able to put aside all that distraction to live in the moment and concentrate on tasks that I actually need to complete. I am just not accustomed to this freedom yet because I have never met anyone who is chill about texting.
When I told one of my best friends that Liam and I barely text, except for our occasional check-ins, he immediately replied, “That’s a red flag!!!” My friend went on to express concerns about how such behavior seemed “shady” and avoidant. After all, we have been conditioned to read into texts and texting patterns in this digital age. But I am perfectly fine with our arrangement; I’ve learned that there is no correlation between the number of texts I got from Liam and his interest in me. Liam is barely on his phone and often “last seen 12 hours ago” on the messaging app that we use. Regardless, I have no qualms about him texting someone else, nor do I fear that he may ghost me because we make plans one to two months into the future.
Apart from becoming more confident and secure in my relationship, I am now able to live my life more freely. Without being in a state of anxiety and reflexively reaching for my phone every few minutes, I can better focus on my tasks at hand. Not being tethered to my phone grants me the time and space to focus on myself. I find myself devoting more energy to reading, writing, making music, painting and working on self-improvement. The limited text contact also ensures an endless stream of topics to talk about during our mid-week or weekend dates. How was his week? Did he work on something new? What did he do? Who did he hang out with? Each date left me on a high and in further anticipation of the next time we’d meet again.
If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from dating Liam, it’s that disconnecting to connect is one of the best feelings ever. I mean, do we really have to let cyberspace and our cell phones take up the bulk of our relationship? Of course, some people work better with constant communication with their partners but to each his (their) own. I’m just happy that I’m able to be head over heels for Liam without feeling the obligation to text constantly and more importantly, without having to sacrifice focusing on myself.
For more articles like this, check out our Modern Love/Loneliness column.