Do some friendships not "translate" well to text?
March 25, 2020 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Help me with this casual-texting block in a long-time friendship.

One of my closest friends is someone I met at work about five years ago. We would chat almost every day in person and often catch up at happy hours. We also hung out often outside of work: she hosted TV watch parties, we would go to plays or movies, I was invited to a lot of parties and outings in her existing social group. The last few years, I also have been invited on the "sister trip", the annual vacation including her, her sisters, and several other friends.

In August of last year, she got pregnant, and in November, I left for another job (same geographical area). We've met up a few times for dinner since then, and as usual, when we catch up in person, we're both very candid and thorough in our updates. The thing that's strange to me is, I've never established a consistent text conversation with her, outside of "How are you? I'm fine!" check ins and setting up in-person dates. I've mentioned it specifically to her, how sometimes I think of texting her about minor things (my sister being irritating, considering a new haircut), but I don't want to bother her. She said I was completely welcome to text her about that kind of thing, but a lot of the time when I go to initiate, I stop myself because it feels awkward.

The hesitation is odd, because I have running conversations and group chats with my mom and siblings, and quickly established a similar texting dynamic with the guy I started dating in December. It could be a lack of reciprocation from her in the same way, as I don't tend to receive "micro-updates" from her about daily happenings. I usually end up defaulting to chats with my mom or sister-- ultimately, I associate my closest relationships with this ongoing communication, so it feels like a bit of a missing piece in the friendship. (I also have somewhat of a spotty record of having close long-term friends, which is why I'm overthinking this particular dynamic, since I very much value the relationship.)

This has been a bug in my brain but workable previously, but at the present moment, we can't meet in person, and she's two weeks out from her due date. So to boil it down to my actual question(s):

- What's the best way to stay in contact with her in present circumstances? I've tried checking in since I can only imagine pending newborn + coronavirus quarantine is a stressful combination, but she's just said that she's holding up fine, without much additional detail.
- Is this a vicious cycle I'm continuing in my hesitation about "bothering" her with the little things, that could be improved by my initiating more often? Or,
- Do some relationships just not translate well into text? Are there cases where you're close with someone, but more in terms of episodes of catching up than everyday support?
posted by thoughtful_ravioli to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Some people just aren't text chatters. I will happily instant message you all day long -- on Facebook, in Signal, whatever -- but because I kind hate typing on my phone, most of my actual text conversations are about what time I am supposed to be somewhere. If you send me a fun update about your life in a text message, I will send you an emoji, but I probably won't send you a fun update about my life.

So one thing to consider is whether she has a different platform she prefers for text-based -- but not phone / SMS-based -- chatting.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:16 PM on March 25, 2020 [13 favorites]

Phone calls? Sometimes it's nice to have a proper long catch up on the phone rather than bitty texts all the time.
posted by Balthamos at 2:24 PM on March 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

I’m a texter. Most of my friendships are text-based. I could text all day, happily. However there are a few friends that I just don’t text. One friend is probably the friend I get together with in-person the most. Our texting is saved primarily for setting up get togethers with each other and maybe a minor conversation here and there. I feel like we are pretty close friends and she, too, is a texter, but our friendship is not based on texting at all and I feel like moving it to a texting platform would be awkward and strained and just not our natural flow. It comes more naturally for me with other people, just not with her. Which is fine with me. It’s just different. I think we translate better to in person exchanges. Perhaps because our choice of topics can run deep and detailed and while I adore texting, putting all that into texting sounds daunting and not fun. Also, since we have a pretty deep friendship, I think having surface-y text convos just doesn’t get to the meat of what we genuinely want to talk about and so feels a bit like a waste of time. I could text her minor updates and she could and would do the same but they’d fizzle out because that’s really not what our friendship is. Our friendship is deeper and our topics complicated.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:26 PM on March 25, 2020 [9 favorites]

In my experience, some folks will write back (on whatever medium) and some just won't. I usually end up losing the non-writing friends when they move away, or I only hear from them a few times a year. So yeah, that happens, and I'm concerned about losing a friend group of mine because at the moment they're not even interested in texting (sigh).

Two suggestions:
(a) Is she willing to do any kind of video chat instead?
(b) Maybe you should just suck it up and try texting her to "bug her" since she claims it's fine. See what happens. Obviously circumstances have to change now, so maybe she'll improve, or not.

Though I hear you on the bugging, I've texted a few friends and am not getting much in the way of responses so I feel like I should bug off myself :/
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:50 PM on March 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

It could just be that the chatty-texting-spots in her life are already full -- possibly with family. I text all day about random stuff with the two people who actually live in my house, and almost not at all with my friends in other states. I just don't have time in my life to do that with everybody, no matter how much I may like them.

And that's fine - different communication methods work better for different people. Me, for instance, I'm not a phone person. When I moved in with @currentroommate#1 lo, these many years ago, it was mainly because she would not. stop. calling me! And I despised talking on the telephone. Loved her a lot; hated holding a phone to my face.

