Dating right now is sometimes the most fun thing ever. It’s a multimedia circus of exciting options, and nervous butterflies at the sound of a phone vibrating – but it’s also a dehumanized, exhausting nightmare. Between social media, texting, online dating, apps, and a hundred other ways to digitally connect with each other (not to mention the million ways we’ve come up with the read meaning into those interactions), romancing in the modern world is not only more complicated, it’s infinitely more open to allowing people to be fake, dishonest, flaky, inconsistent…and painfully insecure as a result of all of that. This is the world we live in now.
It’s constantly tempting to be like “I know how to order pizza, masturbate, and have fun with my friends – fuck this noise.” But we don’t. We power through, weathering bad dates and mixed messages and disappointment, all because – despite everything – we retain a tiny flicker of hope that if we can get through all of that bullshit, somewhere out there is a person who will make us even happier and more fulfilled than greasy carbs and battery-operated orgasms (assuming that’s even possible, which it admittedly might not be.)
While there are certain realities about courtship that are irrevocably altered because of how the internet has evolved our social habits, there is no reason why we should let people treat us with any less honesty and respect. But for some reason, the majority of us have decided that we’re going to tolerate certain aspects of modern dating despite them being completely unhealthy and antithetical to finding real happiness. Out of all the complete little piles of horse shit on the tumultuous landscape of dating, these are the big 4 that way too many people do – and way too many of us tolerate.
All text and no talk
We’ve collectively reached a place where the idea of having to put a phone to our ear and say audible words to someone we are dating is strangely terrifying. I’ve actually dated people who, when I would call them, would reject my call and text me back. It’s a weird thing and we should all stop acting like it’s acceptable. Because, when you really trace the origins of our phone-haters, it’s all about a fear of someone knowing who we truly are and how we genuinely feel. And you should never, ever waste your time dating someone who is afraid of those things.
Here’s how we got to be textaholic phonephobes: All that texting (and social media and email) does is give us more time and space to construct an image of ourselves to show the rest of the world – and it rarely reflects the reality of who we are. It’s not like it’s hard to understand why we want to put our best parts out front, but what happens when we get too used to the security of being able to calculate every word we say and every image of us that’s shared? Do we even remember how to appreciate our whole, true selves – ugly, awkward, gross, imperfect, human bits and all – or are we so in love with the idealized social media versions of ourselves that we are terrified to let someone see the whole human behind it?
And that’s the source of our present day avoidance of having actual phone conversations with real, scary words: there’s a lot less time to be anything other than spontaneously authentic. You can’t google something before responding to make it look like you know more than you do. You can’t check to make sure you’re using the right word so you sound smarter. You can’t consider 5 different ways to phrase something so that it comes out exactly how you want it to. It’s real time, on the spot, and that means way more room to make mistakes and have automatic, unfiltered responses. It’s how you run the risk of showing someone who you really are, flaws and all. And when that person happens to be someone you’re romantically interested in, the stakes seem high enough that you would rather not risk it at all.
I’m not saying that texting and other digital means of communication are always terrible – they have their place. Most people tend to communicate different via each channel; for some reason, different ways of talking bring out different sides of us, and make us more likely to discuss or reveal things that maybe we wouldn’t if we were talking in some other way. It’s odd, but also kind of wonderful – if we communicate through every platform available to us (text, email, social media, phone calls) we might actually come to know each other more deeply.
What we should do instead
Don’t play that shit. Just be direct with the person you’re seeing: “I love texting with you, but I also really like hearing your voice. I feel like we interact and communicate in this amazing, organic, unself-conscious way when we’re on the phone and I would be so sad if we never had that. I know being on the phone can feel like more pressure, like we’re on the spot and might not know the right thing to say all the time, but I really care about you and you don’t have to be perfect for me. I just want to be real with you, and you be real with me. And if that means you don’t feel like talking sometimes, or just have nothing to say, just tell me and I won’t be offended.” If they don’t respond favorably to that, then they are very likely too dumb and disconnected to bother with. Seriously, the minute you figure out that someone places no value on their humanity and sharing that with each other, it’s time to be fucking done with them.
Having no label on the relationship – sometimes
Labels on relationships – and figuring out just one opinion about their usefulness – is complicated (which, as it happens, is the most fucking ridiculous label we’ve come up with yet – every relationship is complicated, as it should be, but choosing to use that word as the main identifying characteristic that you want to share with the world probably means you’re an asshole who likes drama.)
Here’s all it comes down to: Some people like the clarity of labeling their relationships, whether it’s “just friends”, “friends with benefits”, “fuck buddies who don’t really like each other at all but have good sex”, “non-exclusively dating”, “in a serious relationship”, etc. Other people find that putting a label on something introduces all kinds of preconceived ideas about what things should be like, or how two people are supposed to act according to arbitrary social standards that have nothing to do with the two people involved. Some people think that when you live without labels, you are forced to think more about your actual relationship and act in accordance with what works and in real for you two, without getting to be lazy and fall back on assumptions, whereas others get way too anxious without the structure.
In other words, labels can trip people up because everyone needs something different.
But also – let’s be real – most people who avoid putting labels on things do so not out of some desire to keep the relationship personal and authentic, but to keep themselves from feeling obligated and trapped. It’s the difference between not liking labels and being afraid of them. It’s an unwillingness to commit to any one path (whether that’s monogamous commitment or something else) – they’re afraid to choose. They want to keep their options open while also keeping you on the hook, with absolutely no regard for how much anxiety or self-doubt their vague indecision might be causing you. It’s entirely selfish and immature (and I don’t throw those words around just to be mean – it literally is those things.)
