The Unspoken Rules of Texting (if there are any)
March 25, 2010 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Online dating filter: My friends & family seem to have unspoken texting rules. I'm concerned about the amount of time I've invested in a person I haven't met yet, and I want to know what other people consider the texting rules in this situation.

I'm doing the online dating thing again this spring (did it for a few months last fall, then took most of the winter off), and I'm stuck on some modes-of-communication issues that I can't seem to puzzle out. I am 32, female and bisexual, and mostly dating guys who are about my age.

I find that I really have to meet people in person before I can understand speaking rhythms, sense of humor, etc., things that are so important when reading emails, etc. I do push to meet someone for coffee or a drink if the first few emails go well.

I like email. I can wait until I have time to answer them. I've figured out the desired back-and-forth banter so that I don't agonize too long over writing anything, and the desired number of responses before meeting for coffee or something.

But this is about modes of communication that don't involve email.

IM- I hate it. I don't mind it if it's someone I already know, of course, but I turn it off entirely on these dating sites. It always works that someone wants to chat when I'm in the middle of something else (like, writing an email, or just as I was about to navigate away from the site), and this drives me crazy. I can't seem to cut people off until we've chatted for 10-15 minutes or something, which is far too much time. And it's worse when I've never actually met the person, because I'm not familiar with their speaking rhythms or sense of humor.

Phone Calls- I hate them. Again, especially if I've never met the person. So far I have only encountered one guy who really wanted to talk on the phone prior to meeting, so this hasn't been a big issue.

Texting- The reason for this MeFi question. I text back and forth with my friends and family all the time, and it's our preferred mode of communication unless we have something more lengthy to discuss. But there seems to be unspoken rules with my friends and family: it happens when we have time for it, we only send a couple texts each (usually). I know this isn't the norm and that all the kids text much more frequently, but, you know, I'm a grown-up person with responsibilities. I like texting as a mode for communicating certain kinds of information, but not as a way to just chat about nothing in particular.

So: I've sent a couple of emails back and forth with a guy who seems interesting. He sent me his phone number and suggested that he wants to text and that I should text him. I would invite him out for a drink or something, but we won't be able to meet up for at least a week, due to schedules. I'm in the position of either ignoring his phone number and continuing to email, or sending him a text.

I don't hate the idea of texting him, but I don't like the idea of spending more than a few texts on a guy that I might not like if we meet for a drink. I don't know if he has the same unspoken rules about texting that I do, or if he will want to text all day long about nothing in particular. And then we get into the idea of flirty texts, which I don't want to do unless I've already met him in-person.

And then, what the hell do I text him if I'm to start this ball rolling? I mean, I know how to start an email conversation, an in-person conversation, etc. If I send him a text that says, "Hey, I'm [fake name] from [dating site]," without any pretense, it's starting the kind of chatty text conversation that I just don't want or have time for.

I can see texting back-and-forth all day with someone if you're in the throes of that new-relationship honeymoon phase, but when it's someone I haven't met at all yet, I'm just not ready to invest this kind of time and energy, especially when the conversation will likely involve a lot of poor spelling/grammar, emoticons, context-unnecessary LOLs, etc.

Note: I am fully aware that there is an element of control to all of this. I can control how and when the emails affect me, or ignore them easily, but IMs, phone calls, and texting come without warning or my permission, and I don't feel in control of my own time. I am trying to lighten up about this.

Tl; dr: What are the unspoken rules of texting people while online dating, if you have never met the person in real life? Where can I draw the boundaries for myself? How do you text and what do you text about if you're texting before your first meeting? What if you've met once, like in a bar or something, and you still don't know the person very well? What are the unspoken rules about this?
posted by aabbbiee to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can draw any boundaries you like. You've already said you don't like talking on the phone or IM, so you don't. There's no reason you have to text this guy. Blow it off lightly in email - "ha, not really into the whole texting thing, but looking forward to meeting you on Wednesday!"
posted by desjardins at 7:25 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The unspoken rule of internet dating is that everyone is different and has their own unspoken rules. Sometimes they conflict, sometimes not. I found that early (pre-meeting) texting was fairly useless for learning anything about the other person so I always tried to arrange a brief face-to-face meeting early. Texting someone you've met, even briefly, is so much better than texting a total stranger.
posted by rocket88 at 7:33 AM on March 25, 2010

You will drive yourself mad if you try to figure out and adjust to the imagined rules/guidelines other people have for communication, be it in person, on the phone or online.