And upon re-read, your friend is a new-ish mom - maybe she just needs her hands free more than you do during the day!
posted by invincible summer at 2:56 PM on March 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

One of my long term friends is a big time non-texter, to the point that I moved away two years ago and she has sent me maybe three texts in that time. When I see her in person it’s all business as usual, close intimate talks, but if we’re not in person I won’t hear from her at all. Luckily I knew that’s the way she is so I knew what I was getting into when I left.

Like you I don’t send Her texts because I have no expectation of getting any in return. I would find that sort of one-sided conversation uncomfortable.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:08 PM on March 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another angle:

I HAAAAAAAAATE lengthy text conversations on the phone simply because I could never get the hang of typing with the little itty-bitty keyboard that comes on your phone. Something with a proper keyboard that will let me type properly is much better.

I try to keep up with the friends who seem most into it, but have gently tried nudging them to other means of contact so I don't end up having to retype the same word eight times because of autocorrect or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

OK so...I HATE HATE HATE check-in texts. They're weird to me and I never know how to respond besides saying "ok." And I don't want to ask how they are if I'm in the shit myself, yk? Like I don't want to open it up to a convo I don't have the bandwidth for. On the other hand, I love little "here's what's up with my life" things, particularly like...funny pictures of a cat someone sees around or whatever.

Even just "thinking of you! <3" is a perfectly fine thing to text.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2020 [13 favorites]

Try changing your thinking from "initiating" to "communicating."

When you initiate, you expect something in return. You're starting something. If she's not a texter, you'll keep being disappointed that she's using a tool differently than you do.

If you want to tell her something, tell her. Communicate, no need to hesitate. But are you just telling her "I'm thinking about a new haircut" or are you really saying "I want to chat with you about my hair."

If she's pulling away it could be that she feels that expectation and doesn't want to take it on. Pregnancy and parenthood are game-changers even without the COVID distancing so I don't think there's anything you could do to get more out of her via text in the future.

But it could just as easily be that she's simply not a texter.

Either way, it's your expectation that needs to change, not her responses.

(Sorry if that sounds harsh, you sound like a nice friend!)
posted by headnsouth at 3:48 PM on March 25, 2020 [9 favorites]

I also hate texting because I don't like typing on a phone. I'm much more in contact with friends where I've established a habit of chatting on discord, etc.

But also, my in person friendships have often been ... organized around an activity? Like having a special night of the week to watch TV together, or a game night, or a trivia night. I often just don't know what to say over text. Especially if my life is stressful at the moment. I don't often want to talk about it.

Maybe you could do something online with this friend, like a netflix party or a game.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:45 PM on March 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

We would chat almost every day in person and often catch up at happy hours.

you made friends by talking with your voices, and you have a phone that allows instant communication by talking with your voices, and instead you would rather type with your thumbs?

that is I guess a "valid" choice, as the people say, as all preferences are valid, but it is a strange first choice when the other one exists. texting is a fine last resort and useful in emergencies, but you have, or had, a talking friendship -- call her up and talk to her. if you're absolutely dead set on bringing texting into it, text her to ask when's a good time to call.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:18 PM on March 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

I have a good friend that just doesn't really do electronic communication of any kind well AT ALL. He's been this way forever, and we're 50.

it's always all good when we're together, but you can't change how someone is. I think it's super weird to eschew the form in 2020, but it's not my call.
posted by uberchet at 6:41 AM on March 26, 2020

Goodness, what a 2020 problem.. please call her. Anytime I advocate for this, but *especially* during this scary time. This is why the telephone was a great invention. If nothing else a voice mail includes her getting to hear your actual voice, which will have way more easy to read emotional content than a text. Texting is exhausting and on screen keyboards are tedious and many times it is hard for people to "feel" the emotions you intend in your text.

If you're afraid about spontaneously calling her - which I think everyone needs to grow a set about bc a rogue unexpected phone call used to be a delight not a bother, back in the not-really-all-that-long-ago day - but if that makes you anxious you can always sly dial her I guess. Or if you both have iphones you can send her a voice memo and she could potentially send you one back. Just.. try something different, try something NOT text. Might not work bc hello, now there's a baby, but .. It's always nice to hear someone's voice who cares about you. Especially when there's a pandemic and you're going through your last trimester, I'd imagine.
posted by elgee at 6:47 AM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Hey, I want to catch up. What works best for you right now - email, scheduled phone calls, Skype?"

In text, just make a small nudge towards the kind of conversation you want. Mention the haircut and send a pic. See how that goes.

It also helps to send open-ended messages (whether text, email, IM...). "What's on your mind today?" opens up a little more ground than "how are you?"

But, some people just aren't texters, or texting styles don't mesh. I have a friend who's pretty terse over text, but in person we can talk for hours. At this point I'm just sending occasional short check-in texts and letting it be what it is.
posted by bunderful at 6:58 AM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

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