What to do instead
No matter what kind of relationship you have with someone, do not tolerate an inability to have open, honest conversations about how you feel about each other and the relationship. Do not fuck with someone who prioritizes protecting their own weak-ass fear over your emotional well-being – because, don’t get it twisted, that is exactly what someone is doing when they refuse to tell you what’s up with you two. So while it’s not cool to try and force someone into a label they don’t want, you should feel very free to make it a requirement that if someone is going to be involved with you, they are going to be upfront and direct about what they want and how they view the relationship. People who refuse to do that are basically the lowest scum of the modern dating world.
Pretending not to care
By now, the thing where you pretend to care way less than you actually do isn’t just one option for how to proceed when dating someone new – it’s now considered the only way to operate. People are told that they have to “play it cool” and withhold the truth about their feelings lest they “scare the other person off”. “Scare” is such a key word here. A person who would be “scared” of you having feelings for them is truthfully frightened of either the responsibility that comes with having someone care about you and needing to protect them in the vulnerability that unavoidably comes with loving someone, or they’re afraid of being vulnerable themselves. Either way, why would you want to date someone who is a coward? Because really, that’s all a person is when they refuse to allow themselves to either feel genuine feelings, or to communicate them. The saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained” comes into play in a painfully real way here – sure, the smaller you keep your feelings, the less the distance you have to plummet if things fall apart, and the less likely you are to get seriously hurt. But that also means that you can only go so high. There’s no safety in attempting to have something great. But if you aren’t willing to risk getting hurt in a big way, you have absolutely no chance of being happy in a big way. A lot of people opt for the safe mediocrity of lukewarm emotions and half-committments. I mean, make your own choices, but I wouldn’t want to date those people.
The defense for “playing it cool” usually goes something like, “Oh, well they don’t want some big relationship thing, so if they knew how much I liked them, they wouldn’t want to hang out anymore.” I’m sorry, but how do we not understand how completely fucked that logic is? It’s basically saying, “I’ve realized that I want something different from this relationship than they do, so for now, I’m going to pretend to want what they want even though I don’t.” And then we wonder how everyone ends up hurt?
What we should do instead
We lie about our feelings because we’re afraid of realizing that we aren’t well-matched with someone, and that if we’re honest about that, we’ll lose them. The bigger fear – the one we don’t consciously think about when we’re playing the “oh, I don’t care” game – is that if we lose this person, maybe we’ll be alone forever. It’s easy to feel like whoever is your main focus in the moment is the only person you could ever be with, which is a feeling that causes an understandable degree of subconscious panic. That panic is what makes us do shit like pretend to feel ways we don’t, and settle for less than we deserve.
What we have to do is remember that there are other people out there. And that we are awesome and deserving of exactly what we want, not some flaky, watered-down version of what we want per someone else’s fears and shortcomings. If we can always keep that in mind, and enjoy the calmness that comes with knowing that this person isn’t the only person and that you will be happy and in love again no matter how this one relationship goes, then the pressure is off and you’re more likely to act sincere and confident about who you really are and what you really want – which, incidentally, gives the relationship a much stronger chance of survival than any kind of fearful faking.
Reading someone’s texts/emails/messages
When did we decide this was acceptable? I’m not saying I’m blameless here – we’ve all either done it or thought about doing it. But I will say I’m never doing it again. Because after a million tiny bouts of doubt over the course of many relationships of varying seriousness, this is what I’ve learned: Being in love does not mean the person you’re with has an all-access pass to every little corner of your existence. Everyone, whether they are single or married for 40 years, is entitled to whatever degree of privacy they need. The line between what you share with your partner and what you keep to yourself is not set in stone – every couple has to decide what is a comfortable level of privacy for them. Regardless of where that balance is in your relationship, the disturbingly common practice of reading the texts, emails, Facebook messages, DMs, etc., of someone you’re dating – and the implicit accusations and notions of mistrust that go along with that action – should never be tolerated. Like, what are you hoping to accomplish? Either you find that they are doing nothing wrong, and then you look like an asshole (although, like an asshole, you will probably then blame them for “giving you reason to worry”, which is like the digital prying equivalent of the victim-blaming rallying cry “she was asking for it”) or you do find something uncool, and then what? Is that better?
And really, if you get to a point where you’re sneaking around to dig through the private inboxes of someone you’re supposed to love and trust, isn’t that a sign that the love and trust is already broken, no matter what you do or don’t find in your search?
All you can do is not be a shitty person, and try to find people who are emotionally developed enough to actually recognize that you are and appreciate it, partially by respecting your privacy. Don’t deceptively cross boundaries with other people, or engage in romantic/sexual exchanges unless you and your significant other have mutually decided that it’s allowed. And refuse to be with someone who thinks so little of you, who has so little faith in your honesty and integrity that they would feel the need to check up on you by digging into your inbox. This one is a two-way street – if you want to be with someone who trusts you, then you actually have to be trustworthy. But if you are, there’s absolutely no reason to tolerate the self-doubt, guilt, and anxiety that comes with dating someone who perpetually thinks you’re cheating – that shit is about them and their insecurities/inability to trust. Don’t make that nonsense cause you to feel bad about yourself.
What we should do instead
Only date people who are secure enough to trust people. The Obsessive Message Reader is not only annoying, their behavior is indicative of some deeper shit going on that will weaken – and ultimately destroy – your relationship.