So I was at a party this weekend (I know, I’m a party animal!) chatting with a group of friends and one of the hostesses when the subject of communication came up. The hostess, a lady about my mom’s age, mentioned how she and her husband reconnected and finally married years and years after they had first dated. They had been high school sweethearts, gone their separate ways in college, and then got back together at a high school reunion. The hostess lamented the fact that it took them so long to find one another again, but she also indicated that a lack of communication was partly to blame. She talked about the “old days” when you had to put quarters in a communal pay phone in the dorm hall and had to write letters and postcards to keep in touch. I never had to deal with such arcane communication methods, but I did have a little bit of difficulty even in my college days, what with no cell phone and a dorm phone that didn’t have any calling features. So if a boy I really, really liked decided to call me and my roommate was on the phone, it was sorry Charlie. Line busy, call missed, dating life over. I had an answering machine, but a fat lot of good it did when your housing committee-assigned roommate from overseas answered the phone and took a message that was unintelligible at best because she didn’t speak “southern.” But I digress…
What this conversation sparked in my mind was a little question I have asked myself a few times about communication methods and what they mean. These days we’ve got voicemail, texting, caller ID, email, social networking sites…a veritable cornucopia of ways to stalk, be stalked, and ignore people. There’s a scene in the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” where Drew Barrymore’s character uses every method available to flirt with guys and complains that she’s been dumped through every medium out there, thus making the heartbreak even more painful. Her (ridiculously gay) friends in the office offer her advice, telling her that someone who only talks to her through social networking sites is definitely chasing other tail, etc etc. So that, coupled with the conversation this weekend posits to me the question, what does it mean when someone uses one communication method over another? If someone texts you but doesn’t call you, is it because he/she is not much of a talker but still wants to holla, or is it because they don’t find you chat worthy? If they communicate primarily through a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter, are they avoiding more personal, one on one contact or are they publicly declaring their affinity for your every thought? It’s a conundrum that I had to roll around in my head for a bit before I could really make a decision. I thought about what my communication methods mean, and why I choose one over another. For me, the best method is talking on the phone, but sometimes there’s a progression. It could start via facebook comments, to email, to phone. Or it could go from meeting at a party, to exchanging numbers, texting, then calling. But to me, the very end result, the one that says they officially like you and find you worth the time, is the phone call. Here’s what I’ve come up with to explain the other methods:
1. Texting but not calling: I’ve run into this quite a lot over the past couple of years with a few friends and acquaintances. Some people are more textually active than others, and though I resisted at first, I had to add texting to my phone plan eventually so I could keep in touch with certain friends who it seems would only text me, even if I had called them and left a message saying “call me back.” Other friends have become more textual, as have I, and for the most part I find it a handy method for when you don’t have much to say except “I’m on my way” or “good luck today!” or something relatively simple. My old pal Skip (he of mystery girl body language musings) texted me just last night with the question “do you think anyone has had sex in outer space?” These types of texts are ones I can appreciate, and don’t necessarily require a full conversation. My answer, by the way, was “Captain Kirk.” But what about when you meet somebody you like and want to go out with at some point? I think the answer is this: if they, or you, are using text as a primary communication source, it’s a method of protection—they’re feeling you out and deciding if they want to make the step up to calling. It’s a little less awkward to send a text and not get a response than to call someone and have to leave a message when they don’t answer. You never know what to say when leaving a message, and you don’t sound as stupid in writing. There’s a certain amount of nerves that come with a conversation, but texts help bypass that by letting you think about what you’ll say before you text. And honestly, it’s nerve racking to be the first one to call. You don’t want to let go of the security blanket, and you don’t want to cross the line if they’re still unsure.
2. Social networking sites only: This is the coupe de grace of stalking these days. If you can get a friend request accepted by someone on Facebook, you have access to as much personal info, photographic representation, and social circle commentary as you can handle. When someone “friends” you, and proceeds to comment, it’s sort of like saying, “hey, I like what I see and I wanted to say so.” Think about it—how many people do you friend and then never comment or even look at their page? You only comment on those you like, you know, or you want to get to know. Where it gets tricky is when the other party uses the social networking site as the only means of convo. If they email you on Facebook, then you can only email them back on Facebook if you don’t know their real email address, or see it on their page but don’t want to seem like a freak who’s stalking someone on Facebook, right? So it leads to a sort of false sense of insecurity. You both pretend you don’t see their cell number or other communication method staring at you from their Info tab and let it be because you don’t want to be “that guy/girl” who mistakenly thought someone liked you enough to move on from Facebooking to texting/emailing. And you most certainly don’t want to get burned by number three here:
3. Email/text/Facebook with a denied request to move to the call level: This one is the one I can’t stand the most, probably because it has happened to me before and it hurt my feelings. I was on a dating site and met an eligible bachelor that I thought may be a decent candidate for a free dinner. We emailed through the dating site a couple of times and then made the leap to personal email. I thought the progression was going well, and I felt comfortable enough to offer the digits after a few more days of emailing. The expectation was set that a phone call was imminent that weekend. What happened? An email on Monday morning explaining why he had not called over the weekend. Illness or something like that. So I gave it another shot, opening the call window in a subsequent email. And still nothing but emails. And then nothing at all. The way I figure it, he was chasing other tail, and I had taken the step out there for a premature call request. Ouch. So while I am not a fan of texting/emailing/etc. when I think calling ought to happen, I keep texting/emailing/etc. to keep myself from making a fool of myself.
So there it is folks. Let me know your thoughts, rants, raves, and comments!