Dating & Not Texting
It was on our third date that Professor Levis proposed something unexpected:
“Can we not text?”
We were sitting sat on the floor of his living room, plates of grilled chicken thighs, Greek salad, buttery pita, and garlicky tzatziki balanced in our laps. It was one of the first warm nights of the spring. I lazily sipped my white wine, relishing the evening. Perhaps it was my slight buzz, but his question didn’t throw me. Instead I felt curious. And to be honest, part of me was thrilled.
Like many people these days, I am perpetually trying to spend less time in my phone. But there was something else, too. Recently, after a series of dating forays that had moved at lightning speed, I wanted to find a way to slow it all down. And not just sexually, but digitally too. I’d meet someone for the first time and next thing I knew we were texting more frequently than I do with my best friends. The Facebook friend request and Instagram follow would come soon after, intertwining our worlds at an even more rapid rate. Before I knew it, I was enmeshed with someone who was largely a stranger. It was exhausting and always left me itching to “get back to” my own life when the relationship, ultimately, didn’t pan out.
Not to mention all the time and energy I had wasted on texting before dating. There was the guy I connected with on Hinge who I texted with for weeks, even became friends with on Facebook, emailed once or twice, and yet never met in person. Or the guy I’d met on Bumble who went abroad for six weeks after our second date. We texted the entire time, with the occasional phone call thrown in, only to have the relationship crumble shortly after he returned (largely because he couldn’t commit to the in person time. Oh, the irony.). And then, of course, were all the times I’d been ghosted via text. The same issues had occurred with folks I’d met in person, too, so I couldn’t blame online dating itself.
My digital-intimacy fatigue had almost derailed my relationship with Professor Levis, too.
It was a few days after our second date, which had been an absolute dream. I’d invited him for dinner, something that was significant for me – both the preparation and having someone in my home. He brought wine, flowers, and a book. Conversation and first kisses flowed. During our meal we made plans to get together the following week for a “destination lunch” in Sunset Park. I said I would do research on where we should go.
He texted on Sunday to follow up, saying Wednesday or Friday worked best for him. But his text landed right around the time I was in the midst an unexpected family crisis. Not wanting to leave him hanging, but also not wanting to share the details of my family’s situation, I texted back:
Running around text you in a bit 😘
But then I didn’t. For 24 hours. I was emotionally spent from dealing with my family. And while everything was, for the most part, fine, I didn’t have the energy to reply, not to mention make plans for a date. By Monday afternoon, he caved and sent a novel of a message. He said that he thought it was strange not to have heard from me, and that he could handle it if I didn’t want to continue seeing him, but he just wanted to make sure I was ok. I remember emerging from the subway, seeing his heartfelt words fill my phone screen, and feeling flooded with both guilt and frustration. Guilt that I’d put him through the turmoil, but frustration over the responsibility of dealing with another person’s emotions at a time when I felt so drained. Ironically, one of the things I wanted in a relationship was someone that communicated like this. It just happened to land at the wrong time, and thus in the wrong way, making it all too much. Overwhelmed, I dialed him right then and broke things off. Yep, I broke up with him. More specifically, after explaining what had happened with my family, I said “I don’t think I’m a good person to date right now,” which is really just a cowardly way of saying you’re not interested in seeing someone again. We said goodbye and hung up.
When I woke up the next morning, I hadn’t exactly changed my mind, but I felt that there was still something between us worth exploring, or at least talking about, so I texted him to propose the third date he had been trying to schedule when I dumped him. Not a destination meal in Sunset Park, just a quiet dinner at his place, cooked outside on a perfect spring evening. And so we found ourselves sitting on his living room floor, with chicken thighs, wine, and later homemade chocolate chip cookies, discussing the possibility of continuing to see each other but ending our texting relationship.
Professor Levis said he was hunkering down to finish a draft of a book, so he needed long stretches of uninterrupted time to focus on work. Putting his phone on airplane mode wouldn’t do. He didn’t love the idea of a text from me just sitting there, going unanswered for hours on end. If I needed to be in touch, he wanted to be there. He said he wanted to find a way to keep the fire of his productivity going while also investing in me. In us.
He made it clear if I needed something, he wanted me to call anytime (yes, call). We set the date for our next hang, kissed goodnight, and that was that.