You get to make the choices for how you want to communicate. Ideally, your choices will overlap with someone else's.
posted by gsh at 7:36 AM on March 25, 2010

Where can I draw the boundaries for myself?

Wherever you choose. Everyone is different and these modes of communication are all new so any unspoken rules that exist are new, subjective, and changeable. Do what you're comfortable doing.
posted by headnsouth at 7:37 AM on March 25, 2010

email him.

"Thanks for sharing your number with me. I should tell you that I'm really not that into just chatting over text. But its great to have your number in case I encounter something I want to share with you."
posted by anastasiav at 7:38 AM on March 25, 2010

Let's say that I want to loosen up my attitude regarding texting before I meet someone. I think there's an age or technology gap in here, and I want to do what I can to close it. I just have anxiety/control issues. If you text people you don't know, how do you start that conversation and what do you tend to expect from it? What do the people that you text with tend to expect?
posted by aabbbiee at 7:43 AM on March 25, 2010

Do what makes you comfortable. If it doesn't suit him, say so long...
posted by Postroad at 7:49 AM on March 25, 2010

I think there's an age or technology gap in here, and I want to do what I can to close it.

I don't think so; I think the guy you are talking to is either clueless or insecure. He might think of it as a really big deal to meet you so he wants some sort of lesser reassurance first, like you giving him your phone number. Or maybe he wants to have a more spontaneous meeting depending on what you are both up to some night. Or maybe he thinks that texting is a great way to get to know someone better before meeting (it isn't).
posted by grouse at 7:53 AM on March 25, 2010

I think there's an age or technology gap in here, and I want to do what I can to close it.

I'm 21, and I don't like text-chatting. I mostly use texting as a way to set up plans, and I prefer to talk in person to most people. So I don't think it's an age thing. Just let potential dates know that you're not super into texting; I don't think it's that big of a deal. Like desjardins said, just mention you don't "do" texting, and that you're super excited to see him Wednesday.
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:22 AM on March 25, 2010

There's no reason you have to text this guy. Blow it off lightly in email - "ha, not really into the whole texting thing, but looking forward to meeting you on Wednesday!"

I agree, and I think that texting is a type of communication that works better when you're familiar enough with someone that the lack of nuance is not an issue (because you know them well enough to be able to assume tone of voice, HAMBURGER, etc.)

Also, for me, texting between friends is, in a way, an invitation to a little more intimacy -- it bumps someone up on the "can reach me in a priority fashion" list.
posted by desuetude at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2010

This is the push and pull of change.

Dear AskMe: A gentleman caller did not bring a card announcing himself to the household today, and arrived uninvited outside of normal visiting hours! The whole house was aflutter trying to decide how to handle this, and eventually Mother (ever the stern matriarch) sent him away and told him to return when he was serious about courting. What can it all mean?

Dear AskMe: Father had a telly-o-phone installed so that he could contact the exchange in NY without having to take the carriage! I'm sure it is wonderful for him, and I admit I did put my ear up to it to hear his voice just after it was installed. It's a marvel to be sure. But just last week, I received a personal call. And I just don't know. Would it be too forward if I accepted it? I suppose I should ask Father's permission before I accept the charges. I am just a little worried that I'll be thought loose for talking on the telephone. Hope me?

Dear AskMe: So I went out with this moron last week and I hoped it would turn out well. He was so dreamy - dark mustache, Hawaiian shirt opened to show some chest hair and a nice tan, so cool with his sunglasses on at night. I thought he was pretty rad. But then we got in his Delorean and he had a PHONE in it. And it was like he wanted to prove how cool he was, cause he TALKED ON IT THE WHOLE TIME WE WERE DRIVING! Like, what's up with that? And what's a CD?

Dear AskMe: Someone told me that you can date people online! Um, they're all murderers and rapists, amirirte?

Look, technology changes, and the way we use it changes. As this technology gets more prevalent in your age bracket, you'll see new standards for its use develop. Texting in mass quantities is a direct result of qwerty keyboards on phones which made it easier and faster to text. And that's a feature that's not going anywhere - only becoming more standardized. And things are only getting more complex. Chatroulette's notorious cocky explosion onto the pop culture scene points to the fact that video is close to being integrated into this mix. As video technology becomes more prevalent, you'll see it offered more and more as a way to get to know each other before dating. "Hey, wuts ur Skype, ur pretty I wanna talk at you..." And with that will come a lot more anxiety.

