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Love in the 21st Century: How Texting Is Changing Dating and Relationships

"There's a shortcut for saying 'I love you,'" I had laughed to my then partner. I was poking around on my smartphone, exploring the features it offered, and was intrigued to find a list of shortcuts that let users quickly send staple messages, like "on my way," "be right back," and, apparently, a candid admission of romantic love. "Well, gotta placate the wife when you're busy at a meeting," ran his joking retort, but I had to wonder--what is the role of text messaging in modern dating and relationships, really? How has texting changed the way we date?

With SMS entering just about every crevice of our lives, it's no surprise that it has taken up a significant role in dating. After all, if relationships depend on communication, it's only natural that one of our favorite modes of keeping in touch figures into our romantic lives. In short, dating and relationships have continued to change with the times-- but has texting changed dating?

One possible consequence of the ubiquity of text messaging is that it has allowed dating to become more casual. While this shift is perhaps also a product of a dynamic culture that less and less views dating as formal courtship or a search for a spouse, texting has surely contributed to these changes. Perhaps texting has simply made communication itself more casual and non-committal.

Texting usually demands little dedicated time, and can be used to chat or say hello just about anywhere or at any time. By making communication more mobile and accessible, text messaging has made keeping in contact more casual by sparing us setting aside time to talk by phone or the pain of checking and waiting for emails. This applies to friends and dates alike. The more casual approach towards communication that texting has afforded us has in part allowed us to approach keeping in touch with dates in a much more casual way.

Of course, with an increased level of contact, however casual, may come increased opportunities for stress in burgeoning relationships. With more opportunities to talk to a love interest, and an easily accessible record of our conversations, those inclined towards details may find themselves more able to read into anothers' words--or read receipts--perhaps more than they should. It can be hard to avoid, and, while hardly a new phenomenon, text messaging makes it all the easier. Though in many respects text messaging makes communication in dating more casual, it may well also feed an attitude quite the opposite of casual.

Perhaps this issue in part stems from changed expectations for communication in relationships, thanks to texting. Because text messaging has allowed communication to become easier and more casual, text messaging has facilitated communication; we are more inclined to initiate and carry on conversations when they are convenient and casual, so many of us who text will find ourselves talking to people more often than we would without SMS. And when this becomes a norm, in all sorts of relationships, it becomes an expectation.

Deviations from what we expect can make us wonder if something is wrong, and feel anxious and insecure about our romantic lives. This anxiety is perhaps not the greatest consequence of this constant contact, though. Many a couple can attest to the value of some distance between better halves, begging the question, is being so in touch with our partners simply hurting our relationships?

It's very possible that heightened levels of and expectations for communication between partners may be more stifling than it is sweet. However, in longer-term relationships in which this phenomenon may pose a problem, the situation is certainly not hopeless; couples who find this constant connectedness troubling can surely work to create any needed personal space within the bounds of their relationships. And, of course, others may find this heightened connectedness a mere harmless side effect of modern life.

Whether we consider it a problem or not, with texting encouraging an increased level of communication and attention between partners throughout the day, it's no surprise when we tend to shift more of our conversations with our partners to text. While this progression seems obvious, it may become problematic when serious conversations arise. What happens when we tackle the big issues with our partners via SMS?

Having important conversations over text could pose problems for couples. It can be difficult and time-consuming to make complex, and often lengthy, points via text, causing us to sometimes sacrifice some level of clarity for concision over SMS. It is also very easy to misread nuances like tone over text, increasing the likelihood of misunderstandings. Needless to say, misunderstandings can complicate serious conversations, especially arguments, in an all-too undesirable way. And even when happier discussions arise over text, shifting these conversations to SMS may cheapen them.

However, this potential host of problems does not seem to be news to young couples. In a 2012 study by Amanda Klein at Towson University, ten interviews conducted with individuals between the ages of 23 and 30 showed a unanimous belief that text messaging is not an ideal venue for tackling the serious issues. This potential room for problems that SMS presents also does not seem to represent a significant problem among young couples; while some participants reported occasionally indulging in serious talks over text when phone calls or face to face contact was not an option, or beginning an argument via text, all participants reported that each of these conflicts were ultimately resolved face to face. It seems young couples still see and engage in the value of interpersonal contact.

So, is text messaging breaking down dating? Or providing a practical platform for our relationships in the modern world? With all the complex ways we engage with texting, it's hard to say. What we can be certain of is that dating is changing, and SMS is helping to shape its new face.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 

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