Chat in Relationships?
December 21, 2009 6:56 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with instant messaging early in a relationship?

I've just started dating a woman that I've known for a about a year. We both use GChat and tend to be logged in fairly frequently.

Given that it's early in the relationship, it seems overbearing to be communicating every day. Email is just as instant (in our age of BlackBerries at least), but a chat program has a "presence" that makes it seem weird to be logged on all the time without saying anything.

So far I've dealt with this in part by not being logged in so much, but also this change in behavior (and she knows how much I was logged in before) seems odd. How have you dealt with this?

Other details that might matter: it's long distance, so we don't see each other that frequently, so far it's been visit once a month, talk on the phone a little more frequently than once a week, e-mail and chat more in between.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you might be over thinking this a bit. If you don't want to seem overbearing, maybe try to only initiate conversations as much as she does.
posted by kylej at 7:12 PM on December 21, 2009

You're overthinking things. Do you feel like you need to IM every family member or friend you might have on your contact list because chat programs are a "presence"? Surely not.

I'd even say that it's perfectly fine to chat more frequently. But it depends on how each person involved likes or wants this communication (and with what frequency).

(Personally, instant messaging falls like this on the communication scheme: in person > phone call > instant message > email > text message.)

I met my boyfriend online and we got to know each other mainly through IM at first. Even to this day, we chat daily or almost. If either of us is busy or doesn't feel like chatting, we just don't. If either one is leaving or will be unavailable for an extended time, it usually gets mentioned, but it's not uncommon to have silences.

We each have our responsibilities and pursuits and just because we're connected to the same chat software doesn't make us attached at the hip.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:12 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

What a weird situation!
This has happened to me, and I've done what you did—I stopped logging on so much.
Have you established any kind of chat intervals? I think it would be so awkward being signed in if you both knew you wouldn't be talking more than every other day, or whatever time frame, unless something super-important happened.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 7:13 PM on December 21, 2009

I am wary of IMing early in a relationship. The Internet and humanity are still doing a weird sniff dance trying to figure out what to make of each other. And I'm not interested in being a casualty of this newness. I'd say that your trepidation is warranted, and you should be up front with your new dating partner.

"Im enjoying getting to know you, but I don't want to do that by IM. Can we correspond other ways for now?"

That leaves you free to grow more comfortable talking via IM as your relationship evolves.

I have a rule about IM and email early in relationships: they are only to be used to facilitate meeting someone in person. Chatting is nice, but who I am and who I project are two vastly different people. And so I know that's a hazard when getting to know someone.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:30 PM on December 21, 2009 [8 favorites]

Maybe you could tell them that you've been busy and make a 'date' to chat. Maybe every night at 8 PM you meet online to IM. Even if it is only for a few minutes. If every night is too much, maybe only the odd numbered nights. Cite the busyness, but stress that you want to have time together.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:33 PM on December 21, 2009

This isn't rocket science. If you have something to say to her say it. If you don't have something to say then don't IM her.

If you just want to say something like hi, or hope you're having a good day, etc...then just say "Hey, just wanted to say I hope you're having a good day. I'll talk to you later." Boom! If she wants to reply she can and if she doesn't there is no weird obligation because you said, "later."

Also, don't change how\when you're logged in because of her.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:34 PM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Definitely overthinking! Sign in, say hello, ask how her day was, and chat if you're at the computer. Or say you'll be back later if you're going to eat dinner/watch TV/go out. If you guys have things to talk about, you'll talk. If you don't then conversation will stop until one of you has something to say. And it's totally normal!
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:34 PM on December 21, 2009

First of all, IM is a total minefield because it simulates the immediacy and intimacy of speech while actually having all the abstractness and come-back-to-haunt-you-ness of written text. So be careful.

Anyway, there's no reason this should be weird. If you ever move in with one another you'll have to learn to share moments when you're both in the same room, doing your own thing, without saying a word or even acknowledging one another's presence. Think of this as an online version of one of these moments.
posted by nasreddin at 7:35 PM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have not dated in the era of chat, but I sometimes like to be able to see if my friends are on but be in control of whether I end up chatting. For this reason, I have taken to using the "invisible" setting sometimes--it lets me see who is on, but they can't see me until I suddenly de-cloak and say Hi. Maybe something like that?
posted by not that girl at 8:50 PM on December 21, 2009

I have a rule about IM and email early in relationships: they are only to be used to facilitate meeting someone in person. Chatting is nice, but who I am and who I project are two vastly different people. And so I know that's a hazard when getting to know someone.

Given that Anon is in a long-distance relationship, chatting and email can definitely help bring the two closer or help more than hinder. I've been there.

As for projecting someone else, well, some of us don't have a fake internet persona and it's a bit much to assume or claim that you know of "hazard"s that may not exist.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:02 PM on December 21, 2009

Invisibility is your friend at this point. Stay invisible until you've been dating for oh like a year--otherwise someones getting annoyed. Another stage though not as effective is the red busy signal, especially if you don't have it on always. But either way I'd certainly advocate not engaging on gchat (as tempting as it is) until at least a month or two. Too much too soon. Next time immediately block the person as soon as they pop up in contacts.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:03 PM on December 21, 2009

To the OP: Yeah, you're overthinking - I'd echo zephyr_words. If you have something to say, or a fun link you think she might like, say something; otherwise, don't feel obliged. This depends entirely on how you and her - some people are more like greekphilosophy and don't like IM confusing things; others are more like me, and have had relationships where IM was a key part of the early courtship. If you aren't comfortable communicating frequently over IM - then just don't!

I should also note that in most modern-day long distance relationships I've known, IM plays a pretty major role, usually from the get-go.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:22 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding not that girl.

I totally get what you mean about presence, especially if you are dating that person. My ex and I used GChat a lot to communicate when we were together and now that we use it independent of each other, I use the invisible setting a lot more often. If you turn it to invisible and then log out, when you log back in you will remain invisible. That way, I can become visible if there is someone else I want to talk to, or in your case you want to talk to your girlfriend for a specific reason/timeframe.
posted by hepta at 10:05 PM on December 21, 2009

Forget about changing to not being logged in or going invisible. What's so hard about simply saying "can't talk right now" if she IMs you at times that you can't or don't want to talk? You have a life and she should respect that.
posted by randomstriker at 11:01 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just talk to her about it.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Citrus and I had a lot of fun chatting in the beginning. It seemed pretty natural - we talked when we wanted to, and not when we didn't.

Don't ever feel like you have to start a conversation, but do send messages if you think of something cool to say. We've cheered each other up countless times over the years by sending random funny links to each other. Nowadays, she usually just reminds me of what to bring home from the grocery store on the way back from work. :)

In short, be natural. It's just communication. Use it as it makes sense, and don't use it if you don't have anything to say.
posted by Citrus at 1:51 PM on December 22, 2009

Invisibility is your friend at this point.

This is what I do. Tell your closest friends, "I show invisible so everybody and his uncle can't chat me up all day. But you and me, we're tight, so if you wanna chat, send me an IM. If I'm on, and not in the middle of something, I'll respond." Since they can't know for sure when you're really logged in, it's no harm, no foul. You decide when you're ready to chat... kinda like caller ID for instant messaging.

Otherwise, what randomstriker said. You probably don't want to be with someone who can't respect a boundary this basic.
posted by Rykey at 4:56 PM on December 22, 2009

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