Dear AskMe: He wants to Skype, but I don't want him to see my apartment. How can I set up a curtain or some other scrim in order to prevent him from really seeing where I live? And what are the odds that he'll be naked when we Skype? And do I really even have to do this?

You get to set the rules for how and when you are available to be contacted, but you can't guarantee that people will follow those rules. In fact, the farther you set them outside modern standards, the more likely you are to: have people run afoul of them, think you antique, and lose momentum if it means abiding by all your rules for how and when and where and why you can be contacted. I'm sure there's a way to maintain your control issues in a polite and straightforward way, but that's going to get you a lot of rolled eyes from more tech savvy people.

Want to loosen up about it?

Consider the downside of maintaining your regime of email-only communication, which is to possibly sound the "I'm needy and high maintenance" warning bell unnecessarily over something as simple as whether someone emails or texts or calls you. Neither you nor your suitors are judged on their merits as a potential partner/date in that situation. Does it matter more to you whether she likes to text message or whether he's a friendly, interesting, honest, open communicator with a personality that matches your own?

Also, upgrade your own technology. If you're not a fan of phone talking, you probably don't have a new phone with great capabilities. Change that so that you're using the most intuitive, easiest, flexible smartphone available. I use an iPhone, and while I do miss the hard little qwerty keys on the blackberry a bit, the overall user experience is vastly superior. (Debates about which smartphone is best can be found elsewhere... like... all over.) Added benefit: the better your phone, the more options it has for how to make it as unobtrusive in your life. My ring is this really quiet, simple drum thump which someone farther than 3 feet away from me probably wouldn't even notice. If you're not having to push 400,000 buttons to say "I'm waiting outside." then you will probably learn to not hate longer text conversations quite so much.

And finally, consider whether you're self-sabotaging by holding on to these control issues. You've set your standard at odds with technological progress and you're simultaneously using a dating pool (the internet) that is going to lean toward technological progress. You've just created a perfect scenario to thwart all of your own stated goals.

Oh, and try not to overthink this. Remember, this is only a problem until you actually meet someone. In the grand scheme of any relationship, that's an infinitesimally small percentage of the relationship. Waste brain space worrying about how you'll survive your midlife crisis or where you want to retire in your golden years, or whether she's going to leave socks on the living room floor for thirty years.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:41 AM on March 25, 2010 [9 favorites]

Wow, this is so frustrating! My question must not be clear. I really wanted some anecdotes about texting with strangers or not texting with strangers, or advice, or something about how to keep a texting conversation on your own terms, even if you're conversing with someone who has a different relationship with texting than you do.

Not just the usual, "Well, do whatever you want to do!" comments and then a big old screed suggesting that I'm a matronly Luddite for not wanting to *talk on the phone*.

I have an iPhone. I love my iPhone. It actually makes me want to talk on the phone less because I can email and text and Facebook anytime. I just plain do not care to talk on the phone, whatever phone it is, and I know that I am not alone (in my age group, at least) because recent AskMe posts have dealt with this exact issue.

In fact, I consider a guy who wants to talk on the phone to be on the far side of an age/technology gap from me. And I do not want someone to consider me to be on the far side of the age/technology gap about texting. Skype and video are fine because they're the kind of thing you have to set an appointment for. It is reasonable for me to say that I cannot videochat during the workday, but the rules are different for texting because it is constantly accessible and many people do it all the time.

I have found that dating in general involves a lot of compromise on a lot of things. I used to ban any online conversation with a guy whose messages were rife with misspellings and LOLs, but I have changed on that issue and other similar, stupid issues.
I consider texting to be something that I can overcome, but I do not know the etiquette. I am asking for guidance.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:10 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The etiquette, as I understand it, is that one generally does not send casual texts to someone from a dating web site that has not been met in person yet. That's your guidance: don't do it.
posted by grouse at 11:17 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The etiquette, as I understand it, is that one generally does not send casual texts to someone from a dating web site that has not been met in person yet. That's your guidance: don't do it.

