Let me share something with you that I’m an absolute fuck-up at: text messaging. It’s exasperating, annoying, and most of the time, I come across like a total slimepiece ‘cause I rarely text back and when I do, it’s usually a day later. My friends say “That’s just Cristina,” and I can’t even imagine what guys I’m attempting to date think.
“It’s not you…it’s texting.”
Yep, I suck a giant thermos filled with dickwater when it comes to text messages. And I’m not afraid to spill that water all over this page today.
But naturally, being the over-achiever I am, my first instinct when faced with text ineptitude before owning it was, of course, to try and outsmart it. So I decided to make 2017 the year I’d give good text.
I became a neurotically-regimented texter-backer. And the more diligent I became, the more digitally reliable I was perceived as. The more reachable I became. And then, reachability became what I was known for – what I was rewarded for. My calling card became being a good texter, and suddenly, my rock-solid boundaries became non-existent.
What I now know actually happened was I trained the people in my life, via consistency and etiquette, that I was super-available. Like, at all times. And even more staggering, with every joke, emoji, “thinking of you,” and lightning-fast response, I had single-handedly taught all my contacts that I not only excelled at communicating in that space, but that I actually enjoyed it! Nothing could be more distant from the epicenter of my personal truth, but my communication methodology was chanting a different mantra. And so the cycle continued into November 2017, when instead of celebrating my successful inauguration into the texting big-leagues, I sounded like this:
“OMG, I’m so sorry, I was in the shower.”
“I’m about to go to a dance class…I’m so sorry.”
“I’m so sorry, I’m eating.”
My chorus of my theme song became an apology for living, rather than an ode to connection.
And I did that to myself. I trapped myself in a word-bubble cell; an emoji-laced prison of my own conjuring, one I’m busting out of in January 2018 by disabling the text message functionality on my phone.
WHAT? Yes, you heard me. Did you get instant anxiety when reading that? ‘How will you live?! How will you work?!’ You think I’m living now, chained to this phone? That’s what I thought. You think I’m working to my maximum potential amidst all these interruptions? Yeah, right.
You’re probably also thinking ‘Boo-hoo. People want to talk to you. That’s actually so awful that you’re quitting texting? Stop being such a dramatic twat. They are just texts.’ I agree. They are just texts. But add those texts up and you’ve got yourself a novel.
What is the title of my novel? Cristina and the Curious Case of ADHD. Yes, that’s an appropriate title. But I’d like to call it ILU and Other Abbreviated Emotions.
Through text messaging, I’ve found myself abbreviating a wide expanse of feelings, expressions, sentiments that are far too vast or focus-sensitive for back-and-forth banter. I’ve been smooshing the delicious complexity of conversation into a text-shaped container where it just doesn’t belong, and I bet you have been, too.
Not to mention, texting is non-consensual. “You’re gonna receive this message now, no matter what else is going on” doesn’t really work for most things. So why is texting the norm still? And why does it agitate you so much to read that I’m going to stop texting? You think I’m going to become a hermit, right? Unreachable. Negligent. Avoidant. Exiled.
And I argue the opposite.
I plan on becoming more communicative, more creative, and more clear. More reachable, in fact, because I’ll actually be responding to you when I can give you all of my attention. And more connected, because I’ll make an effort to show you how valuable you are to me beyond just a text message.
Once I started thinking about life without texting, I realized I hadn’t ever stopped to consider that there might be another way to be in contact.
And in that world, maybe it’s not just contact I’m fostering – it’s quality connection.
Just like all of us have a preferred Love Language, I postulate that we speak diverse “digital love languages.” But that’s the problem, too – we treat each other like we should all speak the same language – texting, when we are innately different. Our love is lost in translation if we happen to be fluent in a different digital love language. That’s why despite being in constant contact via text, some of us (like me!) feel annoyed and aggravated rather than appreciated.
If you don’t know the rundown of the five love languages, it goes something like this: Some people show love through quality time. Some through gifts. Some feel love through physical touch. Others speak in compliments or acts of service. We all express and receive differently – communication is a two-way-street of knowing how you like being spoken to and knowing whom you’re speaking to. In order to really knock it out of the park in the communication ball game, we need to understand our own love languages and also, how to reach others who might not converse in our lingo.
We’ve all felt what happens when our actual love languages don’t match up; you just might not know that’s what’s happening. For example, my preferred language is touch, so I love hugging people to show them I appreciate and adore them. But sometimes, I run into a rare person who doesn’t like being hugged. I stop hugging that person, not because I think she’s an asshole, but because A) she doesn’t like it and B) I know she’s not receiving the love I am attempting to demonstrate, and the whole point of me showing her love is for her to feel it and enjoy it! – so I choose a language she can understand, instead.