In the past, dating someone new often left me feeling drained and weirdly sad. A feeling of melancholy and loneliness would always wash over me when parting ways. It wasn’t that I was unsure of the guy’s feelings; it happened with people that I knew really liked me. Looking back, I think the sadness came from a subconscious knowing that the person wasn’t right for me—but at the time, I didn’t have the space to fully process that. I was available at all times via my phone. Even if I didn’t respond to a text right away, the message would be hanging over me and firing warning signs back in the other direction. Unlike a friendship, where not responding to a text for two hours or two days is acceptable, in dating, both the act of texting and not texting communicate something. How fast or how slow you respond says something to the other person.
But now, this time, I felt excited and energized. With texting off the table, I found I could live my own life much more easily. I’d just made a career change and had a unique block of free time. I was eager to use my time exactly how I wanted: reading, writing, eating, cooking and exploring my beloved city on my own time. I was excited to be dating someone new, but I didn’t want that to overtake this crucial downtime for me, which I was using to gain clarity on the direction and purpose of my own life.
I found such bliss in the in between. I spent my days exactly as I saw fit. My mind wasn’t filled with worry or wishes over when he would text or what I should say to him, when I’d see him next, or how he felt. My hand didn’t reflexively reach for my phone a dozen plus times a day to see if he’d reached out or posted something to Instagram, which he doesn’t even have. Instead, a beautiful and delicious anticipation was building. I was excited to tell him about all the things I was reading, seeing, and doing. I had so many questions for him: How was his week? How was his writing? What did he eat? What was he reading? There was so much to talk about.
During our first week of not texting, I had moments where I’d think of something I wanted to text. I began jotting down the messages. At the end of the week, I sent him an email entitled “The texts I would have sent.” I’d had so much fun collecting these little bits over the previous seven days and wanted him to see them, too.
It's kinda hot you're into boxing.
I think we should get ice cream after burgers on Saturday.
Do you have condoms at your place?
Do you have a nickname?
He loved it. He told me he could hear my voice in a way he never did with texting. The feeling was mutual. Each email from him from him felt like a gift, something I’d carefully unwrap to get to know him better. Instead of our communication consisting of fleeting and mindless messages, it was thoughtful and rich. Our words wrapped around one another like a story – a story I wanted to keep adding to.
When I shared with friends that Professor Levis and I didn’t really text much, that he wasn’t on social media, and that up until recently, he was still rocking a flip phone, there was a resounding “THANK GOD.” I wasn’t really surprised. I’d experienced the same excitement in previous but less extreme scenarios. Someone who didn’t use social media that much or didn’t look at their phone during dinner was always refreshing.
I began intentionally texting him as little as possible, seeing how minimally we could be in touch in between dates. Even though I knew he was readily available to me, not making him so available in my mind made him even more attractive. The less we were in touch, the more my anticipation built, and the better it was once we were together. Conversation poured out of us as if we had been turned upside down. We could barely keep up, often having to go back to complete a thought before jumping to the next subject.
Most importantly, I could tap into missing him. And in doing so, I could actually understand how I felt about this person, something that had been seemingly clouded by sweet but superfluous communication in the past. I liked him, a lot. And I couldn’t wait to see him again. I realized I could simultaneously get to know someone and develop a clear understanding of my feelings about him without losing my own sense of self. There was something to this.
Don’t get me wrong, I love texting. The hilarious exchanges with friends, the all-emoji messages from my mom, the sharing of podcasts and articles – all some of my greatest memories. But in the context of a budding or even largely solidified romantic relationship, not texting was both a kind of freedom and a kind of support.
So we only texted when we needed to. When we were running late or just arriving. When one of us was cooking dinner and needed the other to pick up American cheese for the burgers or limes for the gin and tonics. And on our dates, when we were together, I was never more present.
The morning after our first night together, I lay in his crisp white sheets while he prepared coffee. The sunlight poured in. My eyes swept over the white tin ceiling. An earthy candle flickered on his dresser. His closet was cracked open. The corners of my lips rose when I counted roughly four jean jackets hanging in the same space. It was as if my senses were on overdrive. The details were deeply intoxicating. There was so much to see, learn and experience right here, in this very moment. I had zero desire to peruse Instagram. My phone became a complete afterthought. In the space and the presence of this person for whom I was falling, what I thought about was the possibility of love.