My experience has been the opposite. I have casual texting relationships with a ton of people that I've never met.
posted by Jairus at 11:41 AM on March 25, 2010

But the answer really is "do whatever you want to do". People of all sorts comfortably text in the way they like because they set their own expectations. You seem to have all these assumptions that once you text someone, they're going to be aimlessly chatting at you whether you want to read it or not. If that happens, you handle it just like any other mode of communication: you text: going to be away from my phone for awhile. Can I text you after dinner? Or too much to talk about- I'll send you a mail or whatever. Anyone who can't understand those very clear messages over text is going to be difficult in other modes of communication as well.

If I send him a text that says, "Hey, I'm [fake name] from [dating site]," without any pretense, it's starting the kind of chatty text conversation that I just don't want or have time for.

If you don't want to accommodate this guy because you think it's a pain and a waste of your time because you might not like him later, then consider whether you should be using dating sites at all. I'm not trying to be glib, but a lot of dating is activity that can be looked upon as "time wasted" if things don't work out. This includes emails, phone calls, dates, &c. That's how you get to know people and refine what is going to fly as far as potential relationships go. Texting isn't any different than these other activities in that sense- in fact, a lot less effort goes into texting than going on a date.

If you want to investigate how to be less uptight about texting, then send him a text. If you get busy, send him another saying you're busy. If you don't want to be all "LOL amirite" than don't be that way. Most people adapt to the communication styles of the person they are talking to, and I would say that people who continue to text inanities even when the other person fails to respond are not going to be very much fun in person either.

I know this isn't the norm and that all the kids text much more frequently, but, you know, I'm a grown-up person with responsibilities.

Eh, I don't think there is any "norm" any more than there is a norm for watching TV or writing email.(I say this as a person who is attending university with people half my age. They all behave differently with their devices, including leaving them at home.) You just don't remember all the people you see not texting. So forget that there is some acceptable way that ALL people behave, because it is not true.

If you're a grown up with responsibilities, it would be silly for you to spend a lot of time texting if it's inconvenient. Any other grown-up with responsibilities understands this, and makes accommodations for it. It's perfectly fine to tell this guy that you'd prefer the convenience of email at this point. If he can't handle that, then oh well. It is also perfectly fine to let him know that you don't look at your phone every five minutes, and that you're quite happy to receive texts, but you may not respond right away because you're too busy to play with your phone all the time. Really, anything goes, for real. A phone with text capabilities is a tool that you can see fit to utilize however you like. Most people who are savvy with the tool recognize and adapt to how other individuals use it.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:14 PM on March 25, 2010

I give you rules:

If you don't want to text more that day, tell him you'll talk to him tomorrow. If you don't want to text with him until you see each other, respond and say "looking forward to talking to you on Friday." That should give him the hint that you don't want to respond.

Only check for texts when you have the time to respond to them. Once you check them, respond to them.

If someone texts you too much, it's okay, because you will only receive them when you have time to respond to them. Therefore, your time will not be taken up any more than you want it to be.

Hope that helps.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:20 PM on March 25, 2010

I would treat text with these folks like short email, since it seems like it's filling this role in your case. I also don't see this as an age/technology gap? Texting is not like IM, in my experience, unless there is an understood time-important element (like you're meeting up and using it in place of phone). It's often not convenient for me to reply to texts, or my phone isn't nearby, or if I'm underground or otherwise out of signal then I don't get them at all. Consequently, if I do get a text, and don't feel like replying, then there's no way for the other person to know whether any of these "real reasons" are the case. Worst case scenario, he thinks you're elusive or busy. I really don't imagine he's going to think "whoa, this girl doesn't understand my newfangled technology etiquette" or judge you for it, and if he does then whatevs.

If you text him, say "hey this is screenname from somesite, what's up? I'm baking a pie" or just something easy and light. He replies in 5-120 minutes with "OMG what kind of pie? Pumpkin is my favorite! Have you been following that Jezebel pie v. cake?" and you reply in 5-120 minutes with "Apple with crumb topping, yum. I SAW THAT JEZEBEL THING WHAT IS UP WITH FUNFETTI THAT'S TOTAL BULLSHIT" and then you're kind of off the hook for a bit. He'll say something or not, and you can reply or not. I guess my point is that, for me, 3-5 messages (back/forth total) constitutes the equivalent of an email and reply. So if you had concrete plans in a week, you might do that kind of thing twice, with a final email discussing actual details of the date.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:37 PM on March 25, 2010

I'm totally with you on IMing on these dating sites -- totally inappropriate, too intimate, you're too accessible, etc.