I, to the same extent as non-huggers don’t like being hugged, dislike being texted. And I’m on a mission today to normalize that assertion and make it okay.
The digital age has launched us into a state of constant communication so sneakily that I don’t think we’ve taken the time to paint these significant “love language” distinctions onto the canvas of digital languages. We all text each other a ton because that’s just what we do. We haven’t questioned that practice. We haven’t envisioned a world where we don’t all have to be texters. We haven’t even thought about sending Texty Tyler straight back to where he came from: the land of where “wat r u doing?” and “have a cool day.” ‘Cause he fits in perfectly there, and that’s okay, too.
Communicating is amazing. People wanting to reach me and talk to me and show me care and kindness is heart-warming. People making time to express themselves to me is glorious. And despite that knowledge, when I still don’t find myself looking forward to – or being grateful for – sweet, funny, consistent, caring text messages, I am forced to take an even closer look at why.
Common knowledge: I’m highly distractible, sensitive, creative and curious. For me to be still, I’m running a marathon in-place. “Quiet is my version of an extreme sport.” In fact, The New York Times once wrote about me saying “Cristina is a businesswoman with such intense ADD, she had to have a power button tattooed on her wrist.” So, for me to be successful, as an entrepreneur, artist, friend, and (not-quite-yet-but-working-on-it) girlfriend, is a flat-out miracle of determination, commitment and focus. Unfortunately, that focus takes a fuckton of effort; effort that continues to exponentiate as digital demands and notifications climb.
I don’t think I’m alone in my distractibility, although I’m more sensitive than most. Sending and receiving text messages is not only taxing for someone like me, but it’s flat-out destructive to productivity for most people. Research of dopaminergic activity during just the mere thought of receiving a message proves it’s not just me that’s riding the struggle bus in this department: texting is chemically addicting for everyone.
I am here to adamantly argue that texting has morphed from a fast, convenient way to discreetly communicate “See you in 10 minutes!” to our default form of communicating because we’re addicted to it, not because it’s actually how we desire to reach out or be reached. It’s fostered a quantity over quality matrix which commoditizes our reachability at the steep cost of quality interaction.
It’s not actually the canvas of where we should be spilling our guts out and courting potential mates. It’s not where we should be having the majority of our heart-to-hearts. It’s not where we should be having sex (Hello! – sexting is a thing!) It’s not where we should be arguing, breaking up, or making up. I believe we are murdering the significance of our words and the brilliance of communication by defaulting to texting.
Through writing this, I realize that in fact, I’m not actually a bad texter. I’m bad at giving partial attention to people and projects I love. I fail when it comes to emotional multi-tasking. I suck at quantity, but I’m great at quality. And I’m here to take a stand for quality, whatever that means for you.
Truthfully, I genuinely struggle to authentically connect in the digital realm. And my next phase is going to show me a lot about how I choose to connect when the buzz of notifications is dim and I’m left with the silence of what I love, who I love, and who I am. I’m going to be forced to be intentional about how I rebuild my world and the new ways I plug in.
I know that quality communication for me can happen over a quick Facetime. So, I’m gonna do more of that. I also dig Google Docs that function as a shared diary between me and friends. I’m going to give more focus to any form of writing I arrive at on my terms, rather than notifications that arrive to me when I’m in the middle of something else. Email might fit that role, but we’ll see. And most of all, I’m going to schedule more in-person pow-wows, because fuck knows how much free time I’ll have when my head’s not mindlessly buried in my phone.
At the beginning of this year, I tried my damnedest to become a good texter because I felt like a tremendous social failure. But now as I get ready to go #textless, I’m realizing I’m not a failure.
I’m different. Distinct. And at this stage, I’m finally empowered enough to create my own path of communication forward that matches who I am.
My homeboy Albert Einstein sums it up ever-so-perfectly:
“If you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will spend his whole life believing he is stupid.”
So if you’re like me and don’t like texting, I’m calling out to you: reject it. Or limit it. At least give yourself permission to find the digital love language and terms that work for you and the people you love. You’re allowed to declare a digital boundary – a place where you know yourself so well that you can authoritatively say “Texting isn’t my thing” and your friends, family, lovers and even new acquaintances will not only understand, but appreciate.
Because I trust all of those people would rather talk to you as a fish in water, rather than a fish in a tree.