My phone flashes with several texts as I ride the train home from classes. I glance down, seeing an array of messages from my friend and I instantly open them up. I find frantic questions and screenshots of a conversation with a guy she’s been talking to.
“Help,” said one of the messages she sent me. “What do I reply? When should I text back? Should I wait double the time it took for him to reply? Would that be too obvious? Would it seem like I’m not into him and would he take longer to reply next time?!”
I took a deep breath before reading the screenshot she sent me, breaking down every word of what the guy said and advising her on the appropriate response. “Don’t text too much,” I said. “Wait a little while so it doesn’t seem like you’re desperate, but don’t wait too long. Don’t use too many emojis. Don’t be too boring.”
After calming her down and reassuring her of what to do, I went back to listening to music and enjoying my train ride. Then a thought hit me.
My friend isn’t an idiot. She’s one of the most intelligent, charming people I know. She has so much to talk about and so much to offer that any guy would be lucky to be having a conversation with her. She knew better than to freak out over a late reply, over a message left on “read,” over a goddamn emoji. She knew better than to let a couple of messages from a guy dictate her emotions.
But she didn’t.
We’ve become a generation that manipulates love. Through the easiness of meeting somebody from simply swiping “right,” through the casualness of sending a dog-filtered selfie, through the thousands of messaging apps, it’s become so incredibly easy to force our way into getting attention. We curate the right text responses, we choose the right Snapchat filter, we wait the appropriate amount of time before sending a text back. Ironically, we check our phones constantly for a reply, feeling invalidated if none comes our way.
We’re manipulating other people to fall for us, to give us the right amount of attention. We’re manipulating our way into another person’s life because we’re so scared that we’re not enough as ourselves.
We manipulate and we question why what we get isn’t real. We question why the DMs stop the moment we stop posting perfectly lit selfies. We question why the messages are left on “read” the moment we stop having something interesting to say. We question why the guy who messaged us constantly on Tinder suddenly stops replying the moment we say we’d like to meet up for dinner instead of drinks.
Realizing this, I wish I didn’t tell my friend all those things. I wish I told her to message him whatever she wants, because she should be real to herself and if he was the right guy, he wouldn’t mind. I wish I told her that if he didn’t reply, she should put her phone down and go live her life instead of calculating the hours so she could make him wait twice as long. I wish I told her that she didn’t need to manipulate anybody into liking her. That she was already endlessly fascinating and interesting without the validation of some guy.
We don’t need to manipulate our way into getting love. When it’s real, we’ll know.