I feel like texting is exactly like instant-messaging. I'm probably at the bottom end of your age bracket, but with my good, close friends, we text nothings all day. "OMG this woman in front of me is wearing hammer pants" or "whatever happened with that guy you met in the supermarket?" and the person can respond whenever, or sometimes even not respond at all. Since we all always have our cell/smartphones with us, we know that the other person is always going to the get the text. And since we're close and intimate friends, we know that the other person is open to getting our texts. We have constantly-accessible-to-texting relationship. But we also know that the other person is not always in a position to respond, for whatever reason.

This is the same as it used to be with instant-messaging. You had your AIM buddy list open, and you'd throw up messages to people -- they were always signed on, but maybe they were at their computers, maybe they weren't. However, more and more people felt like they should be on my buddy list, people that I didn't feel I had that level of a relationship with, so I eventually shuttered my AIM account and am invisible on Gmail except to the two people that I feel comfortable IMing.

So, where does that leave you with texting this guy. First, I think it's bizarre that he gave you his number and said, essentially, "text me." "Call me" is bad enough, but "text me"? Why doesn't he text you if he wants to text so badly? If he wants to text, the onus should be on him to come up with some witty and pithy thing to say to you.

I think you should completely reject texting with this guy before you've met. The only reason I'd talk on the phone with someone before a date is so that I can hear their voice, and then make concrete plans -- 10 minutes max, and then "See on Friday!" and it's over. Texting is just going to be ongoing. I think you're opening yourself up to something that you don't want, which is an inappropriate level of intimacy, and less control -- and I think it's absolutely desirable to want to have some level of control over the pace of the relationship, especially at this stage. And especially since you don't have concrete plans yet, I'm just wondering why he feels the need to move the conversation to this other medium, except that it means you're way more accessible to him, which you don't want. You're not gaining anything, like hearing his voice, by moving to text.

So how do you get of it? You have a few different routes. You don't want to say that you "don't like texting" because that isn't true, and if you meet him in person and fall in love, you're obviously going to want to be texting him down the road. You can say something like "My mother taught me never to text with strangers," if you want to be cute. Or you can simply say "Thanks, but I'm more comfortable with e-mail before we've met in person" -- a simple statement of your preference without equivocation or apology. No normal guy will start an argument over it with you. Another tactic, which I learned from an old movie (The Tender Trap) and which I just tried with gold-star results, is to ask "Why?" So he says "text me" and you say "why?" Not sarcastically or nastily, just totally straightforwardly curious. Depending on his wording, you might want to pad it out a little -- "Why do you want to text?" or "Why do you say that?" But basically you are genuinely wondering what the advantage to you would be to text him. And either you'll get a damn good answer, or he'll decide to keep emailing until you meet up in person.
posted by thebazilist at 9:59 AM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's individual, unfortunately. You have to ask your friends and dates what their unspoken rules are.

I broke up with a charming, smart, gorgeous woman who texted me all the time, starting at six bleeding a.m. in the morning. I asked her to back it off several times, just for a few weeks while I was dealing with professional commitments and some medical necessities, but she wouldn't. She overran my texting limit, leading to extra charges on my bill.

I mean, two dates, and she starts texting me at six a.m.? But what amazed me was that most of my friends thought this was cute. I'm too fecking old, I suppose. But more than that it showed me that individual tolerances vary GREATLY.

Another thing that annoys me is if someone calls, and I don't pick up, they text me. There's usually a damned good reason I don't want to be interrupted if I'm not answering the phone, and hey, there I just got interrupted twice because I wouldn't answer my phone. People need to learn to leave a message and move on.

As far as friend relationships go, well I refuse to spend time with people who are constantly texting other people. I expect to be part of conversation, not a watcher. And texting at a table, with food, is the height of indecency.

Cell phones are conveniences; we are not their slaves.

Don't get me wrong; I love my gadgets. But I've experienced other things, wonderful things, and I don't want to throw them all away in favor of new technology.
posted by tejolote at 10:16 PM on April 1, 2010

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